Paddleboarding vs. Running: What’s the Better Exercise?

Exercise is an essential component of maintaining our health and well-being, with different exercises providing unique benefits. Paddleboarding and running are two excellent forms of exercise that contribute to a healthy lifestyle and are fun to participate in. When looking at which is “better,” the answer is dependent on your fitness goals and definition of exercise. 

To build cardiovascular and muscular endurance and bone strength, running is better exercise than paddleboarding. For muscular strength training, core strength, and balance, paddle boarding is the better exercise choice. 

Both paddleboarding and running are excellent options for exercise, and the decision of which is better should be decided based on your target goals for getting a good workout. Both provide similar and unique benefits that may be more suitable for your athletic capabilities and limitations. Let’s look more closely at the benefits and drawbacks of both! 

Defining Fitness Goals for Better Exercise  

There is no one concrete answer as to which form of exercise is the best because different exercises cater to different body systems. Your preferences for fitness outcomes will largely dictate the exercise you choose to do. Understanding different fitness goals is crucial to picking exercises that best target key athletic areas. 

These are the primary fitness goals that exercise can help accomplish: 

  • Weight loss: Can be accomplished with both cardio and strength training for desired results (Note: diet is also critical for this fitness goal). 
  • Stability and balance: Testing your ligaments and joints with unstable surfaces and training conditions helps to strengthen their related muscles. 
  • Heart health: Exercises that raise your heart rate are vital for maintaining heart health. 
  • Muscular strength: Targeting specific muscle groups by emphasizing muscle contraction in those areas will strengthen your muscles. 
  • Avoid injury: Low impact exercises are often better choices for those looking to prevent athletic injuries. 

Identifying the areas in which you hope to grow as an athlete and the goals you want to accomplish help to define what the best exercises are for you. While the medical benefits of different exercises have been studied extensively, choosing which exercises are better than others is subjective and depends on your athletic area of focus.  

Why Running is Better Exercise Than Paddle Boarding 

Running is one of the best exercises because there are low barriers for anyone to participate in it, and it is an exercise that can be done at any pace. Whether going for leisurely jogs or training for competitive athletic competitions, running offers ample health benefits and is one of the most effective ways to improve athletic capabilities. 

The primary benefits of running include: 

  • Improved cardiovascular endurance 
  • Increased muscular endurance 
  • Supporting bone strength 

Many studies have shown many additional benefits to running and its impact on a longer life (Source: NCBI). The following sections discuss the primary benefits of running as they relate to running being a better exercise choice over paddleboarding. 

Running and Cardiovascular Endurance 

One of the most significant benefits of running is the ability to focus on and build your cardiovascular endurance. Cardiovascular and aerobic fitness coordinate the working of your lungs, heart, and blood vessels to deliver oxygen to your muscles (Source: Livestrong). This is what is responsible for your increased heart rate and heavy breathing on a hard run. 

This process allows your body to sustain itself for long periods of exercise by providing energy and oxygen from your blood. Running often improves the efficiency at which your heart pumps blood and increases your muscles’ ability to perform beyond its threshold for energy deposits, making running easier and improving your overall fitness levels (Source: Plos One). 

Aerobic exercise (which includes running) is considered one of the pillars of fitness and is essential for the following reasons: 

  • Improved blood flow: When the heart can produce higher volumes of blood, muscles benefit with the increased circulation. These volumes of blood are measured by the output with each pump of the heart (Source: Providence Health & Services). 
  • Decreased risk of heart disease: Running is one form of aerobic exercise that helps to keep your heart rate down and decrease blood pressure (Source: John Hopkins Medicine). These are two primary components to maintaining a healthy heart and decreasing your risks of heart disease. 
  • Manage weight: Coupled with diet monitoring, aerobic exercise is an effective way to both lose weight and maintain desired body weight. 
  • Reduced health risks: There are many diseases beyond those directly related to your heart that can be avoided when an aerobic activity becomes a part of your routine. Strokes, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes are among the most well-researched (Source: Mayo Clinic).

Running is one of the most effective exercises to improve your overall endurance and stamina levels. While running is difficult, especially at fast paces, continued exercise makes the activity easier over time. Your body adapts to using limited oxygen and becomes more efficient in providing blood to your muscles for better stamina and limiting fatigue.

Timing yourself and pushing your pace after multiple sessions will allow you to track the noticeable improvements and growth in your cardiovascular capabilities and improved endurance.  

Running and Muscular Endurance 

When your muscles contract in the same positions over and over, this is muscular endurance at work. Muscular endurance allows your muscles to contract and continue to perform athletically for extended periods (Source: AIPT). When you are running, specific muscle groups are forced to contract as you make contact with the ground and propel yourself forward. 

The areas that experience the most considerable muscular endurance while running include: 

  • Abdominal muscles: Not only are your abdominal muscles working upon impact and with the coordination of your upper and lower body, but they are consistently contracting with your breathing patterns. Strong abdominals are not only developed with running, but they help improve performance by supporting proper posture and running form (Source: How Stuff Works). 
  • Glutes: Your gluteal muscles are among the strongest in the body and are responsible for hip and knee alignment. Activating the glutes while running allows for increased muscle growth and more power (Source: Radiopaedia).
  • Hip Flexors: Driving your knee with each step while running is made possible because of the contraction of your hip flexors. 
  • Hamstrings and quadriceps: The muscles in your thighs are emphasized not only in the movement of running but upon impact with the ground. They must contract to brace themselves for impact and release to allow for your next step. 
  • Calf muscles: Running on your toes contracts the calves and develops these muscles. This is one of the first areas that typically get sore while running. 

The lower body is the primary focus for muscular endurance while running, but the upper body is still getting some work in. Efficient arm movement while running activates your shoulders and deltoids but won’t receive as much strain as your legs coming in contact with the ground. 

Running and Bone Strength 

While there are risks of injury with high-impact sports such as running, exposing your body to this impact can also help to improve bone strength by increasing their mineral density (Source: Science Daily). Running is one preventative measure for bone diseases like osteoporosis with the emphasis it places on the weight-bearing parts of the body (Source: National Health Service). 

Those who tend to exercise only in non-weight bearing or low impact activities may not be developing their bones sufficiently. Incorporating exercises that also strengthen your muscles and joints help to support your bones—running checks off the boxes in all of these categories. For bone strengthening to occur, these exercises need to be long-term additions to your life.

Why Paddleboarding is Better Exercise Than Running 

Paddleboarding is a fun activity that gets you outdoors, active, and offers a unique exercise opportunity on the water. Not only is it an enjoyable activity, but it offers multiple health and exercise benefits that make the activity worthwhile for maintaining and improving fitness levels.

The benefits of paddleboarding include: 

  • Targeted strength training 
  • Improved balance and stability 
  • Activity with low impact 

Paddleboarding can target areas that you do not use while running, focussing on specific muscle groups and stability levels. Incorporating paddleboarding into your fitness routine can bring about new areas of growth for athletes that do not typically emphasize the mentioned benefits. 

Paddleboarding and Strength Training 

One of the most beneficial aspects of paddleboarding is its emphasis on resistance training for the entire body. Paddleboarding is a great full-body workout because it requires several muscle groups throughout the entire body to contract for paddling. Paddling for extended periods improves muscular endurance and allows for the development of stronger muscles.

Unlike many weight training exercises in the gym, the specific paddling motion through the water targets muscles that are not always strained in the same way. This allows you to continue to build your strength while mixing your exercise routine up! 

These are the muscles that are targeted in paddleboarding: 

  • Abdominal muscles: More than any other muscle group, your abdominals are required not only for paddling but to keep your balance on the board. You are doing plenty of core work without actively working. Rougher waters will require more core strength to keep you on board. Your lower back is also engaged as you work your abdominals. 
  • Shoulders and arms: The actual motion of paddling through the water directly strengthens your arm and shoulder muscles with the resistance in the water. Your biceps, deltoids, and pectoral muscles are of particular emphasis. 
  • Quadriceps: While you are not moving your legs, you are using your quadriceps to stabilize yourself. This consistent contracting reinforces the muscles in your legs with limited impact. Working toward stronger quadriceps also builds the muscles and ligaments around it, preventing injuries (Source: Cleveland Clinic). 

You may notice that the muscles outside of your arms are more sore and fatigued than expected after paddleboarding. This plays into another benefit of the sport that gives you a solid workout, balance, and stability.  To learn more about muscle building and paddle boarding, read the post on the 11 Muscles that Paddle Boarding Works.

Paddleboarding and Balance 

While running does require some balance and coordination, paddleboarding explicitly emphasizes your ability to maintain a steady body position on the board. This not only allows you to build your body awareness and coordination but reinforces the strengthening of muscles that are required to hold yourself up. 

As an athlete, body balance is essential for optimal performance, helping with the following: 

  • Injury prevention: Greater body awareness allows you to make conscious and calculated movements in any sport, allowing you to avoid more dangerous body positions (Source: LA Times). This is especially true when there are lots of external distractions, including other players in contact sports. Balancing on the board also builds ligaments and joint strength to prevent common sprains and strains.
  • Reaction time: Practicing your balance will allow you to regain it quickly if you fall. Those who are more coordinated and practice their stability are quick to recover from moments of imbalance. 

Stability applies not only to your legs but your core as well. Your core is the control center for all other movements, so keeping it healthy and balanced is critical. Your legs and arms further support your stability (Source: International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy). Building muscle and balance go hand in hand, with paddleboarding offering gains in both areas. 

Paddleboarding and Low Impact Exercise 

Paddleboarding is a particularly useful workout if you are recovering from an injury or have restrictions that prevent high impact. You still work many major muscle groups throughout your body without having to put stress on joints, ligaments, and tendons. Rather than skipping a day of exercise to rest or avoid pain, trying paddleboarding as an alternative will keep you active. 

You do not have to do high impact sports to stay fit, and paddleboarding is a great example. Weight loss, increased stamina, and injury prevention are the key benefits to participation. For athletes that are looking for interesting and effective ways to stay in shape and vary their workouts, paddleboarding allows for muscular growth and coordination. 

Challenging Paddleboarding Workouts 

Paddleboarding is a great workout, but it may not check off the cardio box you are looking for at a leisurely pace. You can easily get your heart rate up and make the workout more challenging to burn more calories, build your muscles, and challenge your stability skills. You can work on your cardiovascular endurance if you paddle at high speeds with great power. 

Here are some workouts to add to your paddleboarding routine: 

  • Rougher waters: To challenge your stability, consider paddleboarding on winder days. Not only will you spike your heart rate fighting through choppy water and wind, but your balance will be challenged as the waves rock the board. Only tackle rougher conditions if you are experienced in both paddle boarding and swimming. 
  • Extra strength and stability: You can get a land workout in on your paddleboard to make it more challenging. Consider a strength circuit of squats and core exercises on the board. Hold the paddle out in front of you and hold a squat, paying particularly close attention to your balance. Sitting on the paddleboard also makes for a great crunch and core exercise platform. 
  • Yoga: With some real coordination, you can practice yoga and meditation on a paddleboard. Especially in calm conditions, this can be an excellent opportunity to stretch and balance, both physically and mentally. Yoga is among the best sports to prevent injury (Source: Time). Read Carlo’s post on paddle board yoga for more.
  • Knee paddling: To specifically target arm strength and increase speed for aerobic training, consider kneeling or sitting on the board. This will allow for more power to be generated by your arms and core without focusing nearly as much on balance. Moving through the water with powerful strokes will increase your heart rate and allow for more intense muscular contractions. 

Like running, paddleboarding can be as leisurely or intense as desired. Having a variety of workouts with paddleboarding keeps users engaged and challenges them to push their athletic and physical limits. 

Mental Benefits to Exercise 

Beyond the physical activity that makes for a great workout in both running and paddleboarding, the mental benefits are some of the most rewarding. Exercise not only produces endorphins that improve your mood, but it also reduces stress hormones (Source: Harvard Medical School). Limiting stress improves your overall health as well as mental health. 

Paddleboarding is a particularly calming exercise that allows you to spend time with nature and connect with your body. Balance is not only for your physical body but for the mind as well. As you move through the water, you are aware of all body movements and how maintaining a relaxed state makes the body movements smoother and more comfortable. 

In Conclusion

Both running and paddleboarding will positively impact your mental health, with paddleboarding offering a more relaxing option and running giving you the satisfaction of hard work and mood-improving hormone production. Because both provide key benefits physically and mentally, the better workout will be dependent on what you hope to achieve as an athlete.   

Once you figure out your exercise goals, you can choose between running and paddleboarding – or you can incorporate both exercises into your routine!


Note our articles contain affiliate links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Other affiliates include Bluefin Paddleboards, WaterOutfitters, House of Scuba, eManualsOnline, ScubaPro, LeisurePro, Redshift Watersports, RedPaddleCo, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Summit Sports, Board Basement, The House Outdoor Gear, 4TheOutdoors, Aquabatics Calgary, iRocker, FlexOffers, Electric Board Co,, StandOnLiquid, Marine Products, Overton’s, AvantLink, eBay,Clickbank, CJ Affiliate, ShareASale, WPX hosting, Ezoic Ads, Income School Project 24 and NordVPN. We may earn a small commission when readers purchase through these links at no extra cost to the buyer.

Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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