From the moment you step on a paddleboard and get in a standing position with your ankles and knees gently flexed, you can immediately imagine yourself on your skis, ready to ride. The transition back to skiing isn´t as far off as you might think! Possibly more than any other off-snow activity, the combination of fitness and strength training together with balance improvement couldn´t be any better for ski training. Paddleboarding and yoga related exercises on the board will help you gain not only the power and endurance you need for a great powder day or fast blast on the slopes, but also helps you build up those important micro movements needed on snow. What you do on a SUP board will train the same muscle groups you use while skiing or snowboarding.
Stand-up-paddling is functional training at its best. Together with yoga moves and postures, it gives you that extra bit of spice for a perfect and fulfilling training program for skiing and snowboarding. First, paddling on flat and smooth water, or with wind and waves, allows you to train in variable conditions similar to what you experience with different snow conditions on the mountain.
Secondly, SUP Yoga for skiers doesn’t just focus on flexibility and cardio, it also provides more subtle and important attributes for a well-trained athlete, like agility and proprioception. „Proprioception“ describes your brain’s ability to know where all the parts of the body are in space and movement. It not only needs to be re-tuned after big injuries (such as an ACL repair, or ankle injuries), but is a crucial skill every good skier should improve! And if you’re doing yoga on a SUP, your brain will definitely be working hard too, figuring out what the hell is going on.
Sonnia Höffken (founder of SkiYo – feel the flow!®, the combination of skiing & yoga) is an international certified ski and yoga instructor and Elan ambassador since 2009. Since 2007 Sonnia implements yoga into ski training and creates specific programs like technical ski training and freeriding camps together with yoga. She was one of the first in her home area in the south of Munich to combine SUP with yoga to help her recover from her ACL surgery in 2013 and to share her passion for skiing, water sports and nature with hundreds of participants of her various SUP Yoga Events.
Here is one of Sonnia´s favourite SUP Yoga workouts:
Preparation and warm-up
Make sure you’re familiar with your SUP equipment and paddling technique! Don’t just hop on your board and paddle around, thinking there isn´t much you need to know. Even just a seemingly „easy“ lake presents you with the serious task of paddling technique and risks related to water, wind, traffic and weather. Do not hesitate joining a stand-up-paddling and SUP yoga course. Then get creative!
To warm up, take at least 20 minutes free paddling at various speeds. Become aware of your body, it´s movements, your breathing, and how you feel today. Don´t forget to bring your water bottle and fix it onto the rubber cords usually found on your SUP board.
1. Squats for Strength
The Chair pose („Utkatasana“) is one of my favorite ski exercises on the board, and is much more challenging than it looks. Depending how far apart your feet are will change the level of difficulty for balance and leg strength.
It’s important to always keep your weight centered and to keep your back as straight as possible. Try tucking your tailbone to prevent your back from arching. Tucking your tailbone shifts pressure off your back and brings massive strength to your core!
Optionally, raise your paddle at shoulder level or above your head at the same time as you lower down into your squat.
Hold the pose with slow, deep breathing until your legs start to burn. Then stand up and relax before you repeat, or straighten your legs and bend forward.
If you feel confident, try doing squat jumps! Up and down, forwards, backwards or with a quarter-/half-twist. You´ll be surprised about the benefits once you land back on both feet!
Squat & twist: Lock your opposite elbow against the outside of your knee and push your upper hand into your lower hand. This gives you a beautiful side stretch and a powerful thigh burn.
2. Plank & variations
Plank is known as one of the all-around best strengthening poses. Doing plank on the water works on a much deeper level than on the mat. These variations allow you to ‘test the water,’ while also challenge your balance.
Once again, keep your back straight and your hips in line with your upper body and legs. Don’t „drop“ into your shoulders, rather push your arms into the board and your chest up towards the sky in order to keep your shoulders level.
Pushing the back of your knee up towards the sky engages the muscles on the back of your legs and lower back, which are highly important in skiing to support your stability.
If full plank is too hard, you can also balance on your forearms and/or support your body with your knees on the board.
Hold with deep core breathing until your solar plexus might start shaking. Relax into „child pose“, sitting on your heels with your arms relaxed next to your feet and your forehead on the board.
From plank pose (either full plank or on your knees), breath out and lift one leg, moving it off the side of your board. Do not panic, this instability is great for your core and overall balance!
Pull your knee towards your elbow.
Shift into side plank.
You can also lift alternate arms and legs for even more strength and balance!
3.„Downhill Dog“ – „Uphill Dog“
Done right, both downward and upward facing dog release pressure and tension. They stretch and strengthen your ankles, Achilles and calves, upper back, neck, shoulders, hamstrings, and buttocks - all of which work to stabilize your posture and can get tight after a few days on snow.
Downward facing dog:
Drop onto all fours, with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. As you exhale, lift your hips toward the sky. Your body now creates a triangle.
Make sure to keep your back in the same diagonal line as your arms and keep your shoulders and neck relaxed! You should bend your knees slightly and keep the heels off the board at first.
Then pull your tailbone up and backwards and, as you gently straighten your legs (maintaining a straight line with your back and arms), gently press your heels down when exhaling.
Feel the extension through the spine as your arms and legs are actively engaged in the stretch.
With deep breathing, remain in the pose for 30 to 60 seconds and try to look up at the nature around and through your legs!
Upward facing dog:
From downward facing dog, float into plank pose, and tuck your tailbone in and then lower your hips.
Lift your chest while actively pressing your arms into the board to push your shoulders down and back.
Do not allow your upper body to drop and keep your lower back strong by tucking your tailbone in and squeezing your buttocks!
Slowly breathe deep into lungs up to a minute.
To release the pose: come back to all fours or rest in „child pose“ on your heels.
The benefits of Virabhadrasana and its variations are as numerous as slopes on a mountain! It’s not only boosts your balance and stability, but also stretches your chest, lungs, shoulders and neck. When correctly, it releases the major muscle „psoas“, which creates all sorts of trouble when tense. The Warrior pose simultaneously strengthens and stretches your thighs, calves, and ankles, and works wonders on focus and concentration.
From standing tall, bend forward to support your hands on the board. Step one leg far back and find balance in a low lunge.
At the start, keep your front knee on the board to support balance. For the advanced, lift the knee off the board into full warrior pose.
Pull your belly in and slowly raise your arms high, drop your shoulders and look ahead. You might struggle the first time, but keep breathing and find the flow!
With a deep exhale, rotate your torso to the side, squaring your upper body as much as possible to your leg positions.
Stay for up to 10 breaths, then slowly return into low lunge, come back to standing or follow a little „Vinyasa“ of plank and cobra, if you like.
„Boat“ for Core & Back
Skiing not only calls for strong thighs and balance on your feet, but also being centered and in the right spot - it is a key skill for every athlete. Boat pose works as an intense ab and hip flexor strengthener all in one, and also requires you to find balance deep in your center of mass. Doing this on a board is a new challenge but so effective when you get it!
Sit on the board with your legs straight in front of you. With a straight back, lean back slightly. As you do this, make sure your pelvis does not drop or „collapse“.
Lift your chest as high up as possible and pull your shoulder blades in and downwards towards your spine.
Slowly lift both legs up and keep your upper body in a strong diagonal line. Your whole body should create a V-shape.
If lifting both legs straight is too hard, you can also just raise your knees and keep the tips of your toes supporting you on the board.
Hold your arms at the level to your knees and keep your chest up.
Hold the back of your legs for a deep hamstring stretch.
Try lifting your arms over your head for a more intense core and back workout - without losing your posture!
There are plenty more fun, challenging and deeply relaxing yoga exercises you can explore and enjoy on your SUP board! Be creative, listen to your body and keep your mind open for new ideas and inspiration inside and out.