Well Being: Stand-up paddleboarding: A workout on water

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Michele Wade takes paddleboarding up a level, demonstrating a half-wheel yoga pose. For most, merely standing upright is a challenge. (Art Carey / Staff)

The primary purpose of health and fitness, Patrick Mulhern believes, is to optimize your physical equipment so you can enjoy life more fully.

"One of the things we focus on is keeping people stimulated and engaged," Mulhern says. "We're all about having fun."

His specialty is in-home personal training, and his business, Personal Training Transformations, is headquartered in Bristol Borough, where clients have access to a training center with the usual array of anabolic gadgetry.

But that's not where the real action is.

"Our focus is on taking down the walls," Mulhern says, "and taking it outside."

Example: PTT's trainers conduct yoga classes on the banks of the Delaware.

In January 2010, while accompanying a client in Australia, Mulhern saw some studly blokes on what looked like surfboards, using an oar to paddle while standing up. Mulhern tried it, loved it, and decided to bring stand-up paddleboarding (SUP for short) back home.

Since last summer, Mulhern, 47, and his disciples have stroked their stand-up paddleboards on the river, the lake enclosed by Burlington Island, and the erstwhile mill pond known as Silver Lake.

"It's a great full-body workout," Mulhern says. "And because there's no impact, it's especially good for people with knee problems and other issues."

Trying to paddle standing up while keeping your balance on a tipsy board only a couple of feet wide recruits the major muscles of your body's core, as well as a host of stabilizing muscles, triggering contractions both isometric and dynamic.

"You don't realize how much work you're doing because you're stimulated and having so much fun," Mulhern says.

I can attest. As I write this, my abs are pleasantly sore and my legs fatigued. Mulhern is to blame. He lured me onto Silver Lake in Bristol Township for a quick tutorial.

After several awkward attempts, I managed to stand erect. But then my legs began shaking, the board began wobbling, and I had to drop to my knees.

Eventually, I was able to calm down enough to keep my balance and begin paddling.

"Take a deep breath," Mulhern counseled. "Paddle with your arms straight. Tighten your abs and work from the core."

Stand-up paddleboarding, Mulhern elaborated, provides a nice bridge between the upper and lower body, linking the might of the torso with the power of the pelvis. It relies less on the showcase rectus abdominis, the so-called six-pack muscles, than the deeper and more yeomanly obliques (internal and external) and transverse abdominis, which girdles the pelvic pocket between the hip bones.

To invoke those muscles, Mulhern exhorts: "Lower your bottom ribs toward your hip bones."

Thanks to Mulhern's excellent coaching, I completed a loop and navigated to shore without tumbling into the drink.

"For most people, it's a positive experience that builds self-esteem," Mulhern said. "It shows you can do more than you thought you could."

I was feeling mighty proud until Mulhern's colleague, yoga instructor Kimberly Mendez, impressively lean and lithe at 42, began demonstrating yoga poses - on a paddleboard!

Behold the latest fitness craze - paddleboard yoga. Mulhern believes he's the first to offer it in these parts. Its origins are murky. A yogini named Dashana posted a video on YouTube in April 2009 that shows her performing yoga poses on a paddleboard in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Paddleboard yoga is now flourishing in Florida, Hawaii, and California.

Mulhern introduced paddleboard yoga last spring. Those who try it usually get hooked, he said, even though it's exponentially more challenging than yoga on terra firma.

As someone who's as flexible as a steel I-beam, as equipoised as a drunk, regular yoga seems impossible. Yoga on a floating, rocking, unstable "mat" beggars belief.

Yet there they were the other day, Mendez and Mulhern and two other game recruits, Shannon Grosso and Michele Wade, paddleboard yoga tyros, progressing through the standard repertoire - down dog, up dog, triangle, warrior, half-wheel, hurdle, and, most awesome of all, tripod headstand (as well as the customary concluding corpse pose, especially relaxing in such a bucolic setting).

"Being outdooors is invigorating," Wade, 47, a resident of Bristol Borough, said afterward. As for the difficulty: It's a matter of "achieving balance in a different way."

Grosso, 35, of Holland, Bucks County, a yoga veteran, could feel the paddleboard difference in her legs.

"I loved it. It was fun," she said. "After my first fall in the water, I got more brave."

"Letting go of fears is what it's all about," Mendez said. "That's easier when you're outside the gym surrounded by the beauty and peace of nature, and knowing that if you fall, you'll be caught by the forgiving embrace of water."

 


Well Being:

VIDEO: Behold

the lastest fitness craze: paddleboard yoga. www.philly.

com/paddleboard


For information, visit www.pttransformations.com or call 215-882-4850.

Contact staff writer Art Carey at 215-854-5606 or acarey@phillynews.com. Read his recent "Well Being" columns at www.philly.com/wellbeing.