The Pros and Cons of Locking Your Knees While Paddle Boarding. Should You?

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Expert: Cameron – I have been active in all water-based adventures since 2014. In my youth I would stay with my uncle in Florida who introduced me to paddleboarding and have enjoyed SUP ever since. While traveling I frequently rent paddleboards to explore coastlines, as well as, surf out of tropical areas such as Hawaii and Guam to include my shoreline at home on the Emerald Coast with my SUP.


Paddle boarding is a fantastic outdoor activity that combines fitness, relaxation, and adventure.

To separate a bit, I come from a military background where locking your knees can result in passing out from lack of blood flow.

While you should not worry about this in a paddle board setting, it is a possibility if you have poor circulation.

This given, there are advantages and disadvantages of both depending on how often you decide to paddle board.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie to the sport, one aspect that often sparks debate is whether you should lock your knees when paddle boarding.

You should not lock your knees when paddle boarding. There are advantages to locking your knees, however they do not outweigh the disadvantages when paddle boarding. Use a cross between a neutral and dynamic stance to avoid obstacles in your path, both utilizing a slight bend in your knees for better maneuverability while also engaging your core.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into the intricacies of knee locking in paddle boarding, debunk some common myths, and explore its role in achieving the perfect balance on your board.

Looking for a rundown on SUPs or stand-up paddleboarding as a whole? Then check out this article.

The Pros and Cons of Locking Your Knees

Personally, the advantages do not outweigh the disadvantages and you would be better off practicing better form while on your paddleboard.

But let’s break them up so you can understand the pros and cons for locking your legs when utilizing your SUPs.

Advantages of Knee Locking

Child Paddling on Paddleboard
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To just get this section out of the way, there are some benefits that you can come across to locking your knees.

I would only suggest this if you are recreationally renting paddle boards and do not intend on using an SUP often.

This being said, if you are looking at this article odds are you are not intending to SUP recreationally.

Regardless, below are the advantages of locking your knees when paddle boarding.

Enhanced Stability

Locking your knees can provide a stable platform, especially when you’re cruising on calm waters.

It minimizes the wobbling that can come with unlocked knees, making it easier to maintain your balance, especially for beginners.

Reduced Fatigue

By engaging your knee joints, you can distribute your weight more evenly, which can reduce fatigue during longer paddle board outings.

This advantage is particularly noticeable during serene, relaxed rides.

Improved Balance

Locking your knees can act as a natural shock absorber, helping you maintain balance in choppy waters.

This can be especially beneficial for beginners who may struggle with stability.

Disadvantages of Knee Locking

Some disadvantages can include injury to self, so please pay attention and really consider what is best for you and your SUP style.

Limited Mobility

One major drawback of locking your knees is the limited range of motion it allows.

This can hinder your ability to react quickly to changing conditions or perform certain paddle strokes.

Having your knee stiffened will limit your reaction time as well depending on how long your legs have been locked.

Impact on Maneuverability

While this sounds similar it is not.

Mobility is referring to your physical movement on your paddle board while maneuverability is your ability to avoid obstacles in the water.

Knee locking can make it challenging to maneuver your paddle board effectively.

Navigating through obstacles or executing sharp turns may be less efficient when your knees are locked.

Potential Strain on Joints

Extended knee locking can place excess strain on your knee joints, potentially leading to discomfort or even injury over time, particularly in rough waters or during strenuous paddling.

When you are busy paddling, you tend to forget any other discomforts that you may be experiencing.

Keeping legs locked can also lead to orthostatic or postural syncope.

According to Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Foundation, keeping knees “locked” pools blood in the leg veins which will lead one to feint.

Quite a terrible situation since you are in the middle of the water.

Knee Locking Myths vs. Reality

Girl Paddleboarding with Paddle
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There can be a lot of misconception when hopping onto a paddle board for the first time.

I have even experienced many paddle board renting shops giving wrong advice to tourists coming through.

It isn’t usually their fault since they are not a local shop and usually are some teenager behind a stand on the beach with a rack of SUPs.

Does Knee Locking Improve Stability?

While knee locking can offer stability in some situations, it’s not the only or the best method.

A neutral stance with a slight knee bend is generally more effective for overall stability.

Can It Prevent Falls?

Knee locking alone won’t prevent falls.

Falls are part of the learning process in paddle boarding.

Proper technique and quick reactions are more crucial for staying on your board.

In my experience, most falls on paddle boards for beginners in calm waters come from keeping their legs or knees locked.

The best method, if you choose to stand, is the utilize a neutral stance and shift to a dynamic stance when the situation arises.

Is It Suitable for All Paddle Boarders?

Knee locking may work for some individuals, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Factors like skill level, water conditions, and personal preferences play a significant role in determining the right approach.

You can get away with locking your knees for a while if paddle boarding in calm waters with no other individuals in the water.

As soon as this situation changes, you need to change your stance as well.

It is best to just not get into the habit of locking your knees in the first place.

In the next section I will break down two paddle board stances that you can utilize on your SUP experience.

Proper Body Positioning in Paddle Boarding

Proper positioning can take many forms, but we are going to look at two positions when standing on your paddle board.

Paddleboarding with Dog
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The Neutral Stance

This is the most natural feeling position that you would feel more comfortable with.

Ideal Foot Placement

Achieving the perfect balance starts with your foot placement.

Position your feet shoulder-width apart, parallel to the board’s centerline.

This provides a solid foundation for stability.

Maintaining a Slight Bend in the Knees

Instead of locking your knees, aim for a slight bend.

This position allows for flexibility and shock absorption, crucial for adapting to changing conditions.

Not having your knees locked will also help the ride feel less rough if there is more than just calm waters or wakes.

Engaging Core Muscles

To maintain balance, engage your core muscles.

They act as your body’s natural stabilizers, allowing you to stay upright and in control.

This can take a lot of practice since most of us utilize our backs rather than our cores on a daily basis.

Getting your body used to engaging its core when performing strokes or movements will seem exhaustive at first.

Overall however, you will save energy with your arms and legs feeling less burnt out after your paddle board session.

The Dynamic Stance

This stance is what you would utilize when different conditions present themselves or obstacles enter your path.

This stance is more of one that a surfer uses when you think of surf boarding.

Adapting to Different Conditions

Paddle boarding often requires adapting to changing conditions.

In choppy waters or during rapid turns, shifting your weight and stance is key to maintaining balance.

Weight Distribution

Distribute your weight evenly between your feet.

To turn, shift your weight to one side, but avoid locking your knees.

Instead, rely on your core and leg muscles.

Utilizing Leg and Hip Movement

Make use of leg and hip movement for subtle adjustments in balance and direction.

These small, dynamic shifts can be more effective than locking your knees.

Expert Opinions and Professional Insights

Woman on Inflatable Paddleboard
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Be mindful that not everyone on the beach renting out paddle boards are experts.

Some of these individuals have never even gotten on a SUP and will still give out free advice.

That being said, instructors and local surf shops are great resources for your questions.

Insights from Paddle Boarding Instructors

Many experienced instructors recommend avoiding knee locking for most situations.

They emphasize the importance of balance and dynamic movement for optimal paddle boarding.

Just like we discussed before with the shifting from the neutral to dynamic stances.

Athlete Perspectives

Seasoned paddle boarders often prioritize flexibility and adaptability over knee locking.

They rely on core strength and agility to navigate different conditions effectively.

Professional athletes like surfers (probably the best professional example you can take from) never lock their knees when riding through the wake.

If you are curious about the difference between a surfboard or a paddleboard, check out this article.

Knee Locking During Other Activities

As mentioned in the introduction I am in the military, and have had extensive instruction on why locking your knees is not a good idea.

I have also been present for someone who has passed out from locking their knees multiple times and can have potentially permanent results.

Below is a video going over several different live moments where individuals locked their knees.

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Some scientific studies suggest that prolonged knee locking can increase the risk of joint strain and injuries.

However, I still must enfisize that further research is needed to draw definitive conclusions.

Tips for Safe and Effective Knee Locking

Even though it has been stated throughout this entire article that it is in your best interest to not lock your knees when paddle boarding, there are still some who cannot help it.

And while you are still learning and practicing here are some tips to keep you safe if you insist on locking your knees on your SUP.

When to Consider Knee Locking

Here are a few mentions of moments I could find myself locking my knees while paddle boarding.

Calm Water vs. Challenging Conditions

Consider knee locking in calm, stable waters where balance is less challenging.

In rough conditions, opt for a dynamic stance.

Long-Distance Paddle Boarding

For long-distance paddling, you can experiment with knee locking for brief moments to reduce fatigue.

But remember to maintain flexibility.

Paddle Boarding for Fitness

If you’re paddle boarding primarily for fitness, knee locking may provide a workout variation.

However, always prioritize safety and proper form.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

If locking your knees every so often bend them to regain proper circulation.

Overlocking the Knees

Be mindful not to overlock your knees.

A slight bend is all that’s needed for stability without compromising mobility.

Identifying Signs of Strain

Pay attention to any signs of strain or discomfort in your knees.

If you experience pain, it’s essential to adjust your stance and consult a healthcare professional if necessary.

Maintaining Flexibility

Regularly practice flexibility exercises to ensure your knees and joints remain supple.

Yoga and stretching routines can complement your paddle boarding routine.

Summary

Paddle boarding is a versatile sport, and the decision to lock your knees or not should be based on your individual preferences and the specific conditions you encounter.

While knee locking has its advantages, it’s essential to balance it with proper technique, dynamic movement, and core engagement for a safer and more enjoyable paddle boarding experience.

Customize your paddle boarding approach based on your skill level, water conditions, and personal comfort.

Experiment with different stances to find what works best for you.

Do not overlock your knees or lock them without minding your stance since this could lead to feinting.

Ultimately, the goal of paddle boarding is to have fun and enjoy the beauty of the water.

Prioritize safety, technique, and adaptability to make the most out of your paddle boarding adventure.


[Sources and References]

“Fainting.” Seattle Children’s Hospital, 30 Dec. 2022, www.seattlechildrens.org/conditions/a-z/fainting/#:~:text=Simple%20Fainting%20(Benign%20Fainting)%3A%20Types&text=More%20common%20if%20one%20keeps,is%20a%20less%20common%20cause.
“Good Question: Why Do Locked Knees Cause Fainting?” YouTube, YouTube, 4 Jan. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z62esVdmxCQ.

[Image Attribution and Licensing]

Featured Image by Dimitris Vetsikas
#1 Image by Pexels
#2 Image by Dimitris Vetsikas
#3 Image by Pexels
#4 Image by Lars Nissen
#5 Video by KUTV 2 News Salt Lake City