The physical demands that surfing places on the body have increased tremendously during the last decade. We’re always looking to be bigger, better, stronger, faster, more powerful and more critical.  It’s now nearly impossible to achieve certain levels of surf performance without specific training that develops and prepares a surfer’s body for repetitious and extreme movements which are now routinely performed in the sport.

The repertoire of surfing manoeuvres which are expected from a ‘good surfer’ today were once thought impossible and put tremendous forces through the surfer’s body. This suggests that injury prevention coupled with surf-specific training is recommended for long-term surfing performance. Preparing and developing the body to help keep a surfer’s physique fit, strong and supple is key for keeping a surfer in the water today and many years down the track.

Below are some of the chronic surfing-related imbalances that surfer can create;

  • When we stand on our board, our hips rotate toward our back foot and this over time creates imbalanced loading through our spine, hips, knees and ankles.
  • Increased loading is placed on the inside part of our back leg ankle and knee, which can lead to ankle/knee pain or potential knee injuries over time (right knee/ankle for natural footers and left knee/ankle for goofy footers).
  • Tension created by imbalances in our hips lead to instability in our core muscles; which affect our surfing and just about everything else we physically want to do in life.
  • For natural footers, our right shoulder is placed under a greater amount of stress (for goofy, our left shoulder), decreasing shoulder flexibility, coordination, and strength.
  • Our neck, chest, lower back, hip flexor and the shoulder muscles (shoulder internal rotators, deltoids, teres, triceps, lats) all shorten and limit normal range of motion. This will compromise the holistic function of our shoulders and lead to compensations in other areas of the body.

Surfing itself is the best way to get better at surfing. You don’t need to mimic surfing movements and manoeuvres in the gym – the perfect practice is in the water itself. The most efficient way you can use your time in the gym is to work on all your mobility and strength deficits, train a variety of complex and isolated movements, regularly change the way you apply reps, sets and rest periods, rotate your exercises and keep your training fun and challenging. You want to train to be an athletic human first and an athletic surfer second. If you just train to be an athletic surfer, you will be compounding all of the imbalances that surfing is already creating, which may improve your performance in the short-term, but lead to time out of the water or competition in the long-term.

Surf training should be specific to the demands of the sport for best results. This doesn’t mean you need to mimic the movements of surfing, it means you need hip strength, hip mobility, thoracic rotation, shoulder mobility, pulling power, agility, endurance, fast reaction times and so on. It’s very simple to strength train or go running and think this really is the easiest method to enhance your strength and fitness for surfing. Regrettably, this can result in a slower athlete with muscular imbalances, lower energy levels and a limited surf performance.

The complexness of surfing movements today put much more demand on the joints, muscles and central nervous system of the surfer’s body. This elevated stress combined with the speed of movements performed in critical parts of waves means surfers must be more athletically conditioned to constantly adapt and perform in the water. By using surf training methods that professional coaches use to coach their athletes, and by applying the wisdom of how surfing specifically challenges the human body, surfers are able to take advantage of surf training and surfing exercises.

Try out the following 5 Exercise Surf Routine to hit some mobility and strength exercises which will help you move better in the water. If the correct technique and appropriate adjustments are made, each of these exercises can be tailored for a beginner or advanced athlete, based on the recommendations in the description:

Sample Exercise Recommendations and Why

1. Single Leg Hip Bridge (foot on bench / couch/ step) X 10 reps per side

This exercise will strengthen your glutes/hamstrings and improve pelvic stability and strength. Performing this exercise one leg at a time will allow you to notice any strength, stability or mobility imbalances you may have from left to right. Elevating your foot will increase the intensity since your hips will have a greater range of motion to strengthen through.

2. Prone Overhead Shoulder Hovers X 10 inward and 10 outward.

Surfers spend a lot of time paddling. When we paddle, we are spending a lot of time working our muscles responsible for shoulder internal rotation and downward pulling. This exercise strengthens the opposite actions – controlled upward lifting and shoulder external rotation. For this reason, long-time surfers typically find this movement very weak and limited. If you find it easy, move your arms higher, add a light weight and perform more reps. This exercise will strengthen your middle and lower trapezius and improve your overhead shoulder mobility.

3. Lower Abdominal Strict Deadbugs X 6-10 reps per side

By placing a Yoga Block between your same-side thigh and forearm, and squeezing it as hard as you can, it is almost impossible to cheat the movement and over-stress your lower back. By squashing the Yoga Block you are more likely to be strictly working your abdominals. Strengthening your lower abdominals is essential for pelvic stability, keeping your lower spine healthy and core strength.

4. Thoracic Rotation Active Holds X 5 per side of 5-10 active holds

This movement is useful to help improve your upper back (thoracic spine) rotation mobility and inner thigh flexibility. By posting your leg out to the side and keeping your hips level, you are essentially blocking hip rotation. By keeping your spine straight and bending forward from your hips, you are blocking rotation at your lower spine.

5. Shoulder Clocks X 5-10 reps per side

This is my favourite shoulder move of all time. This is an active mobility exercise for multi-angle, multi-directional shoulder stretching with strengthening. By keeping your torso strictly facing the side, and keeping your fingertips in contact with the floor, you can bias more shoulder movement. If your shoulder is not this mobile, you can regress this by allowing your torso to rotate toward the sky as you keep your fingertips in contact with the floor.

Whatever your level of surfing or training background is, check out Surf Strength & Conditioning for a plethora of mobility, bodyweight strength, lifting, sports rehab and optimal posture exercises to keep you surfing better for longer.

Article by Michelle Drielsma, author of Fluid Surfer – The Surfer’s Bible to Endless Performance & Injury Prevention

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