Surfing is one of the most physically intense and demanding sports. It requires physical and mental focus at all times. In order to develop the strength, stamina and balance you need to be a successful surfer, we recommend that you integrate the following components into your workout regimen:
- Core Strength and Balance
- Upper Body Strength
- Lower Body Strength
- Flexibility, Stretching and Yoga
The best surfer’s workout program incorporates both the aerobic and anaerobic systems. Surfing requires a physical demand on both energy systems. Oscillating between the two systems while targeting the muscle groups involved in surfing is crucial: results are maximized when you keep the body guessing which energy system is needed.
Core Strength And Fitness For Surfing
Core strength refers to the muscles of your abs and back, and their ability to support your spine to keep your body stable and balanced. Since surfing involves a lot of twisting and rotating, core strength plays a critical part in balancing you on your board. A strong core helps you surf with more power, for longer periods with less fatigue. If your typical core workout consists of crunches or sit-ups, you will find that adding exercises for the chest, shoulders, back, hips and gluts will improve your surfing quickly.
Core Muscle Science
The core is produced by the anterolateral abdominal wall, low back muscles, hip flexors, hip extensors, and hip rotators.
The anterolateral abdominal wall is made up of five muscles: three flat muscles (external oblique, internal oblique, transverse abdominal) and two vertical muscles (rectus abdominis and pyramidalis). The rectus abdominus’ main action is to flex and compresses of the trunk. The function of all of these muscles is to form a tough elastic support that protects the abdominal organs from injury, helps to increase the intra-abdominal pressure, and, most importantly, moves the trunk and helps maintain posture.
The low back muscles are very important for posture and balance. The big bulk of muscle that you feel in your low back is created by three muscles that make up your erector spinae (iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis. Their main action is to extend the spine and provide lateral flex. Then there are postural muscles in the deep layer of the lumbar spine, which a lot of trainers forget to train. Together these muscles are called transverso-spinals (semispinalis, multifidus, and rotators). These muscles stabilize the vertebrae and assist with local extension and rotational movements of the vertebral column. most important, they help you balance by sending signals to the brain to control movement without falling. It is important to strengthen these muscles to strengthen to prevent injuries and to increase your reaction time to sudden movements (reading waves)
The hip flexors are formed by the illiopsoas, quadriceps femoris muscles (lateralis, intermedius, and medialis) and biceps femoris. The iliopsoas muscle is the most powerful flexor of the thigh at the hip joint. The quadricepts femoris muscles flex the hip and extend the leg at the knee. Hip flexing while abducting and laterally rotating the hip is very important in functional training.
Add the following routine to your surfing workout and you should see results in about 4-6 weeks. These exercises should be done one after the other in a circuit fashion, with no more than 30 seconds rest in between.
- Squats: Start with some basic squats to warm up. Perform as many repetitions as you can in 20 seconds while maintaining good form and control.
- Plank: Builds both endurance and core stability. Hold for 20 seconds. (Add ten leg lifts on each side to increase intensity).
- Squat Thrusts: Simulates the surfing “pop-up.” Perform as many repetitions as you can in 20 seconds while maintaining good form and control.
- Stability Ball Push-Ups: Nothing beats the push-up for building core strength. If you don’t have a stability ball, do the basic push-up. Perform as many repetitions as you can in 20 seconds while maintaining good form and control.
- One-Leg Squat: Develops strength, balance and coordination required to help you maintain your center of gravity on the waves. Perform 10 reps on each leg.
- Side Plank: A great, overlooked core strength exercise. Hold for 20 seconds and switch sides. For a more challenging move, lift one left leg up off the other.
- Back Extensions: Start on your hands and knees (or lie on a stability ball). Raise your left leg and right arm 10 times then raise your right leg and left arm 10 times.
- Stability Ball Twist: With hands on the floor, place feet on either side of the ball. Hold body in a straight line with abs pulled in, hips straight and hands directly under shoulders. Slowly twist the ball to the right, then to the left. Perform 10 reps on each side.
- Vertical Jumps: Builds lower body strength, while working on balance. Start in a squat position and jump up in the air as high as you can. Land gently with weight evenly distributed on both feet and absorb the impact with a full squat. Repeat 10 times.
- Barrier Lateral Jumps: A great way to build strength, endurance and balance. Jump from side to side over a small barrier, land, and quickly jump back. Build up to 20 seconds.
Upper Body Surf Excercies
Surfing involves a LOT of paddling. Experienced surfers will agree that they spend much more time paddling than actually riding waves. That’s because after each short-lived, exhilarating ride on a wave, it’s time to paddle all the way back out to the break. So in order to catch more waves, you have to paddle harder, faster, longer!
Paddle fatigue can be very challenging for a beginner. When paddling, the body is in a prone position with the lower back in extension and the feet about six inches apart. It is crucial to strengthen the muscles that hold the scapulae to the rib cage in order to create shoulder stability.
Upper Body Muscles
The muscles that hold the scapulae in place on the medial side are key in stabilizing the shoulders during paddling. These include the middle and lower trapezius, rhomboid major and minor, and serratus anterior. The middle trapezius and rhomboids contract to pull both scapulae together. The lower trapezius’ main action is to pull the scapulae down the thorax. The main function of serratus anterior is to hold the medial border of the scapulae tight to the thoracic cage.
Prevent Rotator Cuff Injury
The rotator cuff (rotor cuff) is an anatomical term given to the group of muscles and their tendons that act to stabilize the shoulder. The rotator cuff muscles act to stabilize the humeral head in the glenoid cavity. When overhead arm movements are used (as in paddling), they overstimulate the upper trapezius, which causes the rotator cuff muscles to work harder to prevent the humeral head from elevation. This is the reason why shoulder injuries occur. Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles along with the lower and middle trapezius muscles will inhibit the tightness of the upper trapezius, thus allowing the rotator cuff muscles to hold their contraction for a longer period of time. In other words, work your rotator cuff before you paddle out – these muscles will account for most of your post-surfing soreness.
Because the rotator cuff muscles are so small, when strengthening them, it is important not to use weights that are too heavy. Initially, a 3 or 5-pound dumbbell may suffice for most women, and an 8- to 12-pound dumbbell for men. Keep the movements slow and controlled, and be sure to train in the pain-free range of motion. Keep your wrists neutral.
Upper Body Surfing Workout
- Bench Press
- Incline Bench Press
- Decline Bench Press
- Close Grip Pull-Ups
- Wide Grip Pull-Ups
- Reverse Underhand Pull-Downs
- Wide Grip Pull-Downs
- Bent-Over Rows
- Close Grip Seated Rows
- Wide Grip Seated Rows
- Straight Arm Pull-Down
- Front Deltoid Raises
- Lateral Deltoid Raises
- Posterior Deltoid Raises
- Military Press
- Internal Rotation
- Internal Rotation at 90 degrees
- External Rotation
- External Rotation at 90 degrees
- Upright Row to External Rotation at 90 degrees
- Bicep Curl, Neutral Grip
- Bicep Curl, Supinated Grip
- Bicep Curl, Pronated Grip
- Barbell Close Grip Curl
- Barbell Wide Grip Curl
- Preacher Curls
- Underhand Close Grip Pull-Ups
- Skull Crushers
- Tricep Push-Downs
- Reverse Grip Push-Downs
- Rope Push-Downs
- Tricep Kickbacks
- Close Grip Bench Press
LOWER BODY SURF EXERCISES
Surfing relies on your lower body muscles to maneuver twisting movements that are quick and powerful while maintaining your core balance. Research has shown that weak lower body strength inhibits your core strength due to improper muscular activation. The muscles in your body are all connected, so don’t be fooled into thinking that working any one muscle is enough to make a difference. A lower body strengthening program should focus on your thighs, legs, and feet.
Did you know that if you strengthen your tibialis anterior muscle for 4 weeks, you will loosen up your calf muscles which are attached to your hamstrings? Tibialis anterior (meaty muscle on your shin bone) strength is needed to provide ankle stability while surfing. The majority of people who work out fail to strengthen this muscle, which sets them up for a potential disaster in the water.
To properly work the lower body muscles, you must also facilitate their neurological connection. For this reason, in order to increase lower body strength, endurance, and stability, it is crucial to utilize unbalanced terrains. Therefore, using Bosu balls, stability balls, balance boards, one-legged exercises, and even performing exercises with your eyes closed will improve your surfing skills quickly.
- Front Squat
- Reverse Squat
- Lateral Lunge
- Reverse Lunge
- Front Lunge
- Front Cross-Over Lunge
- Reverse Cross-Over Lunge
- Leg Extensions
- Leg Curls
- Leg Presses
- Hip Extensions
FLEXIBILITY & STRETCHING FOR SURFING
Muscle soreness sets in pretty fast, as you’ll quickly find out after your first surf lesson. Between paddling and taking the impact from the waves when you fall, you will find yourself using and straining muscles you never even knew you had! This is where a good stretching regimen comes into play. Proper stretching before you surf will increase your recovery time and reduce the chance of injuries.
Here’s a quick stretching routine you can try.
- Start by rolling your head around to limber up your neck. In surfing, you need to turn your head pretty fast, so you want to be ready.
- With legs together and then apart, touch your toes. Lean forward, and then to each side. Bunce down slowly and let your weight take you to full extension. You want to make sure your hamstrings, low back and hip flexors get a good stretch before you paddle out.
- Stand on one leg and pull the other foot up behind you to get a nice stretch in the quads.
- Sit on the sand with your right foot crossing over your left knee, then twist from the waist to look over your right shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on left side.
- While sitting, arch your back and reach for the stars, with fingers locked and palms facing up.
- Extend your right arm straight across your left shoulder, using your left hand to extend the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
- Twist left and right, then lean left and right to loosen hips.
Why Yoga for Surfers?
Yoga allows you to strengthen and stretch all of your surfing muscles while improving stamina, balance and mental focus. Rotator cuff stretches strengthen your shoulders for paddling, core work helps you pop up more quickly on the board, and powerful breathing techniques increase lung capacity. Doing yoga on days when the surf is flat helps you stay conditioned and ready for the next swell!
Recommended Yoga Positions for Surfers
Hold poses for three to five breaths; modify as necessary to avoid force or strain.
Down-Facing Dog: Stretches the shoulders, back and legs; strengthens the upper body; improves balance and mental focus.
- Start on hands and knees with hands shoulder-width apart; fingers spread wide.
- Curl toes under, lift hips; press shoulders away from hands and reach heels toward the floor; firm your thighs and keep your back straight.
- Lift right leg as high as possible; keep it lifted and reach left arm behind you, resting back of hand on low back.
- Breathe, relax, focus and enjoy.
- Repeat on other side.
Forearm Plank: Strengthens core muscles of the abdomen and back for more endurance, faster pop-ups on the board.
- From a kneeling position, place forearms on the ground with elbows lining up under shoulders; interlace fingers.
- Curl toes under and lift knees, bringing body into one straight line.
- Engage abs, breathe and focus for one minute.