Surf Fitness – Shoulder Strength & Injury Prevention

Surf Fitness – Shoulder Strength & Injury Prevention

Surf Fitness, Surf Training
**Always consult a physician before beginning an exercise routine.  The following information is for general purposes only and not meant to substitute or replace a clinical rehabilitation program** 

If you’ve surfed long enough, most likely you’ve had some type of shoulder pain or injury.  For anyone new to surfing, stop now and pick up a different hobby.  Just kidding.  But do recognize the correlation between repetitive paddling and shoulder strain and put the work in to strengthen the most important joint involved in catching waves.

The first bunch of shoulder exercises I’ll recommend are more often associated with physical therapy and rehabilitation, but don’t let that stop you from adding them into your training routine.  Even those with healthy shoulders should incorporate these exercises into their rest days or as a bridge between the warm-up and training session.  Think of it as “pre-hab”- what’s successful in returning the shoulder joint from an injured to a healthy state is also highly effective in preventing an injury in the first place.  A majority of surfing related shoulder injuries are to the rotator cuff muscles.  These muscles encompass the shoulder joint and are significantly smaller and thus require less resistance than larger muscles like the rhomboids (muscles across the shoulder blades) and deltoids (shoulders).  In addition, most (but not all) injuries to the shoulder from surfing are the result of constant and repetitive paddling and occur over a long period of time.  Because of these factors, use light resistance and perform 2 – 3 sets of 12 – 20 repetitions on each exercise when performing the following:

  • Band Pullaparts; Internal & External Rotations; Scapula Retractions; Hitch-Hikers; Stability Pushup Plank; Lying Y & A’s   

* (Exercise demonstrations at

Just as it’s important to strengthen the smaller stabilizers of the shoulder joint, building muscle in the shoulders and upper back will help with your paddle endurance and keep you from missing swell while sitting out with a shoulder injury.  The shoulders are engaged in nearly every phase of surfing, whether you’re rotating your arm forwards during paddling, pushing yourself up before dropping in, or pumping your hands overhead in excitement as your friend comes charging down the line at you.  The aforementioned movements highlight the fact that the shoulder moves in nearly all directions while surfing.  Because of this, it’s important to vary your strengthening exercises in an effort to hit all angles of the shoulder joint.  The following exercises will provide a strong, balanced shoulder and keep you in the water for the hurricane season:

  • Lateral & Front DB Raises; Arnold DB Press; Face Pulls; Bent Over Reverse DB Flies; Inverted Rows; Pushups

Summertime is here, which means a few things – we’ll be shedding the wetsuit soon and probably be spending more time checking TheSurfersView’s forecast than actually surfing.  Aside from keeping yourself healthy and in the lineup, bare-backin’ it and The Atlantic’s inconsistent summertime surf provide additional motivation and opportunity to build up your shoulder strength so when the swell comes, you are more than ready.
Stay Active!

Adam Papendick, CSCS