Nov. 1, 2013 - Watch a few videos of your favorite surfer in the midst of or finishing a technical maneuver. The various body positions and ability to stabilize both the board and one's body while on something as unstable as a wave shows that surfing requires a significant amount of range of motion at the major joints of the body. Maintaining a low center of gravity is essential during turns and landing airs, and without proper flexibility can be nearly impossible. With this in mind, the following article provides 4 stretches that can improve flexibility of the ankles, knees, hips, trunk, and shoulders. Increasing your range of motion at the aforementioned locations can lead to more comfortable and fluid surf sessions, or at the very least help you recover afterwards. It is highly recommended to stretch AFTER a long dynamic warm-up, workout, or physical activity. Always consult a physician prior to beginning any exercise routine.
1. The "Downward Dog to Calf Stretch":
Flexibility in the lower extremities is essential for full mobility of the entire body. The ankle joint is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when contemplating stretching for surfing, but increasing range of motion here can positively influence your ability to control shifts in body weight while on the wave. The "Downward Dog to Calf Stretch" is an excellent way to increase flexibility of the ankle joint and will provide the foundation needed for a strong yet mobile surf stance. Start out by getting in a pushup plank position. Quickly draw your belly button towards your spine (contract the abs) and act as if a string is drawing your hips towards the ceiling. Once you've reached the top pike position (your body should look like an upside-down "V"), allow one knee to collapse and bend - this shifts the weight to the straight leg and forces a good hard stretch on the back of the calf. Try and press your heel into the floor.
2. The "Samson Stretch":
After going after the calves and ankles, the next target area you should focus on is the hip flexor region. The hip flexors can be shortened and made inflexible by long periods of sitting, exemplified by when during lulls between sets it is sometimes difficult to pop up quickly or move freely on the wave. Chances are that some tightness in the hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings has caused this. The "Samson Stretch" is a efficient way to lengthen both the hip flexors and quads, in addition to creating some shoulder flexibility as well. Tightness in the hip flexors or hamstrings in particular can hinder your ability to maintain balance and center of gravity while digging in during your turns or sticking an air or floater. Begin by dropping the back knee down (create a 45 degree angle) and bring the other leg up and forward. Maintain a FLAT foot on the front leg, and slowly lean forward while reaching both arms up over head. Additional ankle flexibility can be targeted by driving the knee forward and towards the lateral side of the foot (keep heel and foot flat!).
3. "Lying Hamstring Stretch w Cross-Over":
The third stretch for the lower extremity ties together your trunk (low back - core) and hamstrings. Loosening up the hamstrings can help reduce back pain after surfing, and help you feel better while on the wave by mobilizing your pelvis. The "Lying Hamstring Stretch w Cross-Over" will also allow for improved trunk rotation (and maybe crisper, sharper turns) by stretching the muscles that run from the back of your legs, through the glutes, and ultimately tie into the lower back. Begin by lying flat on the ground and placing a band or stretch rope across the arch of your foot of the elevated leg. Keep the other leg flat on the ground, and grab the band with the opposite side arm, pulling the leg vertically toward the ceiling. Your free arm (same side as the leg being stretched) can be placed overhead to accentuate the tension. Transition the elevated leg across the body while trying to keep the opposing shoulder flat on the ground.
4. The "Band Assisted Lat Stretch"
After loosening up the lower body, we'll go over one stretch to help increase flexibility and movement in the shoulders and back. You've probably noticed soreness in the triceps, lats, shoulders, and trapezius (back of your neck) after a long session. Failure to stretch this region can lead to limited range of motion, decrease power when paddling, pain in the shoulders or back, and poor posture. The "Band Assisted Lat Stretch" will loosen your shoulders, lats, triceps, and traps all from one base position. When using the band for a stretching aid it is important to work within a reasonable resistance - do NOT put too much tension on the muscle. *See video for demonstration.
While stretching is often far from a priority for most, taking 5-10 minutes per day to stretch can significantly improve your range of motion, and in turn enable you to better control your body while on the board. Winters coming, and hopefully with it some bigger, more consistent surf. Take the time now to prepare yourself by following up your next surf session or workout with a solid stretch.