As you know, surfing gives no part of your body time off while you’re in the water. Whether it’s your lats and triceps paddling you into a wave, your back leg kicking spray during a cutback, or the core stabilizing your body through a deep bottom turn, muscles throughout your entire body are constantly firing. Surfing has evolved so much over the years, and with that the applicable exercises to the sport have increased exponentially. In later features we’ll talk about training for specific maneuvers, but this article is primed to set you up with the fundamental exercises that every surfer should master and perform regularly in an effort to increase their strength and reduce the risk of injury while in the water.
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll break the exercises into 3 main groups, starting with the upper body, which acts as your motor to catch a wave and provides the initial push to stand up. Paddling requires strength in the lats (muscles that run down the length of your back), shoulders, triceps, biceps, and rhomboids (across your shoulder blades), while standing up requires some strength in your chest muscles. In order to make the workout more efficient, negate the biceps and triceps specific exercises and instead perform large muscle group exercises in which you push or pull.
“Pullups”,” lat pulldowns”, and “chin-ups” are all excellent for developing paddle strength by working your lats, biceps, forearms, and shoulder stabilizers. The “pushup” and “dumbbell bench press” target the chest, shoulders, and triceps, and will increase your ability to pop up quickly when catching a wave. Perhaps most important (because they’re often neglected) are “seated cable rows”, “bent dumbbell rows”, and “inverted pull ups”. These exercises aid in paddling by strengthening the muscles across your shoulder blades and back, but more importantly provide balance to your upper body and protect your shoulder joint by increasing the strength of your stabilizer muscles. By performing pull ups, pushups, and inverted pull ups (or weighted variations), you can prepare your upper body for stronger paddling.
Once you catch the wave, your legs provide a strong base for the drop in and also drive the momentum through the board during various cuts and turns. The most important lower body exercise for surfing is the “squat”. While there are numerous variations, with proper form squats will increase strength and stability in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, all while stabilizing your hips, knees, and core. A second lower body exercise is the “Single Leg Romanian Deadlift” (SRDL’s). SRDL’s isolate each leg of the body and target the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Improved strength and balance in these muscles will help on your drop-in and provide power for any turn you may make on the wave. Last but not least (and perhaps the most challenging) is the “split squat”. Split squats also isolate the right and left legs, but they strengthen all the large muscle groups of the thigh. While they can be painfully challenging, split squats are essential in maintaining balance between your right and left side. From a surfing standpoint, proficiency in this exercise will make that drop knee barrel more comfortable and allow you to stand back up with some explosiveness to continue your ride.
As we talked about earlier, surfing demands a constant interaction between the upper and lower body. The muscles that connect these two regions make up what’s known as the “core”. Your abdominals, oblique’s, and low back muscles provide stability and generate momentum for rotation (and thus shifts in direction) while you’re surfing. The first recommended core exercise, a “Bird Dog”, is important because it puts the torso in similar position to surfing. It also builds low back and abdominal strength while also activating the hamstrings and shoulder stabilizers. “Stability Ball Knee Tucks” work the lower abs, hip flexors, and shoulders, and will improve the quickness at which you stand up when catching a wave. Finally, a “Paloff Hold” trains your oblique muscles while stabilizing the spine. This isometric exercise will actually strengthen the core muscles needed to whip your board around during turns and airs.
While there’s absolutely no need to try and look like Ronnie from the Jersey Shore, we can all benefit from regular trips to the gym. The aforementioned exercises will build strength throughout your entire body, specifically targeting the main muscles needed to surf. And for those of you that truly despise exercise or are looking to spend as little time as possible working out, let me conclude with a list of just 2 must-do exercises to help your surfing: ” Inverted pullups” (see above info), and “burpees”. Burpees combine squats, planks, and pushups into one grueling exercise, so they’ll train your entire body (and jack up your heart rate in the process). Even though we as surfers are lucky enough to enjoy such a healthy activity, don’t hesitate spending some time building up strength through these exercises, as your performance and surf endurance will reap the rewards.
Adam Papendick, CSCS