Do a Google search on surf fitness and you will get all kinds of advice on exercise that you can do to improve your surfing – everything from yoga, swimming, strength training, pilates, cardiovascular exercise, plyometrics, balance training…and the list goes on.
I’m exhausted just thinking about that lot and, if you are anything like I was when I embarked on project surf fit, you will probably feel overwhelmed and wonder where to start.
Plus, there’s only so many days in the week and unless you are prepared to eat, sleep, gym repeat, or you’re a pro surfer on the world tour, you can’t and probably don’t want to try and fit that lot in.
I have seen so many threads on discussions groups about what exercises are best for surfing. I think that’s a very open ended question because I think it depends on what level you are currently at with your surfing (and fitness!) and what you want to achieve, which is the best to place to start.
Ask yourself what you could do with improving – focus on 1 or 2 areas and ask yourself how much work you are prepared to put in. I know my areas of weakness are my paddle power and pop-up ability and although I have an all-round programme, which is important to ensure I’m not neglecting other areas, it does have a focus towards those things I need help with.
I know that I’m not going to get there overnight and there is no quick fix, especially if you are starting from scratch. What I have achieved so far has taken 6 months of hard work and constantly challenging myself to progress and work towards my goals. It’s going to take time, especially to build strength, but already, I’m reaping the benefits and it has made a considerable difference to my surfing. What you put in is definitely what you get out!
I’m not a fitness expert but I know what a minefield surf fitness is (and how geared it is towards already super fit surfers and sadly, men), so I thought I would share a few ideas, based on what I have learnt, to help get you started. It’s focussed on areas in surfing which you may struggle with, and what you can potentially do to improve.
Struggling to catch waves because your arms feel like noodles? You need to work on your upper body strength and endurance, specifically in your shoulders and back.
What you can do:
Swimming is the closest thing you can do to paddling on your surfboard, so hit the pool but working on your crawl and getting that heart rate going. It’s important to get your technique right though in order to catch waves and ensure you don’t tire out so if your stroke could do with some work, get some advice from a swimming coach.
If you can’t get to a pool, get yourself a Power Stroke bungee chord – a resistance band which mimics the action of paddling. It targets all the major muscle groups for paddling whilst building strength and endurance.
You could also consider some of the exercises I have in my programme. Three good ones to highlight are:
If you struggle to pop-up and find yourself going to your knees, chances are you don’t have enough explosive movement in your arms to get the clearance for bringing your legs through.
What you can do:
You need to work on your upper body strength (specifically your triceps and chest) and your explosive (or plyometric) movements. Undoubtedly, the best exercises for this are:
- Press ups
Basic: start slowly and build up. If you don’t feel comfortable doing a full press up to start with, start on your knees. Bring your hands closer together to put more emphasis on your triceps, and mimic the hand placement on your surfboard. Get as low to the floor as possible, holding for a second or two before coming back up. Remember to breathe!
Step it up: Once you have built more strength and stability, work on some explosive press-ups – same as above but placing your hands on a bosu ball or similar, going into the press and then pushing off from the bosu ball before returning your hands to the press position.
- Burpees. A tough exercise but a great all rounder and one for explosive movement.
- Pop-up practise. The best place to do this is in the sea but if you can’t get to the coast, perfecting the technique on dry land will aid muscle memory and give you a good workout if you do it often enough!
If you’re catching waves, popping up successfully, but immediately falling off your board, it sounds like your balance needs addressing.
What to do:
Work on your core strength (which goes hand in hand with good balance) and use aids such as an Indo Board, Bosu Ball or Swiss Ball. Effective exercises I have done include:
- Swiss ball kneel – balance on the swiss ball on your knees for as long as you can and without holding onto the wall. Not as easy as it looks! To step this one up, progress to standing on a medicine ball, again unaided
- Bosu ball squats – you can also use weights or try closing your eyes to throw your balance off
You could also try yoga which is excellent for flexibility and improving your balance – not only physically but mentally too!
Good core exercises include Russian twists (with a medicine ball) and low scissor and lateral kicks.
I used to get tired after half an hour in the sea but since my new fitness regime, I can stay in the sea for 2 hours plus and still have fuel in the tank. It’s my biggest area of improvement and the cardiovascular element of my programme has made a massive difference.
What you can do:
Any form of cardio is good as it will help build your stamina and increase your lung capacity. Swimming, running, cycling – anything that will get your heart pumping and you working up a sweat!
I’m a massive fan of spinning, so as well as a bit of running which I do in the gym on my strength and plyometric days, I do a weekly class. It’s something I hugely enjoy and although not surf specific, gets me fired up and motivated for the week ahead.
General fitness tips
- Get some advice from a trainer before you embark on a programme
- Stretch and cool down when exercising to avoid injury
- Have fun! Make sure you incorporate some elements you enjoy, otherwise you will become demotivated and give up
- Set yourself weekly challenges and don’t make it too easy as you won’t progress
- Mix it up – don’t stick to the same routines or you risk getting bored
- Eat well – you will feel better and perform at optimum level but don’t deprive yourself of the occasional treat either!
Coming up next on my blog, I will be focussing on one of my problem areas, the pop-up, and show you how I’m getting on practising on dry land!