Get those shoulders paddle ready with this one move. Photo Via Instagram @lakeypeterson / @willikessel.

Get those shoulders paddle ready with this one move. Photo Via Instagram @lakeypeterson / @willikessel.

The Inertia

As surfers we spend the vast majority of our “surf time” paddling. As much fun as each ride is, our paddle muscles (shoulders, back and arms) tend to take the brunt of the workload during each session. And, the “just one more wave” mentality tends to put extra burn on those already tired shoulder muscles.


In surfing, as with all sports, proper training is vital to maintaining a fit body that’s not only ready to surf, but is able to keep you surfing for many years to come. It’s important to remember that when training, building strength through compound exercises (pull-ups, low rows, squats, pushups, etc.) is great… BUT we can not forget to train the smaller muscles in our shoulders. It is these smaller muscles that provide much needed paddle endurance which allows you to last longer each session and paddle harder in short bursts to catch more waves.


If not trained properly, the smaller muscles in our shoulders (rotator cuff) will tire out much faster than the larger muscles…causing you to fatigue too soon. Excessive fatigue to these small muscles is what often leads to common overuse injuries in the shoulder. The #1 injury surfers suffer from is a shoulder injury – whether it’s a tear in the rotator cuff, inflammation in the bicep tendon (bicep tendonitis), or a pulled muscle in the neck, upper or lower back.


Here, I want to show you my favorite exercise to improve paddle strength & endurance + help to pre-hab those important small muscles in your shoulders.


The exercise is called IYTW’s


This exercise is typically used in a physical therapy setting when doing rehabilitation for many shoulder injuries, or previous surgeries. This single exercise helps to safely target, strengthen, and rehabilitate all of the muscles of the rotator cuff (front, medial, rear deltoids) as well as incorporate their surrounding muscle attachments such as the trapezius, rhomboids, teres major & minor. My surf clients feel more comfortable on their board when they consistently perform these movements.

  • Seaman

    The best exercise for surfing is and alawys will be swimming. Eddie Aikau and Duke Kahanamoku are the proof. All the gym people have horrible resistance in the water.

    • Nick

      Truth. But I also enjoy seeing the donkey kong, elbow paddle.

  • Mayda

    How heavy should the dumbbells be? I’m a 5’10” guy @ 150lbs. Also, how many reps/sets do you recommend?


    • Patty Soud

      @sumedhasenanayake:disqus , start out using light dumbbells (such as 3 – 5 lbs), do a set of 10 – 15 repetitions, resting in between, and repeat the set 2 to 3 times. Remember, the “I-Y-T-W” counts as 1 rep. Also, it would be a great idea to incorporate this exercise into your regimen at least 3 times a week. Hope that helps!

  • Christopher Scanlan

    I need these exercises. And I need swimming as well! Thanks for all of your comments. I am a gym guy. My last time out surfing I almost drowned. I was in a surf camp. I had two men watching me. They decided to leave me be to learn my lesson. When I made it to shore the one who told the other not to rescue me said you need to get a watch and make sure that after two hours you are headed to the beach. I was always staying out three hours. He said that is when you are going to drown in that 3rd hour. The most important lesson I learned in that camp!!! Oh I failed to mention my leash broke on me. I had a long swim ahead of me. I could barely swim in my arms were gone! My rash guard as light as it is became too heavy for me. I am not going surfing without a watch again. I don’t know my limits.

  • Thiago Farias

    Surely the author has to go back to his/her anatomy books… “The rotator cuff (ant, med and rear delts)” ummm ok…
    Intention good, information not so good.

    Overall, the exercise, well demonstrated by the way, is a great basic exercise to assist with conditioning of some of the muscles which flex the shoulder assist with retraction, in a way helping improve scapular stability (very important for good rotator cuff performance).
    Not at all assisting with shoulder extension close to the trunk, as happens in the paddle, or the freestyle swim pull. This is best mimicked by a will controlled swim style cable pull, which is more functional, and helps maximise gains due to more tension applied thru a greater range of motion and eccentric contraction benefits.
    I’d also complement this with 1. Strength and stability training the true internal and external rotators of the cuff (infraspinatus and subscap), with a focus on external rotation, and the highly important, easily torn, supraspinatus by abducting and 2. Lots of stretching of the pectorals, who also work hard for the paddle, and mess up the balance of the scapula and rotator cuff If left too tight.

    Hope this helps you guys and gals out there looking for a better paddle and a healthier shoulder. 🙂

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