Surfing can be difficult enough without adding a fight against a limited, inflexible body. Truth is, one of the best ways to improve your surfing (and long-term overall physical well being) is to become more mobile.
What is mobility? It is a combination of flexibility and strength, which give you control over a given range of motion. Simply focusing on improving your surfing technique is great, however, you’ll need to have sufficient mobility to implement any of those mechanical and technical changes. Everything from gaining more efficient movement in the water to building endurance will come from greater mobility.
Accomplishing this takes time and dedication, just as improving any physical attribute does. We need muscle flexibility, muscle strength, soft tissue suppleness, joint integrity, and smoothly gliding joints. How can we achieve these? Rather than just doing a few stretches before or after a surf, your mobility work should be treated as a regular training session. I often spend a whole hour working on mine, or a client’s, mobility and we don’t fail to build up a sweat.
Your Keys to Gaining a More Free, More Flexible, and Stronger Body
Long duration stretching over many years is a proven method for building muscle flexibility. Look at dancers and gymnasts – they’ve spent most of their lives stretching. Long duration stretching is not necessarily time-practical before surfing and will sedate the nervous system before surfing/training. It’s not the best option for those who also need to develop greater levels of strength and control within a range of motion. There are ways you can incorporate muscle stretching into your mobility program that is effective and time efficient when combined with the techniques below.
Active Tissue Stretching
Developing tension within a stretched muscle/tissue, similar to Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching, yet with specific time and strength input parameters.
Soft Tissue Therapy
You can dive into joint mobilization and manipulation either by yourself or working with a therapist. Fluid Surfer is a book that has safe, self-mobilizations you can learn and start applying if you wish to do this yourself.
Regular Mobility and Strength Training
These principles can be discovered through an FRC or Kinstretch instructor. Get in touch if you’re curious.
I’ve developed a surf-specific online mobility program that will teach you all of this at home. So with all that said, below are three techniques that will greatly enhance your shoulder health in and out of the water.
Pecs / Chest Push & Lift
Overhead Shoulder Shrugs
If the “Overhead Shoulder Shrugs” position is too strong of a stretch for you, you can complete a similar version of this technique standing near the corner of a wall. Reach your hand down the middle of your back and use the wall to gently push your elbow. Slowly get closer to the wall with your chest and with time, your goal should be able to touch your armpit to the wall.
Shoulder Clock Floor
If this position is too strong of a stretch for you or you’re feeling a pinch at the front of your shoulders, complete this without a weight and reduce the size of your circle (your hand does not have to be touching the ground). The weight plate helps stretch the arm into a deeper range of movement as well as providing a small resistance to conservatively challenge each new shoulder position with light strengthening. Wherever you are, this technique will serve to restore blood flow and mobility to stiff and sore surf shoulders.
You will notice that these techniques involve not only a muscle stretch but also involve strength efforts to improve the nervous system’s “acceptance” of deeper ranges of motion. In a nutshell, your nervous system will try to protect you (tightening your muscles) in joint ranges that it cannot control. By increasing your strength in deeper ranges of motion, your mobility will effectively improve.
You can also increase your mobility by trying different forms of exercise. When you train only for surfing, the body will adapt to these specific movements. Getting a good home bodyweight strength and movement program can be all you need to get your nuts and bolts greased, strong and working well.
Mobility is also very important for injury prevention. It’s a lot easier to incorporate some mobility training to prevent injury than it is to wait until you’re injured and try to become more mobile to fix the problem. Give these three techniques a try every day for a week and let me know how you go.