“Hey Nick, what are the best exercises I can do to improve my surfing?” This is a question I’m asked all the time.
My answer is, “well it depends.” I normally follow up with a handful of additional questions. The goal to is uncover what aspect of the person’s surfing needs work. Assuming someone knows the basics of surfing and can catch an open green wave on their own, I found that for most beginner to intermediate surfers it’s almost always one of the following problems:
The issue is rooted in their paddling POWER. Specifically, they are not able to catch waves or feel like they can’t generate enough speed to get into a wave.
A spin off of this is a lack in paddle ENDURANCE and issues with staying in the water for more than 60 minutes at a time.
The other common obstacle for surfers is flexibility, where their body just won’t go into certain positions without pain. Maybe their hips are super tight, creating problems with a good balanced squat position. Or maybe the ankles are so stiff that they’re forced to lift part the heel off the board to stay low.
Of course talent, skill, and overall wave experience certainly matters in your overall surfing ability, but all things being equal, if you are leaner, stronger and more flexible you will surf better. Hands down.
In the simplest words, surfing well requires a fit and flexible body.
Here’s the good news. Each one of these problem areas can be solved with some focused effort and attention. Here’s what to do.
Step 1: Assess your weakest link
What do you think is holding you back from surfing better? Be specific.
Paddle power, defined as explosive strokes to get into waves, is distinctly different from paddle endurance, the ability to continuously paddle for 30 seconds or more without slowing down. These two types of strength are different and therefore need to be trained differently. So which one do you struggle with?
If your struggle is balance once you’re standing on your board, then you most likely need to address stability and mobility problems.
Step 2: Address that weak link
1. You Lack Paddle Power.
This might show up for you in many different ways. You seem to miss waves because you can’t paddle hard enough to catch the waves. Or maybe you can’t generate enough speed to get into the right position and are then forced to catch waves in critical positions.Finally, maybe you surf somewhere that’s very crowded and you feel like everyone else is paddling around you getting in better position?
If this sounds like you, here’s what to do.
Improving paddling power means you have to work on getting stronger and therefore generate more force with each paddle stroke.
The best way to get stronger with the major paddling muscles is by focusing on strength training with heavier weights and lower reps, somewhere in the 4-6 rep range. Working with heavier weights and lower reps will get you stronger in a shorter amount of time as opposed to lifting lighter weights at higher reps (that will be used for paddle endurance below).
Here are two of the best exercises to increase paddle power.
Bodyweight pull-ups for some of you will be plenty of resistance to increase paddle power. If you can do more than 10 strict pull-ups, add weight by using a weight vest or strapping a weight to your waist with a weight belt.
If you can’t do one bodyweight pull-up, use a resistance band.
Explode up to the bar then take a 5 second negative on the way down. Start with 5 sets of 5 reps. Perform this three times per week.
Grab a heavy dumbbell in one hand and balance with your opposite hand and knee on a bench. Tighten your core so you do not rotate your body and pull your arm up so the hand is just below the arm pit. Repeat for 8 reps.
2. You Lack Paddle Endurance
This is going to be best addressed by, you guessed it…paddling. More paddling, more paddling, more paddling. When you can’t get on your board, do pull downs for high reps.
If you have gym access, find a double cable machine and try this out.
And if you don’t have access to a cable machine you can do them with resistance bands. You’ll just need to get a little creative in setting them up.
The Alternating Band / Cable Pull Downs
Perform 20-30 reps, one arm at a time. Rest for 30-60 seconds. Repeat for a total of 4 sets. Try to add this exercise into your daily routine, up to five times per week.
3. You Have Stiffness in the Hips and Shoulders
Proper paddling and surfing comes down to proper mechanics with the two most important joints in the body, the hips and shoulders.
If you’re rounded forward at the shoulders and lack range of motion in the shoulder joint, your paddling will be less efficient. You’ll be working harder and producing less force. That’s no good. Not only will performance suffer but you’ll also put your shoulder and the surrounding tissues in compromised positions which can lead to injuries.
At the same time, if your hips don’t move well you’ll have shitty balance and certainly wont be able to produce any powerful turns. The hips are the major power engines of the body. They need to be loose and free.
Unfortunately, we sit so damn much that most of us have restrictions in the hips that don’t allow for optimal movement. Knees start to hurt, lower back pain starts to develop – most of the time from poor mobility through the hips. If this sounds like you, here’s what to do.
Shoulder Slides (For Should Mobility)
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground in front of your body. Start by placing your arms out to the side of your body with your elbows bent and back of the hands into the ground. Press your lower back into the ground so there is no space between the ground and your low back. Slowly raise the arms overhead while maintaining contact to the ground with the back of the hand and arm. The idea is to slowly slide the arms up the mat. Always check to make sure your ribs stay down and lower back doesn’t arch.
The Deep Squat Hold (For Hip Mobility)
Sit back into a good squat position with your weight on your heels, back straight, and chest up. Try to drop as low as you can while keeping your heels on the ground. You can grab onto a pole at first to make this easier.
So, Do you know your weak link? Hopefully you now have a better idea of how to spend your time out of the water.
For more from Nick, including his 30-Day Surfer Body Program, check out Saltwater Fitness.