What you do in the gym strengthens the foundations of athleticism. These foundations allow you to work on and improve your skill in the water. Bottom line, surfing will always be the best thing to do in order to get better at surfing. But gym-time or focused movement can solidify your body’s capability to excel in the water, and take advantage of those precious times you get to hop into the ocean. That is why I am so adamant and profoundly insistent that people take more care and responsibility for their bodies. Put in effort, put in focused training. In short, care for your body so that you can do whatever it is you want to do with it in life… in most of our cases, one of those things is surfing.
The foundations of athleticism are strength, power, endurance, agility, coordination, speed, and flexibility. Every sport has a mixture of these foundations in differing ratios. In order to have an athlete perform at his or her best in their chosen sport, my goal as a strength coach is to determine the ratios of foundations for their sport, and then determine what categories the athlete is lacking. That is what high quality strength and conditioning work is, and that is what I do for surfers. Lose all the gimmicky bullshit and focus on what surfing requires.
1. Endurance, work capacity, anaerobic conditioning.
This is essentially the ability to produce lower level effort or work for longer periods of time. It’s the foundation of being able to paddle for extended periods of time and quickly recover. Think of it as a the base for you to be able to perform in the water without getting easily gassed. This can be improved with full body conditioning work like jumprope, circuit training, interval running, row machines, and even jogging. This training doesn’t need to be “surf specific,” it just needs to tax the aerobic energy systems. Read more about this here.
2. Mobility and joint health of the upper body
Make sure your thoracic spine and shoulders can move properly. Hours of paddling, producing force, and taking a joint through a large range of motion will tear things apart and create low level inflammation if a joint is out of ideal alignment. Make sure you can move well through your thoracic spine and shoulder girdle. Most desk-jockey surfers are exceptionally stiff through these two areas. Read about thoracic spine movement here, and check out the video below for a series of upper body stretches.
3. Back extensor endurance.
Think of a paddling posture: chest up, head high, a nice arch to the back. Don’t be one of those “turtle” dudes who can’t extend the spine. Part of this is having adequate mobility as mentioned above, but it’s also about having the necessary work capacity and aerobic endurance in the back extensor muscles. If you don’t have adequate strength and endurance through your back muscles, fatigue, spasm, and ache aren’t too far away. This can be achieved through various “core” training movements that hit the posterior chain muscles (glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors). Hold these movements for long periods of time with short rest periods to specifically build up the work capacity of these muscles.
4. Training that hits a variety of energy systems and strength characteristics.
When I say energy systems, I’m referring to the pathway the body uses to produce force or energy production. Aerobic as mentioned in work capacity and endurance above is largely oxygen dependent. In order not to dive into science class, you can think of aerobic conditioning as lighter movements, higher repetitions, and keeping the muscle producing force for long and extended periods of times. Anaerobic energy production is largely without the utilization of oxygen in the energy production pathway, and is primarily used in efforts of high intensity and short duration. Think power and explosive movements like your initial paddle into a 6foot drainer. Paddling is a combination of strength, power, endurance, and utilizes varying degrees of both energy systems, so it’s best to train utilizing those various energy systems and strength characteristics. Chinups, DB rows, 1 Arm Cable Pulls, Band Pull Aparts, MedBall Slams, Straight Arm Lat Pull Downs…. the list of potential movements goes on and on. The focus should be pulling movements that focus either on power, strength, or endurance, which can be achieved through specific rep ranges.
Before you get to work, there’s one last important thing: you need to know how to pull properly. Controlling your shoulders when training is very important. If you’re using good training movements, but you’re not controlling the shoulder movement, then you’re not really benefitting. This video goes over the key insights into how to set the shoulder up for efficient and strong pulling movements. Train your body to move properly and prevent further dysfunction!
There you go. Key methods of training for paddling, how to do it effectively, and the mobility work to make sure you can move. Now it’s up to you to utilize it. Train efficiently so you can surf your ass off, stay out of pain, and paddle stronger and longer.
To download a free surf exercise and mobility program, check out Surfstrengthcoach.com