We’re always looking to go bigger, get better, stronger, faster, more powerful, and more critical. The physical demands that surfing places on the body have increased tremendously during the last decade. It’s now nearly impossible to achieve certain levels of performance without specific training that develops and prepares a surfer’s body for the repetitive and extreme movements now routine in the sport. This suggests that injury prevention coupled with surf-specific training is recommended for long-term surfing performance. Preparing and developing the body to help keep a surfer’s physique fit, strong and supple is key for keeping a surfer in the water today and many years down the track.
For context, here are some of the surfing-related imbalances the sport creates:
–When we stand on our board, our hips rotate toward our back foot and over time, this creates imbalanced loading through our spine, hips, knees, and ankles.
–Increased loading is placed on the inside part of our back leg, ankle and knee, which can lead to ankle/knee pain or potential knee injuries (right knee/ankle for natural footers and left knee/ankle for goofy footers).
–The tension created by imbalances in our hips leads to instability in our core muscles; which affect our surfing and just about everything else we physically want to do in life.
–For natural footers, our right shoulder is placed under a greater amount of stress (for goofy, our left shoulder), decreasing shoulder flexibility, coordination, and strength.
–Our neck, chest, lower back, hip flexor and the shoulder muscles (shoulder internal rotators, deltoids, teres, triceps, lats) all shorten and limit normal range of motion. This will compromise the holistic function of our shoulders and lead to compensations in other areas of the body.
Here’s a surf-specific routine to add mobility and strength that’ll help you in the water for years:
1. Single-Leg Hip Bridge (foot on bench/couch/ step) – 10 reps per side
This exercise will strengthen your glutes/hamstrings and improve pelvic stability and strength. Performing this exercise one leg at a time will allow you to notice any strength, stability or mobility imbalances you may have from left to right. Elevating your foot will increase the intensity since your hips will have a greater range of motion to strengthen through.
2. Prone Overhead Shoulder Hovers – 10 inward and 10 outward.
Surfers spend a lot of time paddling. When we paddle, we are spending a lot of time working our muscles responsible for shoulder internal rotation and downward pulling. This exercise strengthens the opposite actions – controlled upward lifting and shoulder external rotation. For this reason, long-time surfers typically find this movement very weak and limited. If you find it easy, move your arms higher, add a light weight and perform more reps. This exercise will strengthen your middle and lower trapezius and improve your overhead shoulder mobility.
3. Lower Abdominal Strict Deadbugs – six-10 reps per side
By placing a yoga block between your same-side thigh and forearm, and squeezing it as hard as you can, it is almost impossible to cheat the movement and overstress your lower back. By squashing the yoga block you are more likely to be strictly working your abdominals. Strengthening your lower abdominals is essential for pelvic stability, keeping your lower spine healthy and core strength.
4. Thoracic Rotation Active Holds – five per side of five-10 active holds
This movement is useful to help improve your upper back (thoracic spine) rotation mobility and inner thigh flexibility. By posting your leg out to the side and keeping your hips level, you are essentially blocking hip rotation. By keeping your spine straight and bending forward from your hips, you are blocking rotation at your lower spine.
5. Shoulder Clocks – five-10 reps per side
This is my favorite shoulder move of all time. This is an active mobility exercise for multi-angle, multi-directional shoulder stretching with strengthening. By keeping your torso strictly facing the side, and keeping your fingertips in contact with the floor, you can bias more shoulder movement. If your shoulder is not this mobile, you can regress this by allowing your torso to rotate toward the sky as you keep your fingertips in contact with the floor.
Whatever your level of surfing or training background is, check out Surf Strength & Conditioning for a plethora of mobility, bodyweight strength, lifting, sports rehab, and optimal posture exercises to keep you surfing better for longer.