Surfer/Fitness & Health Coach
Two feet to twenty, the pop up is the first thing to learn Photo: Benjamin Ginsberg

Two feet to twenty, the pop up is the first thing to learn Photo: Benjamin Ginsberg

The Inertia

Do you think your pop-ups could be faster? They probably could be, especially if you’re surfing some faster waves, or even if you’re just starting out and getting the hang of popping up to your feet. I get asked quite often about pop-up training, so here we go with what I think your body and your surfing will benefit from.

Skill vs. Strength

Popping up is a combination of skill and strength. Your body requires the strength capacity to push yourself up off the board and to quickly pull your feet underneath your body, all while balancing on a wobbly piece of foam with a moving water surface underneath you (it really is quite fantastic what we surfers can do from a movement perspective). However, the actual movement is a skill, and one that should be practiced. In the training world we talk about motor programs or motor engrams. Basically, it’s a movement that is programmed into your nervous system/brain so you can carry it out without much actual thought. Repetition of the movement will drill in the muscle firing sequence, so your body immediately recalls and performs a movement. Think of a basketball player shooting a free throw. They’ve likely practiced that shot thousands and thousands of times, so the movement pattern, force, and timing is all hard-wired into their brain. It’s the same with pop-ups. It takes the basic strength characteristics of a strong core and strong upper body to perform the movement, and then repetition of the movement so it becomes a “skill.” Let’s get into the strength.


Upper Body Strength & Stability and Good Ol’ Core Strength


It all starts with your ability to do a pushup. An absolutely perfect pushup. No head surf pushup sag, no low back sag, no wobbly arms. You want to do an old school, tight core, perfect spinal alignment pushup. Please give this a read – it’ll help.


There is no need for you to do any type of fancy pushup, especially speed pushups (clap pushups) which is one of the more relevant movements for popups, if you can’t do a perfectly aligned pushup. Get those nailed first. Please, seriously, I’m adamant, make sure you can do a perfect pushup. Girls, that goes for you too!

Now that you’ve perfected your pushup, you need to progress those through strength and also instability, or using unstable surfaces. Performing pushups on an unstable surface forces the body to increase the stabilising capacity of the upper body, which is beneficial for pop-ups, as we all realise the surfboard certainly isn’t the most stable of platforms. In the video I go over several different methods of progression. Find where you’re at with your current levels and train there for a few weeks before progressing. It’s imperative you train with perfect form… don’t get sloppy. Nobody likes sloppy, unless it’s a heavy saturday night.


If you’ve got a highly functioning core, your surfing will be better. Your movement in life will be better. The same goes for pop-ups. The pop-up motion is what we call a “flexor-chain” movement. The muscles on the front of your body are pulling you into a flexion movement, spine flexion coupled with hip flexion, along with the upper body push. This gets your body off the board, and the legs pulled up underneath you so you can get to your feet. It would behoove (yep, very eloquent word) you to improve core control in flexor chain movements that integrate the full body. This again starts with doing a perfect pushup, and the ability to control the lumbar spine and pelvis. It then progress to the movements I’ve shown you in the video. Just like the pushup, find where you’re at, improve there, and then progress.


Practice your pop-ups. Spend a few minutes in your workout just doing pop-ups with perfect technique. Do a few during your rest periods when you’re training, or include a few reps of them as one of your exercise circuits. Just realise that you need to build the foundational strength components for the movement, and then improve the actual skill and train your brain/nervous system to perform the movement efficiently.


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