You’ve bought the tickets, you’re geared up for your surf trip, you have booked your local surf instructor or guide at, but is your body ready? Honestly? You’re throwing your hard-earned cash at this surf trip, so make sure you can get the most out. Get fit for surfing with these five great surf training exercises that will help you catch more waves. It’s all about that wave to cost ratio, so let’s get that percentage working in your favor.

Five Great Surf Training Exercises

Want to know how to catch more waves? Technique is important, but so is a foundation of fitness. In this article we will tell you how to work on five elements of surf fitness: spinal mobility, paddling posture endurance, arm strength and endurance, leg and hip flexibility, and pop up power and coordination. You will need to get to some water to swim, but the other four exercises you can run through in as few as 20 minutes at home with no special equipment. Do these daily or every other day and get your body well prepared to get the most out of your surf trip.

Spinal Mobility Training for Surfers

Modern life has a lot of us sitting at a desk far too often, not moving, and being sedentary. Desk-bound postures and lack of movement stiffen your spine. The “move it or lose it” adage holds true for the human body. Your spine is meant to move, and surfing requires huge amounts of movement. From rotational forces during turns, to maintaining good posture when paddling, a mobile spine is a requisite for pain free movement and flow.

Careful, going straight from 8 hours your desk into the water can be rough on your spine.
Careful, going straight from 8 hours at your desk into the water to surf can be rough on your spine.

Get your spine moving. Chances are, there is a part of it that is pretty much stuck in one curved position all the time. Everyone knows the cat / cow posture from yoga (or can google it) but the key is to slow it down. Basically, you are on all fours curving your spine so your head rises when you curve when direction and falls when you curve the other way. Focus on getting movement at each individual segment, up and down the spine, one vertebrae at a time. This will be a new sensation. Warning: Discovering your spine can move one vertebrae at a time may blow your mind! It helps to have a friend spot you and point to each spot on your back, moving up slowly so you can focus your effort on bending at a particular spot.

Slow it down. This isn’t a race, it’s your body, and sometimes it needs some slowed down focus. Remember, one vertebrae at a time. Do your cat/cow several reps of each direction, taking up to 1 minute per movement.

Follow up those cat / cow’s with some type of spinal rotation. Thread the Needle’s from yoga, or a quadruped thoracic rotation (google!) which is commonly used in the rehab worlds.

You’re only as young as your spine is healthy, so keep your entire spine moving well. It’s a critical piece of surf training.

Postural Endurance Training- The Cobra

Holding the correct paddling position (back arched to lift your chest and shoulders) takes postural flexibility and endurance. All those little spinal stabilizing muscles that keep you held in that high chest paddling posture need some focus.

Train to avoid getting fatigued through the back. If you don’t, when your back gives up, the shoulder movement starts getting sloppy, the low back starts to ache, the neck has to get jammed up to keep yourself looking forwards. None of that is beneficial for your surf trip. You want to surf as long as you can when the conditions are good, so build some postural endurance.

No-hands Cobra Posture for Surf Training

Build some endurance with the cobra posture from yoga. Lift your chest from as low as possible. Try supporting with your arms for maximum arch, then try holding the highest position you can without using your arms, just your back muscles. Long holds, steady breathing, and building “work capacity” of the back extensor muscles, that’s what you’re working on here.

The goal is to hold this non-stop for up to 3 minutes. Most folks can’t hit that, so break it into 20-30second repetitions (reps), with a 10second rest between reps. Perform 4-6 reps, for 3 sets.

Some keys of focus are to think of lengthening the spine, keeping the chin tucked, and lengthening the back of the neck. Also, make sure to twist your arms so your elbows are facing forwards to help open up the shoulders. Stronger shoulder joints and better alignment are a good thing for your surf trip.

Swim Training for Paddling Power

Get in the pool, and get moving. This is a great way to build overall endurance, and has a huge amount of carryover to paddling. A good swimming regimen, in conjunction with getting stronger at Cobras is damn good combination to give you paddling power.

Swim some long slow distance work, but mix in some high intensity work as well. What’s that mean? One of your pool workouts, swim steady pace for anywhere from 20-45 minutes. Your next pool workout will be high intensity short duration. Meaning you’d swim a 50meter length at nearly 100% effort, then rest and recover. Swim it again. And again. For those that are in good shape, you could work up to 10 of those intervals.

The combination of longer slow distance, and high intensity output, works on different energy systems in the body. Your surf training needs all of them.
A photo by Todd Quackenbush.

Deep Squat for Hip, Ankle, and Leg Flexibility

Ass to grass. You’re probably scratching your head as to why this is useful, and that’s a reasonable thought.

Why would full range of motion through your joints be beneficial to surfing? Who knows? Maybe it has to do with the fact that surfing is hugely 3-dimensional in terms of movement. Crouching in a barrel, pulling your knees up und

Ass to grass!

er the body for a pop-up, rotating through a full rail turn, they all require full contribution of your joints. The human body moves through chains of movement, and stacking of joints. If one joint isn’t working well, it forces torque into other joints. If your hips, knees, or ankles can’t move, then you’re seriously limiting your surfing abilities.

Simply deep squat, and spend some time there each day. Total up time throughout the day to hit about 20-30 minutes. Try to keep your heels on the ground.

Some of you won’t be able to get there because of previous injuries, or structural changes to joints and bones. Don’t force it, and work on other aspects of surf training.

If you can’t deep squat because you’re simply tight and inflexible, you need to devote some effort to this. The movement will improve over time, but it takes effort and application so the body, its structures, and its tissues will adapt.

The deep squat alone isn’t going to explode your surfing abilities, but it exemplifies that your joints can move well. When your joints can move well, you’ll move more efficiently, and you can train more dynamically.

Hindu Push Ups

Pop-ups and duck dives require strong and flexible shoulders. If you’re not popping up well, or duck diving efficiently, that will limit your wave count on your surf trip.

Both of those movements are push patterns, meaning you’re pushing a force away from the body, or the body away from an object. No matter those biomechanics, you need a healthy pair of shoulders that can push. A few sets of near max effort hindu pushups are a great way to build some robustness in your shoulders.

Hind Push Up Start - Downward Dog
Hind Push Up Start – Downward Dog

The premise is basically this: Set up in a downward dog yoga position. (Bend at the waist, keep your legs straight and walk your hands forward so your body is making a A frame shape.) Drop the chest towards the floor aiming for between your hands. As the chest gets to the low point, begin pushing through the arms and driving the chest so that it points in front of you, while allowing your hips to drop to the floor. You end up in what’s called the seal position, with your back arching up and your head high. Then simply reverse the movement. Repeat.

Hindu Push Up for Surf Training - Final Position
Hindu Push Up for Surf Training – Final Position

Slow, controlled, and being aware of moving the shoulders well. It’s a great exercise to add to your surfing training.

Conclusion – Surf Training is Worth It!

These five surf training exercises are going to prepare your body for the challenge of surfing. If you are going to spend a bunch of money flying around the world to score some great waves, spend the time to get ready. We bet you will be glad you did!

Happy surfing!
Cris Mills – The Surf Strength Coach

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