***Video and words by Cris Mills***
Keeping your body in a physical state so you can get into the ocean and do what you love to do, that is what lies at the centre of this whole “surf fitness” shift. At its foundation, it’s simply keeping your body, or restoring your body, to a better physical state.
Improving towards a more capable physical state, which is “athletic capacity”, is what legitimate training is about. Make your body stronger, powerful, flexible, and more durable, so you’re not self-limiting the skill and art of surfing.
Here’s a list of some fundamental movements and exercises that will boost your athletic capacity. Understand this, no singular exercise is going to make you a better surfer, they’re just going to make you a more physically capable human so you can work on your skill in the water.
This list is far from complete, but what all these movements have in common is they hit the athletic components that surfing demands. Strength, power, flexibility, endurance, coordination, and balance.
1) Front squats
The squat pattern is crucial to surfing. Think of crouching through a bottom turn, landing a high speed floater, or holding through a full rail turn. You need a strong lower body, you require healthy joints to move through full range of motion, and you need to produce and absorb some very large forces.
Needless to say, it would be beneficial to train a squat pattern. Take that squat pattern, and load the front of the body, and then you’ve got the front squat. The loading of the movement places more demand on the extensor muscles of the spine, the crucial muscles for efficient paddling postures as well as a healthy and robust back. When squatting efficiently, and that’s the key word, you’re developing a stronger lower body that moves efficiently through multiple joint complexes.
The ankle, knee, hip, and spine all have major contribution to the majority of movements you’ll see out in the water. Force production and absorption, joint control, alignment, and strength, they’re all aspects that that are truly relevant for long term durability, surfing, and athleticism. Squat with bodyweight, then add load, then add strength, then add power, then complexity.
2) Ring chinups
Upper body pulling strength, that’s the goal here. A healthy and strong upper body. Vertical pulling on the rings not only reinforces optimal mobility of the shoulder, but layers high amounts of the strength and control. More importantly, is that if you can nail this drill, you have multiple avenues to take your training towards my dynamic levels.
You’re a surfer, you need to train dynamically, so get this drill dialed in, get strong, then vary your training towards more dynamic and complex movements. It doesn’t take long in any lineup to see guys missing waves due to weak paddling. Getting into the dreaded two armed scrape, desperately sitting on top of a lip. Get stronger! Your surfing deserves it.
Build strength and mobility in the upper body so you’re able to apply some force with that paddle pulling stroke. Yes, for those that say a vertical pull doesn’t have the same mechanics as a paddle stroke, I agree with you. But, becoming efficient at ring chin-ups provides so much other benefit to the health of the upper body that it’s a critical piece of training. Take the strength developed in this drill and apply it towards higher speed pulling work, more volume, or more intensity.
Don’t neglect this base however. For many, simply getting to efficiently clean ring chin-ups can be quite the challenge, but it will have rewarding outcomes in terms of your athletic capacity and your time in the water.
3) Turkish get-up
It looks bizarre. It looks like it has zero carryover to a surfer. It looks good! Most people in the gym would simply stare at you and wonder what you’re doing, yet most people in the gym have absolutely zero understanding of effective training. Don’t sweat their opinions or curious stares. Take comfort in the fact that being truly efficient at a Turkish Get-Up has numerous benefit to your overall athletic ability, incredible mobility, joint control, dynamic positions, full expression of hip movement, stability of the spine, all angles of shoulder control, dynamic core strength, it’s all encompassed in this single exercise.
If you can develop skill and precision with this drill, add some load (20kg kettle bell is a good goal for most men, 12kg for women), and work on this consistently, it can do a lot for your overall movement and joint health.
Consider all of the dynamic positions your joints are placed into while surfing. Various hip positions when turning or popping up, shoulder angles when duck diving or rotating through turns, and all of the integrative core strength that’s required in the sport, it’s all encompassed in this weird looking Turkish Get-up. Utilize it as part of your warmup, or use it as a stand alone exercise. A drill most people like is a circuit with jump-rope intervals and Turkish Get-Ups. Get in some energy system training, as well as the strength and mobility benefits of the Get-Up.
The good ole’ pushup. I’d say 90 per cent of the people I consult with or train have sub-par pushups, so it’s likely you fall into that category and could use some technique correction. When you clean it up, get the core engaged, align the spine, and control the shoulder tightly, it becomes a whole new exercise with immense benefit.
Don't you think a stronger upper body and core could help with duck dives, popups, and shoulder injury prevention? I certainly do. A good goal is to get to Ring Pushups. The instability of the rings, and the control required from the shoulder girdle and core has a lot of beneficial carryover to the sport. Most however need to simply start from the ground.
Build understanding of what good alignment feels like, and build some basic strength. From there you can add volume, meaning more reps. You can add load by elevating the feet or placing weight on your back. You could improve power by increasing the speed of the press. There’s so many variations, but keep an eye on that goal of perfect ring pushups. They’re challenging and beneficial.
5) Dynamic lunge
Look through any surf magazine and check out the leg and hip positions of surfers in any turn, barrel-crouch, air, or maneuver. The hip joint needs to be able to move exceptionally well, and it needs to be strong. Hip reconstructions aren’t fun from what I hear, so make sure you keep yours healthy.
Once the movement of the hip joint is negatively impacted, it will inevitably effect your surfing, and not in a good way. Again, look at any of those pictures in a magazine. The legs are placed in an array of vectors, angles, and absorbing or producing varying forces. It’s dynamic. Hence the dynamic lunge.
6) Mobility drills
Your joints need to move well, with access to their full range of motion. With age, previous injury, lack of activity, and too much desk time, that full range of motion is a thing of your youthful past. Make it a point to get it back. Speed, power, strength, flow, and mobility.
They’re critical aspects to a surfing-body. Think of mobility as controlled flexibility. That’s what you’re really after. Regain that lost range of motion in your joints, get them moving the way they’re structurally designed to, so that you can move effortlessly in the surf.