If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times:
The only way to train for surfing is to get out in the water and surf
You can't replicate the movements you do in the water on land and any attempt looks kookish and embarrassing. Case and point, the amount of tutorials on how to successfully nail the pop up. Learning this sans water is probably the biggest waste of time since minesweeper was invented. It's like going to a driving class and having the instructor teach you how to use the accelerator without the car being turned on.
Did you know that facial fractures account of 30% of all surfing injuries? Unfortunately, there's no exercise you can do on land that'll prepare you for the moment you're forced to suck on sweet lady fibreglass
The closest you can get to improving your surfing even when you ain't submersed in the salty brine is by engaging in core exercises and undertaking a helluva lot of stretching. And while this may not be necessary when you're a spaghetti limbed youngin', old age can lead to decreased range of movement and incidents where your bones snap like a stale breadstick and muscles rip with little to no provocation.
Here's a fun fact... if you're injured on the beach, your surfboard can also be your stretcher
I'm relatively fit and only in my late 20s and even I can already feel the ravages of time start to have their way with my once lithe frame.
Luckily though there are a number of educated individuals out there who've carved out a little niche for themselves regarding surf strength and conditioning. Cris Mills is the preeminent bloke in this field at the moment, with a whole business dedicated to helping untermensch like me plus others of equivalent or greater thickness take their surfing prowess to the next level through on land training.
Read on below for 6 of the best exercises for surfers as laid bare by Mr Mills. If you've got any others you'd like to share, leave us a message in the comment section below.
6 of the Best Exercises for Surfers
All words by Cris Mills.
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 affect 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.