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Exercise to Surf

Surfing is one of the most dynamic and athletic sports that requires a mix of strength, power, endurance, stability and flexibility to thrive and succeed. While some people head to the waves to soak up a little Vitamin D and have a bit of play around on their boards, the majority of us like to continually see improvement each time we squeeze into our wetsuits.

There are many aspects to surfing which we can develop on land to improve our capability in the water. Surfing requires a combination of training methods using both of the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems, as it is a concurrent sport. Where a lot people may consider your legs and shoulders (for paddling) to be the main muscle groups utilised, it is actually a full body workout that that can definitely leave the muscles feeling sore and fatigued the next day if you’re not conditioned for a big day in the surf.

So, how can we best condition our bodies for catching the next set of waves?

Today’s post focuses on leg and core exercises to incorporate into your daily workouts to improve our athletic capacity in the water and enhance control of the board when carving on the waves.

Leg Strength:

Strength in our legs is important to allow us to control and manoeuvre the board, particularly critical if you’re hoping to make big turns and huge airs.

Front Squats

The squat pattern is absolutely essential to surfing – as you’re never standing fully upright on a board at all times, are you? Think about how many times you crouch through a turn – that there is a squat. Plus, we will often move in and out of this position several times on a singular wave. Fronts squats challenge the squatting movement further by integrating more core stability through the extensor muscles of the spine. Relating it back to the surf, these muscles are crucial for efficient paddling and improve durability of the lower back muscles during long surf sessions.

Start using a light kettlebell or pair of dumbbells, holding the weight up at the chest. Then progress to a heavier weight and even a barbell to improve your strength. Aim for 6-8 reps x 3-4 sets.

6-8 reps x 3-4 sets.

Pistol Squats

Pistol squats are single legged squats. Extend one foot in front of you, stabilise on one foot and squat down on one foot. Hold the squat for 3 seconds and stand back up.

Repeat for 6 repetitions on each leg x 3 sets. 

You can hold a wall or piece of equipment to help you balance until you get comfortable.

Add weight to increase the intensity of this exercise.

6 reps each leg x 3-4 sets


Deadlifts are one of the most functional lower body and core exercise you can do to help improve strength and mobility, particularly through the posterior chain. It is a tough exercise to master with correct technique, so please ask for assistance from a trainer or gym staff if you have not been shown how to correctly perform this exercise. Incorrect technique can result in serious injury.

To build strength use a weight that is ~80-90% of your maximum effort, for 5-6 reps x 3 sets.

Ensure to warm up properly  before performing this exercise.

5-6 reps x 3-4 sets

Leg Endurance:

There’s no question that you can be out on the board for hours at a time, so we need to make sure your legs are conditioned for endurance to continually be able to kick, pop up and ride over and over again.

Bosu Ball Squats

The Bosu Ball is brilliant tool to help improve stability through your leg muscles while you squat. There are two sides to a Bosu Ball, the round side is a progressive step from your standards squats on the ground. Where the flat side is more challenging, so it is another progression again.

The aim of the exercise to balance on the Bosu Ball while completing 20 repetitions.

The higher rep range promotes endurance through the leg muscles (similar to crouching on wave as you work in and out of turns), while the Bosu Ball promotes balance – which is absolutely crucial to surfing.

Start with your body weight while you get used to balancing, then progressively add weight.

20 reps x 4 sets

Dynamic Lunge

The lunge movement is an essential component to developing leg strength, stability and endurance, particularly through the joints too.

The movement: start with feet shoulder width apart, step forward with your left leg and bend the knee of the right leg down towards the ground (but not touching). Ensure your left knee (in front of you) is not sitting over or past your toes to avoid any unnecessary strain on the ligaments of the knee. Press back up on the left leg and return to starting position. This exercise is also extremely beneficial to developing power, particularly through driving the ‘press’ motion back into the start position. Complete 20 repetitions each leg x 3-4 sets to promote endurance and add weight to keep progressing.

20 reps each leg x 3-4 sets

Reverse lunge (with added twist)

A progression from the dynamic lunge is a reverse lunge, with a twist to add in some extra core. This movement assimilates functional movements that we experience on the board - leg muscles activated, knees bent, holding strong posture through the core whilst twisting the body to get movement through the board.

Reverse lunge -  start with feet shoulder width apart, step backwards into a lunge position until the back knee is hovering just over the ground. Similarly, ensure the knee in front of you is not lunging over the toes. Once stable, twist your upper body towards the knee in front of you. Ensure you’re stabilising the core twisting with the thoracic spine. This exercise can also be done using a cable or resistance band to challenge the core. Start using just your body weight, then progressive add weight by holding a kettlebell or weight plate at the chest.

20 reps each leg x 3-4 sets

Kettlebell swings:

One of my favourite exercises to develop the lateral and medial muscles of the legs and glutes, essential for a strong stance on the board, whilst also targeting core and back extensors to develop a healthy and robust midsection.

Kettlebell swings can be a tricky exercise to execute, particularly if you’ve had any previous back injuries. My advice is always to start light whilst learning the technique then progress to heavier weight.

The trick is to control the weight of the kettlebell through your core and your glutes (via hip thrusts), so not to strain your back.

This exercise is also brilliant to maximise power through the glute muscles.

20 reps x 3-4 sets


Our core is comprised of the central muscles of our abdomen and back that connects our lower and upper body. Training the core is absolutely necessary if you’re looking to improve your surfing skills, as it is required for stability and control over the board particularly through twists and turns and enhances the robust properties of our bodies out in the waves – meaning we can perform better, for longer. 

Med Ball Wood Chops

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with toes slightly turned out and knees until your quads are almost parallel with the ground. Ensure your back is straight. Hold the med ball (can use a dumbbell or cable) with both hands on the outside of your left thigh with your arms straight (only a slight bend in the elbow). Twist your torso to the right while lifting the med ball up and across the body, straightening your legs into a standing position. Keep elevating the ball until it is above your right shoulder and your torso is completely turned. Ensure the movement is slow and controlled, prioritising the use of your core muscles. Reverse the movement back to the start and repeat for 15 reps per side, 3 sets over.

Side Plank Reach Throughs

Lay on your left side on your elbow, and place your right foot on top of your left and elevate your hips off the ground. Ensure your hips stay in line with your shoulders and feet. Once you have stabilised in this position, straighten your left arm up towards the sky then reach your hand down and underneath your torso, behind your body. Follow your hand with your head and eyes, ensuring to keep your torso braced and hips off the ground.

15 each side x 3 sets

Med or Fit Ball Plank

Similar to the traditional plank placing your elbows on the ground and shifting on to our toes to hold the entire body in a plank position. This exercise challenges you further by placing your elbows on an unstable surface – the fit ball or med ball. The main variant of this exercise is your elbow position under your shoulder. If your elbows are under your body, the exercise will be easier to control and less work for the core. If you extend your elbows out in front of your shoulders, the exercise will be more difficult to execute, and more effective for your development.

30 second to 1 minute holds x 3

There are many aspects that contribute to our capability in the surf. This post focused solely on leg strength and muscular endurance, along with exercises to improve the robustness of our core muscles. However, in the next post I’ll discuss essential upper body exercises to include in your gym workouts and ways to improve fitness and endurance to maximise your time in the surf.

Emma Cook

Personal Trainer & Nutritionist

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