As highlighted in my previous post, surfing is a highly dynamic sport which pushes the body to new limits every session. The sport uses a vast array of muscles which require strength, power, endurance, stability and flexibility to effectively perform in the surf, testing our athletic ability every time we hit the waves.
In order to continually improve our performance in the water, it is necessary to condition our muscles out of the water. Integrating specific strength and conditioning exercises into your routine workouts can provide many benefits to effectively improve your skill set, control and drive in the water.
More often than not it is our paddling efforts (or lack thereof) which prevent us from successfully landing a wave. Power and endurance are necessary exercise components that will determine the efficiency of your paddling skills and whether or not you’ll be on the next wave.
Today’s post focuses on improving your paddling power and endurance in the water to allow you to catch endless waves, ultimately gaining more from your day in the surf.
Upper Body Strength
Strength in our shoulders, rotator cuff muscles, chest and back is critical. Developing strength is necessary to provide power, which we need to drive that quick burst of paddling energy to optimise perfect positioning for the next wave; or, to swiftly press up from our chest to our feet in a matter of seconds.
Strict Shoulder Press
A shoulder press is one of the more common shoulder exercises to build strength, but you would be surprised how many times I’ve seen poor technique or severe overload with this exercise. The shoulder network is a delicate muscle group that can fatigue easily, and when training, it should be all about control.
There are several methods to execute the shoulder press exercise: by using a plate-loaded machine, cables or free weights. Today we’re focusing on free weights as it will benefit shoulder stability as well as power. If you have a strong core you can stand during your shoulder press, but otherwise, use a bench with a back rest and sit up right. With a pair of dumbbells (start light) bring your arms to a 90° angle by your sides, palms facing forward. Ensure your core is tight (draw the belly button to the spine) and your chest is out to engage stability through your back muscles. Press the weight above your head in a smooth movement, driving the dumbbells towards the centre at the top (it is not necessary to touch the dumbbells at the top). In a controlled movement, return the dumbbells back to the starting position (90°).
For strength: relatively heavy dumbbells for 8-10 reps x 3-4 sets.
If your posture or technique is compromised due to the amount of weight, reduce your load, as this is when injury occurs.
The Arnie (Arnold Schwarzenegger Press) is a progression on from the shoulder press to involve the rotator cuff muscles and anterior deltoids (also beneficial to develop for effective surfing).
Similar to above, set up your posture on the bench and embrace your core then raise your elbows to a 90° angle by your sides with palms forward. Keeping your elbows at 90°, bring your elbows together in front of you in a controlled movement. During this movement, rotate your wrists outwards so your palms (and the dumbbells) face you when your elbows meet. Reverse this movement to the starting position (dumbbells back at 90° by your side) then press the dumbbells above your head like the shoulder press movement above. Repeat.
For strength: relatively heavy dumbbells for 8-10 reps, the dumbbells will be lighter than the strict press due to more time under tension during this exercise.
x 3-4 sets
Shoulder Front Raise
The front raise is important to integrate more anterior deltoid work into your training regime. Standing or sitting, engage the core and start with your dumbbells (or barbell) in front of you, palms facing your body. In a controlled movement, raise both (or one dumbbell for alternating raises) dumbbells in front of you with arms straight (slight bend in the elbow so not to lock out the joint) up to shoulder height. Hold for 1 second then return the arms back to the starting position with extra emphasis on control. If you’re having to jerk up your arms to shoulder height, consider reducing the weight.
You will require lighter dumbbells than what you use for the press exercises.
10-12 reps each arm (emphasis on control) x 3-4 sets
Bench Press & Push Ups
The bench press/chest press/push up movement is also extremely beneficial as the chest, anterior deltoids and triceps are highly involved in shoulder stability and the ‘pop-up’ movement on the board.
Traditionally, I love using body weight movements (in this case: push ups) when you can, as it is a functional movement and best assimilates the conditions out in the surf. However, using a chest press machine or the bench press can increase the load for this exercise, which is relevant to develop strength.
A wide grip press (either bench or push ups) targets more of the pectoral muscles, where a close-grip press will utilise more triceps.
Like our shoulder exercises above, ensure control in both the press and return phases of the exercise.
Strength: 8-10 reps x 3-4 sets
Muscular endurance (push ups): 15-25 reps x 5 sets with short rest periods <30 seconds
Upper Body Endurance
Now endurance is vital so we don’t run out of steam after the first paddle out to the break. A great way to improve our muscle endurance is via high repetition work. And what better way is there than swimming to assimilate paddling out in the surf.
Swimming provides our bodies with cardiovascular endurance (our ability to breathe and regulate our heart rate) and muscular endurance. We can also use swimming to develop power through our shoulders too.
A great little routine that covers both endurance and power in the pool:
200m swim, pace: comfortable (endurance)
50m swim, 10 push ups, 50m swim, 10 push ups, 50m swim, 10 push ups – pace: fast (strength & endurance, developing your lactic acid threshold)
4 x 25m swims, pace: maximum effort (all-out pace) 3 mins rest in between to allow the creatine-phosphate system to recover (energy system responsible for short-bursts of power).
For additional work to develop breathing control in the surf:
1 lap swimming at endurance pace (comfortable)
When you turn at the wall, swim under water for as far as possible then return to the surface and continue to swim at endurance pace. Repeat x 5-10 times and try to improve every time to return to the pool for a swim.
Additional cardiovascular exercises that promote endurance development include the rowing machine, skipping and boxing.
Stay tuned for future posts as I will design a total-body cross-training circuit that combines, endurance, power and muscle stability exercises ideal for surfers.
Personal Trainer & Nutritionist