How to improve your surfing in the gym (sample session included!)
Why is it important?
Training specifically for your sport, in this case, surfing, will have a great impact on your
athleticism and help you to get the most out of your time in the ocean. There are a variety of
elements to surfing which you can improve through training in the gym, including your
paddle, stability, pop-up, and endurance.
How to improve your paddle endurance
Paddling uses a combination of strength and stamina; a recent study by the Journal of
Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that surfers are paddling for approximately
55% of the time they are in the water, that’s a lot of time and requires a good level of
endurance! The key is being able to paddle for a period of time, catch your wave, and then
recover quickly so you are able to paddle back out again. Conditioning such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), skipping and sprints will help to improve your aerobic
capacity and recovery.
Paddle strength & mobility
In terms of strength, the muscles worked when paddling include your shoulders, arms, and
upper back. Exercises that can improve your strength in these areas include any form of
a row, cable pulldowns, landmine press, tricep extensions, bicep curls, overhead press, and many many more. Thoracic (upper back) mobility is also really important as it allows for
more freedom of movement through the upper torso and also affects the range of motion in
the shoulders, therefore, affecting your ability to put your arms overhead and paddle
effectively. Incorporating movements such as cat cows, the world’s greatest stretch and
thread needles will help with gaining more mobility in the thoracic spine.
Perfect your pop-up!
For beginners and early intermediates, learning to get to your feet quickly and efficiently is
hugely important when transitioning from white water to green waves, a solid pop-up will
make catching green waves a lot easier. As you practice your pop-up more and more, it will
begin to become automatic, but for beginners, it is important to practice and do what you can
to strengthen it. You can do this by simply practicing the pop-up movement for a number
of reps every time you train or you can focus on some specific strength and mobility
movements which will make it a lot easier to perform.
Pop up strength & hip mobility
A lack of upper push strength is often one of the factors holding someone back from being
able to perform a good pop-up. An obvious exercise to improve this is a push-up, there are
multiple regressions and progressions of this which you can perform based on your ability
level. Regressions include band-assisted push-ups or performing them on the knees will
benefit someone who isn’t yet able to achieve a full push-up. To progress the push up further
you can increase your sets, rep range, or even add some extra resistance by placing a
plate on your back. Alternative exercises for push strength include dumbbell chest press,
bench press, and eccentric push-ups.
Having mobility in your hips is also really important for being able to maneuver your feet up
through your hands and onto the board during the pop-up. To increase mobility here, try
adding some hip stretches into your gym routine such as the 90-90 stretch and hip flexor
Stability & balance when surfing
Finally, it is vital that surfers have a strong, stable core and good balance, these factors are
of course extremely helpful in keeping you stable on the board when riding a wave.
Particularly as you progress and want to start performing movements such as turns, which
require a lot of stability and core strength. This is why balance and core strength go hand in
hand. To improve these there are a plethora of exercises and drills which you can practice in
the gym. For example, dead bugs, hollow holds, using a Bosu ball for tall plank and
squats, unilateral carry variations, and shoulder taps.
Give it a go!
By doing these and getting in the surf as often as you can, I can guarantee that your surfing
will progress. You will find yourself catching more waves, performing new and better
movements, and being able to surf for longer without feeling absolutely blasted. So get
surfing, try out this training session and have fun!
Surf Strength Gym Session
Warm up: (repeat twice)
Inchworms x 8
Cat cows x 5
World’s greatest stretch x 4 ES
Deadbug x 30 sec
Single arm dumbbell floor press 4 x 8 ES
Goblet squats 4 x 6
AMRAP x 12 minutes
Press ups (appropriate variation) x 6
Hammer curls x 8
Suitcase carry x 2 lengths
Conditioning finisher: 30 sec on 15 sec off x 4 rounds (12 mins)
Alternating reverse lunges
Butterfly sit ups
Stretch & mobility cool down: (repeat twice)
90/90 hip stretch x 4 ES
Hip flexor stretch & reach 30 sec ES
Puppy dog pose 30 sec
Lateral child’s pose 30 sec ES