Modern surfing requires more than just the ability to be able to pop up on a surfboard quickly and coast down the line. With the dramatic increase in vicious cuts and aerials, surfers are now needing a much more solid core, in addition to, stabilizer muscles and balance to effectively execute many of the tricks on the surface of the wave.
With that in mind, knowing how to build a strong core, balance, and the right strength are paramount to performance. In this guide, we will go over the main muscle groups involved, some exercises for surfing, and ways to increase surfing strength and surfing balance. We’ll also explore some of the muscles that directly affect your ability to paddle, pop up, and cut on your rides.
You’ll find out that surfing is technical and using these muscles are inevitable. The workout regime starts with understanding the right muscle groups that you’ll have to work on to prepare yourself for surfing. Below, we go over the core muscle groups that are essential for surfing.
Perhaps one of the most underrated muscle groups and the least to be worked out, the central core strength is absolutely necessary to you being a good surfer. But why is that? Specifically, the exercise of the body’s core assists in creating a togetherness with muscles of the back, pelvis, hips, and abdomen which further promotes higher degrees of balance and overall stability.
Additionally, having weak core muscles can lead to fatigue, injury, and a lack of stamina and endurance. The best part about getting a strong core? It’s not difficult and you don’t have to look like you’re in a modeling competition. We’ll go over some exercises below to strengthen the core for better surfing balance and surfing strength.
Paddling is one of the main components of surfing, whether that be getting past the shore break or catch a wave and unless you’ve developed the muscles to be able to paddle, you’re going to be in for a long and frustrating day.
As your hand slices through the water and pushes back, you’re instantly activating the triceps, deltoids, and core muscles. Without developing these muscle groups, it’s going to be difficult to get past the breakers.
Even duck diving requires the same muscle to be utilized. What’s worse? Catching a wave will be near to impossible, as you’ll need to be able to make deep and effective strokes to approach the speed of the oncoming swell. Hint hint. The stronger you are in your upper body, the more effective at paddling you’ll be. If you’re able to catch the wave, you’ll also need to use these muscles to pop up.
So, you’ve successfully popped up on the board? What muscles are needed to be able to cut, turn, and launch off the wave? That would be those mainly concerned with your legs, rear, and your hips.
Although the main muscles involved are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, and the gastrocnemius (calf muscle), there are numerous stabilizer muscles that help to act as supplemental agents for better and more powerful movements.
Equally as important are your hip muscles which are highly activated when undergoing carving, cutting back, downturns, and launches for aerials. Additionally, due to the very strenuous nature of quick changes in direction and weight distribution. These muscle groups need to be in top shape to be able to maintain stamina and endurance during a ride.
Now, we get into the exercises that will develop your body for surfing. All these workouts don’t have to be practiced every day. We encourage surfing enthusiasts to switch your routine and add extra challenge to your workouts.
For example, you’ll want to switch dumbbell weights from heavy to light so you can always keep your core exercises challenged. Here are the surfing exercises to help you get started on your journey to becoming a pro surfer.
Perhaps one of the simplest of exercises out there, squats consist of a person standing with feet shoulder length apart and lowering the body to a sitting position while keeping the shins as close to perpendicular to the floor as possible (check out the video tutorial on how to do basic squats right below).
To prevent injury, lower your body so that your thighs are parallel to the ground. Depending on your level of experience and strength, weights can be added either through holding them in your hands or with a bar resting on your trapezius muscles.
If you’re just beginning, start out with just your body weight and try to perform three sets with high reps. This will get hypertrophy going and act as a foundation for further muscle growth.
Ah, yes, the good old-fashioned pushup. This surfing exercise will never go out of style and can really take your surfing to the next level! First and foremost, pushups directly target the triceps, deltoids, and pectorals which are the main muscle groups involved in paddling and popping up on a board.
Not much instruction needs to be given here on how to perform a pushup, as I’m quite sure that everyone has had to do them at some point in their lives, but the form of the pushup is very important. It can be the difference between getting stronger and hurting yourself (check out the video tutorial on how to do perfect pushups right below).
While in the prone pushup position, make sure that the body is balanced with the feet so that you have stability. Some will require a wider stance and that’s ok. Find your perfect width. Also, ensure that your arms are at 45-degree angles from your armpit line. This will allow for greater power, reduce the potential for injury, and produce better overall gains.
For a more accurate representation of what muscles you are using in paddling and popping up, you can always put your board in the sand and practice popping up, in addition to, paddling for extended periods of time. This will help strengthen and activate stabilizer muscles directly used when surfing.
As stated at the beginning of this guide, core muscles go way beyond just providing abdominal strength. Core strength imparts greater stability and balance, two things that are crucial for surfing performance.
But with an exhausting amount of exercises, which ones pertain specifically to surfing? Well, I’ll go ahead and throw this out there. It’s not crunches. Don’t waste your time.
The first is dumbbell twists which actually mimic the cutting action you’d have on a wave. To complete this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder length apart, extending one arm straight out to the side and the other at a 45-degree angle with a dumbbell in hand (check out the video tutorial on how to do a dumbbell twist right below).
In one smooth movement, twist with the dumbbell to your hand, rotating your hip and allowing your opposite foot to pivot. Be careful to not be too aggressive with this move at the beginning, as you could pull a muscle, potentially setting your strength training back. This workout, when done correctly, will activate the core muscles and obliques.
Another exercise involves no equipment, just you (check out the video tutorial on how to do a basic plank with Holly Rilinger right below).
Get into the prone position, just like you were doing a pushup, but instead of resting with your hands out, allow your body to put weight on the forearms. It’s important during this prone exercise to keep the abdominal and other core muscle tight and up.
Do not let your back sink towards the ground. You want to ensure that you have a flat, even surface going across the back. Once the form is correct, hold that position for as long as possible and repeat as you believe necessary. For beginners, I would recommend for each rep to last for 45 seconds to a minute. Repeat several times each day. Feel the burn!
What is an Indo Board? If you haven’t heard of one, it’s a short and thin squatty board that sits atop of a cylinder that can roll on a single axis. Essentially, it can be used for a large number of different exercises, but the most important for surfing is actually standing on top of it and trying to maintain balance through dynamic movement (here is a video tutorial on Indo Board training 101 right below).
This practiced action will allow for your overall balance on a surfboard to soar, in addition to, helping to build stabilizer muscles within your legs and core. The good thing about Indo Boards is that they’re not terribly expensive.
You can purchase Indo Boards online or in your local surf shop and you can use them wherever, whenever. Just give one a try and you’ll instantly feel the burning in your legs. However, that’s a good thing and a great start to improving your balance and surfing strength.
One of the most important and often overlooked preparations for any athletic outing is stretching. Not only does it propel overall performance, but also allows for a healthier body and a reduction in injury potential.
With all the strain on joints and muscles occurring when surfing, it’s important to not only stretch before sessions but on a regular basis. Whether you get it done through yoga or in your own personal method, make sure to get adequate flexibility to prevent injury from rapid and abrupt movements.
Surfing holistically encompasses the usage of the whole body and for your performance to excel, exercising of the various muscle groups, developing effective balance, and ensuring maximum flexibility are crucial.
If you’re just beginning to surf, all of this information can be overwhelming, but it’s important to know that if you start slow and build on each of these tenants, you’ll quickly improve your skills and be able to take your surfing ability to the next level! Time to hit the gym!
One way to stay in shape and get better at surfing is by reading helpful guides and books about surfing. There’s no bigger feat than going out to the waves and having the confidence to surf the highest waves and tides. Before you start, you’ll want to get accumulated with the best collection of books and guides that helped me with surfing.
1. Survival Swimming: This paperback book is a survival handbook that can help you with your swimming technique and skills. It teaches you everything you need to know about basic skills and strokes. As a surfer, you’ll have to understand how to swim underwater and underneath tides and strong waves.
2. The Complete Guide to Surf Fitness: This handbook has a complete training program for beginners to pros. You can find illustrations and descriptions of each workout.
Everything from stretching to core exercises, this book helped many surfers get into great shape. It also covers several Indo Board exercises and other surfing fitness techniques to help you get balance and strength.
3. Advanced Surf Fitness: Although this book is for all ages and abilities, it’s best for advanced surfers who want to reach the next level. Nonetheless, this book covers some of the best nutrition and cardio regimes.
With this book, you’ll learn how to identify important muscle groups that need to be worked on. It covers all the training and surfing fitness exercises that will help you reach the next level.
Becoming a surfer is hard work and dedication. You’ll want to start with the right nutrition, surfing exercises to work out the muscle groups, and the right mindset. Overall, life is all about setting goals. You will fail more than once. Most likely, you’ll end up exhausted and tried.
However, once you achieve your goal of becoming a surfer then you’ll have the confidence to face your fears. Start today and face those fears head-on!