When we get better at surfing, we get worse at everyday human movement.
And as interest in surfing grows worldwide, more and more people are pursuing competitive surfing as a professional career. That, in turn, is pushing the sport to new levels of high performance. The final domino in this sequence is the strength and body maintenance programs that are now a vital part of many surfers’ lives.
Surfers need to be prepared for heavy waves, long paddles and spontaneous conditions. Although collisions and lacerations are the most common injuries obtained while surfing (Nathanson et al., 2002), the only safeguard is knowing what, where and when is the safest way to navigate their way around a lineup. Ligament sprains and muscle strains are the next most common types of injuries, with key areas being the shoulders and lower back. Other overused areas include the neck extensors, trunk rotators, trunk flexors, back extensors, shoulder internal rotators, shoulder flexors, hip flexors and pushing muscles of the chest. The best way to prevent these injuries is by increasing your active, usable mobility, which includes owning strength within a wide range of joint motion. With the progression of aerials, impact injuries are also becoming more common. Knee sprains, knee dislocations, ankle sprains and ankle fractures (Nathanson et al., 2002) are now common surf related injuries.
Dr. Andreo Spina, Functional Range Conditioning says “When we get better at sport, we get worse at being human.” Certain joints get loose and certain joints get stiff. To prevent injury in surfing we need to improve the load bearing capacity of our body’s tissues to a level beyond which they will be exposed to, maintaining the health of all our joints to optimise general movement and surf performance. Key joints requiring attention in surfing include the neck, shoulders, wrists, upper spine, lower back, hips, knees, and ankles.
At birth, we are given a huge amount of mobility, allowing us to place our toes in our mouth and fall to the floor without consequence. As we grow and develop particular movement habits, our bodies adapt and allow only the ranges of motion that our nervous system can control. Dancers and gymnasts train mobility from a young age and will maintain that mobility if practice continues into adulthood. The same person who played a little bit of sport as a kid and then retired to a desk for the majority of their adulthood will progressively lose that mobility. As the saying goes, use it or lose it. In this case, our bodies will eliminate the mobility that we do not consistently use.
The more mobility you have, the more detail your brain has about your body in space. Think of all the wild and unusual body positions that your body is required to adapt when dealing with any nuances of moving water, which is constantly changing force and shape. The greater positions and joint angles your body can move and control, the greater your capacity to adapt to the situation without snapping, straining, tearing, popping or cracking something that shouldn’t. Losing joint range of motion can significantly impact the body’s ability to react to surfing’s challenges. You need a specific amount of joint mobility and strength combinations to safely land an aerial for example, if you own just one short of these required combinations, you will compensate and risk injury.
Daily Shoulder Joint Articulations for Surfers
These techniques can be practiced as casually or as intense as you make them. To make them intense, your intent will be to create the biggest circles humanly possible and tensing the muscles through the circle (add an isometric contraction element).The higher the level of tension, the higher the articular strain and therefore the greater the end-range tissue adaptation. For more information on how to execute these techniques, and for comprehensive tutorials that address joint movement from the head to the toes, contact me here.
Key points for completing these articulations (they should not feel easy and if they do, ramp up the effort and expand the circle of each rep).
- Inhale, trap air in the lower abdomen and continue to breathe as you brace your core as strong as possible.
- Stabilize/solidify/tense up your entire body to prevent movement occurring at other joints.
- Begin the circle slowly and deliberately, focusing on the joint articulation only (keep other joints still) and ensuring that the rotation is occurring at the outer limits of movement (make the circle as big as possible without moving other body parts).
- Repeat the circle or reverse directions. Aim for 3-5 reps per direction for a daily morning routine (at 30-50% effort) or ramp up the intensity for greater reps for specific mobility training (70-100% effort).
Stretching and mobilizing may temporarily allow you to move into greater range of motion, but it will not improve your mobility long term. The central nervous system controls greater flexibility by reducing your stretch reflex or increasing your stretch tolerance. This can happen as you teach your nervous system that those ranges can be controlled with strength. By improving your active mobility and strengthening within those newly acquired ranges of motion, your nervous system can be convinced to keep those ranges. This is why dancers and gymnasts have so much mobility; they strengthen multi-directional, end-range joint positions.
You can’t build stability, endurance, strength or power in joint ranges that you don’t have. Developing the optimal joint range of motion (mobility) therefore takes priority over stability, endurance, strength and power in an inadequate range of motion.
First, check whether every joint is working as it should. You can start with the shoulder by attempting to replicate the movements in the video. If you do have the prerequisite movement, your surfing will suffer. Regular mobility training is worth it.
Editor’s Note: Learn more on surf strength and conditioning.
Technique credit to Dr. Andreo Spina’s Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) system.
Dr Andreo Spina’s Functional Range Conditioning, Functional Anatomy Seminars.
Alberto Mendez-Villanueva and David Bishop, 2005. ‘Physiological Aspects of Surfboard Riding Performance’ Sports medicine 35 (1): 55-70
Andrew Nathanson, Philip Haynes, Daniel Galanis, 2002. ‘Surfing Injuries’ The American Journal of emergency Medicine, 20, 3.