Surfers in the past generally have not focused on specific strength and conditioning for their sport, with the misperceived idea that strength training will add unnecessary bulk and muscle tightness while restricting their movement and fluidity in the water.
Getting bulky in the gym is actually quite a big job. There are certain training intensities and volumes (how many reps/sets you do and how many times you train per week) that affect the rate and magnitude of how much muscle you will put on with strength training. Also, competitive bodybuilders, strongmen and powerlifters generally have a bit of assistance! The type of benefit a surfer would gain from a specific strength training program would be closer to the relative strength, power, agiltity, stability and endurance of that experienced by a gymnast’s body. They are super strong yet don’t have unnecessary bulk.
If you’re already a pretty strong and well balanced athlete, you may not need so much time in the gym. However, it’s pretty rare to find a person these days that doesn’t have some form of computer/desk/car/iphone related crappy posture with a forward head/hunched upper back/rounded shoulders or sport specific muscular imbalance. I have also rehabbed recreational surfers who ended up getting injured because their bodies weren’t well equipped for the demands that their weekend 3-5hr surfs placed on their otherwise sedentary or stressed out bodies. A well structured strength training program to get a solid base of stability, endurance, strength and power as well as appropriate mobility and flexibility training can go a long way.
Here are a handful of the strength requirements of surfing;
1) powerful paddling out to the back(strength and strength endurance) – upper back, lats, shoulders, lower back, neck, rotator cuff stability/strength endurance, glutes.
2) powerful paddling to catch the wave (speed strength, power). Same muscles as above.
3) powerful jump to the feet (speed strength, power) – triceps, pecs, hip flexors, abdominals .
4) maintaining a low squat position (strength endurance, balance), resisting balance perturbations (stability, balance, fast reactions) – quads, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, obliques, abdominals.
Your core muscles, (rectus abdominis, erector spinae, multifidus, internal/external obliques, transverse abdominis, hip flexors) are where all movement begins and must work in unison to keep you stable and steady as you paddle and stand-up on the wave.
A surfer requires speed strength for short bursts of power as well as strength endurance for longer paddles and maintaining a strong position during the ride. A surfing strength and conditioning program could involve 2-3 sessions per week of specific work to build a stronger, faster, fitter body to support surfing demands.
I would typically recommend one strength endurance session, one speed strength session (fast/explosive movements) and one conditioning session, plus loads of stretching and mobility work.
Although surfing does not require a great deal of weight to be lifted, I would mix in some maximal lifting in their program to stimulate the higher threshold, fast-twitch fibres (1-5reps) perhaps once per month for strength and power development. If time was limiting however, and the surfer is already pretty strong, maximal lifting would be the first training session to eliminate, and it would be more important to maintain speed work, conditioning and flexibility/mobility work. There would be no fear of maximal lift training leading to muscle bulk or restricted range of motion since the training would be quite infrequent. The strength benefit it would have on the surfer would be well worth including for stronger surfing.
I would follow main lifts (eg. full range squat, bench press) with any additional supplementary and accessory strength work (eg. glutes, triceps, lats, rotator cuff), stability work or reactive / balance work, for example swiss ball or Indo board challenges. Keep the working part of the session under 45 minutes.
Strength Endurance Session: recommended one session per week using high rep ranges 15-30rep. Perform in a circuit with no rest between exercises. Choose exercises that are specific to surfing endurance requirements, such as strengthening the paddling muscles – back extensors, lats, RC stability/strength, quads and glutes to protect lower back (strength endurance).
Reactive balance work can be incorporated into a warm-up, such as standing on an Indo board or kneeling on a swiss ball with a medicine ball catch/pass drill, or can be included right at the end for a final challenge before finishing the workout. Take care not to overdo these exercises since they are neurally demanding.
Speed Session: recommended once per week, 1-3 main exercises performed with speed (eg. speed squats, power clean), followed by less complex dynamic exercises (eg. Medicine ball throws/slams, kneeling jumps to feet, plyometric pull-ups) and finishing with supplementary work and accessory work/stability and reactive balance. Keep session to 45 minutes after warm-up.
Get the body stronger and more balanced and your surfing will improve dramatically. Take care not to overtrain and seek the guidance of a coach to learn the basics and go beyond depending on how serious you are with your surfing.
Check out WORLD SURF for whole-body, surf strength training.
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