Surfer's body: learn how to shape it | Photo: Quiksilver

It might sound rhetorical. After all, like any athlete, a surfer becomes shaped over time by the continual use and strengthening of certain muscles required to surf in the first place. A "surfer's body," therefore, can only be obtained by actually learning to surf, right?

Yes, technically, a lot of bodily reshaping goes on when a person learns to surf.

The key parts of the body needed the most - for paddling, popping up, crouching, and carving - become more defined and pronounced the longer a surfer hones his or her skills.

And while it's certain that a surfer is probably easy to spot, with wide, strong shoulders and solid hips and thigh muscles, it's also true that surfers come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and body types.

The ideal surfer's body, then, is simply the one that has been trained and exercised in such a way as to get the optimum use out of muscles and joints, making for a more capable surfer all-round.

There are five main areas you want to work on when conditioning your body for better surfing.

As always, check with your doctor or general practitioner (GP) before undertaking any fitness regimes to make sure it's right for you.


Strength training is essential. You want to start by building a solid, powerful core. A confident core gives other parts of the body a foundation for building strength and helps center the body. 

Yoga & Pilates

Strength in yoga comes from holding difficult poses for extended periods of time, engaging smaller "helper" muscles not normally used in day-to-day activity.

These muscle groups are strengthened collectively, creating greater overall power in the body and helping build balance, an essential element in surfing.

Pilates focuses mostly on the strengthening of the core.

Pilates exercises also focus on honing control and support over the wide range of musculoskeletal movements a surfer goes through while riding a wave.

Muscle Group-Specific Workouts

The idea here is to work entire areas of the body - as opposed to isolated muscles - so that they work together more efficiently.

As a result, strength builds exponentially, as each muscle in a group helps the others working nearby to become more powerful.

For stronger paddling, the upper back, shoulders, triceps, and biceps can all be strengthened with pushups and pullups, as well as bench presses and dumbbell curls.

For a graceful pop-up and a strong crouch, the muscles of the hips, glutes, thighs, and calves need to be solid. Squats and lunges, as well as leg presses and extensions, are all great for this.

Wherever possible, try to build strength by working out on unstable surfaces that mimic the moving water underneath a surfboard, such as exercise balls or loose sand.

Yoga: learn strength and breathing techniques for surfers | Photo: Joel Nilsson Nelson/Creative Commons


Strong muscles are nothing without the ability to keep them working for sustained periods of time.

A surfer can never build too much stamina, as conditions in the water will, at some point, undoubtedly require continual hard work without flagging.

Resistance Training

Working with weights or any resistant equipment is a great way to build stamina, as the muscles of the body become conditioned to work harder than normal.

A deep stretch should always precede and follow any resistance workout to help preserve flexibility and coordination.


The benefits of swim training for a surfer are enormous.

Not only is the aquatic environment perfect for encouraging body conditioning for in-water exertion, but the cardiovascular workout also goes miles toward improving surfing endurance.

Front crawls and sprints for increasing lengths, as well as treading water and underwater weight runs, can all be considered part of your routine.


Breathing techniques are at the heart of stamina; yoga is great for enhancing it.

Controlled, slow, and steady breaths help improve the mind-body relationship when discomfort or pressure arises, allowing the surfer to work through it and keep going.


The bane of many a surf line-up, the SUP (or stand-up paddleboard) is actually a terrific full-body workout and endurance-boosting activity.

Try it in an environment free of swimmers or traditional surfers to get the most out of your time and energy.

Swimming: the benefits of swim training for a surfer are enormous | Photo: U.S. Navy/Creative Commons


The range of motion the body undergoes while surfing is great.

Make sure you stay as flexible as possible to avoid injuries such as muscle sprains, tears, and hyperextensions, all of which could keep you out of the water for some time.


Perhaps nothing beats the transformative power of yoga on the body's elastic capabilities.

As stamina increases and muscles develop, yogic stretching and breathing techniques deliver oxygen-rich deposits to the muscles, helping them become more pliable.

This gives a surfer greater control over muscles such as those through the sides, hips, and legs, allowing for more precise carving and turning, as well as deeper, more adaptable crouches.


With similar benefits to those of yoga, gymnastics training also serves to boost muscle and joint flexibility, although, for many, the payoffs take a long period of training to present themselves.

Gymnastics: boost muscle and joint flexibility | Photo: Erica Zabowski

Spine & Joint Health

All the wipeouts and long paddle-outs do take a toll on the moving scaffolding of the body, namely, the joints and vertebrae.

A routine of consideration for these parts can mean a lifetime of surfing awaiting you, while neglecting them can take you out of the water for good.

Low-Impact Exercises

Prevention is better than cure here. Maintaining strong muscles around key joints such as knees, hips, and shoulders will help ensure that deterioration of those joints is kept at bay.

Every few days, work the muscles around them with light weights or gentle resistance bands.

These moves will encourage muscle activity and memory without causing the kind of damage your more intense workouts will.

Pool workouts are also great for this, as they relieve pressure from the weight of the body.

Chiropractic Adjustment

Having a professional align your spine is a great option for many surfers.

Small movements in the vertebrae of the spine can cause muscles to be pulled out of an efficient position and nerves to be trapped in chaos.

Routine adjustments can help the entire body system work together in the most balanced way possible, helping you build your best surfer's body.

Discover our complete guide to surf training.

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