The best stretching and strengthening exercises for surfers
Surfers can enhance their riding abilities by maintaining a healthy body and mind through fitness and exercise.
Whether you are an athlete or simply want to improve your skills, ride better, and avoid injury, staying fit throughout the year is critical.
Through extensive research and consultation with many personal trainers and physiotherapists, it was possible to design the most comprehensive, beneficial, and unique routines.
The following workout and fitness plan was specifically designed for surfers, bodyboarders, skimboarders, and water sports participants in general.
Discipline Is Key
In the famous words of a well-known sportswear brand, "Just do it."
When my alarm goes off at 5 am every day, I never feel like getting out of bed.
Nevertheless, I force myself to (at least) get up, go to the bathroom, and turn on a light, even if I have every intention of going back to bed.
By that time, I'm awake enough to get ready to train. This is what works for me. I like training in the morning, but it's not for everybody.
Find a groove that works for you, and stick to it.
Getting started is the hardest part, but if you can get out to ride a board every day, you can do this too - just think of how good you'll be at surfing.
It doesn't take much to condition the body:
- Start off with short, easy training sessions of about 30 minutes;
- Add in at least one longer, harder workout of about 60 minutes;
- Putting in 3-4 days per week is all you need to see and feel results;
- Try making a pact with yourself to stick to it for at least a month;
Apparently, it takes 21 days to form a habit, and I can promise it gets easier and you will feel fantastic.
You may even find you actually start enjoying it and looking forward to your daily routines.
Since everybody experiences injuries in different areas of the body, I've targeted each part separately.
How you put your routine together is up to you, but I recommend alternating between focusing on a different area each time.
Here's a full-body surfer training program for your legs, ankles, knees, and hips.
It's easy to figure out why it is necessary to maintain leg strength and flexibility for a sport like surfing or skimboarding.
The following tips will prevent injuries, help you land tricks, and enhance ankle, knee, and hip strength, as well as flexibility and endurance.
Have you got weak ankles? It might sound odd to train your ankles, but surfers' ankles go through a lot of stress from direct hits and twists.
Ankle biters, strains, sprains, and fractures are all very common injuries among wave riders.
A strain is a muscle or tendon that has been pulled or stretched beyond its limit.
A sprain is a damaged ligament from being stretched past its capable range of motion.
A fracture is a break in one or more of the ankle bones, often caused by a direct hit from a board or a hard landing or bail.
Surfers' ankles get hurt so often for a few reasons, including:
- Twisting and flicking motions;
- Jumping and landing;
- Collisions with flying boards;
Ankle Strengthening Exercises
Despite the frequent bang-ups, hardly anyone thinks about ankle-strengthening exercises to prevent them from happening.
They're not the usual body parts most people focus on during a workout, but they should be included in your routine.
Unfortunately, there isn't much that can be done to prevent fractures from getting hit by boards or falling hard.
However, the chances of ankle injuries due to sprains and strains can at least be reduced.
To prevent surfing injuries due to weak ankles, mix some of these ankle-strengthening exercises into your workout at least once a week.
It is possible to lessen the damage done by implementing a few easy stretches and exercises:
Jump Rope - Skipping
Skipping (or jumping rope) is probably the best ankle workout for surfers.
This increases power and stability for jumping and landing motions while absorbing the weight of your body:
- Do two sets of 30 jumps using both feet and two sets of 30 jumps per foot on just one foot;
Put a small towel on the ground with a light weight on it.
Place your foot on the other end so that the weight on the outer side of your foot:
- Keeping your ankle on the ground, lift the ball of your foot up and towards the weight;
- Placing it back down, pull the towel in towards you;
- Do that until the weight has reached your foot;
- Repeat this with the towel and weight at the inside of your foot and again at the front of your toes;
Stand flat on the ground or with your toes on a ledge, heels hanging off:
- Push up onto your toes as high as you can while remaining stable;
- Use a wall or object for support if needed;
- Do one set using both feet, then another set per foot, using just one foot;
- Challenge: hold a light weight in each hand;
Ankle Stretching Exercises
Flexion and Extension
Sitting down, extend your legs straight out:
- Point the toes forward, then back towards your body;
- Do 10 per foot;
Sitting down, cross one leg over the other:
- Rotate your ankle in a complete circle in one direction 10-15 times;
- Rotate in the other direction;
- Switch legs and repeat;
Knees are one of the most common injuries amongst athletes, especially in sports like skimboarding, which incorporates a lot of sudden movements such as stopping and starting, jumping, or quick, jerky side-to-side motions.
Knees take on a lot of stress during surfing and skimming, with all that running and jumping and pounding and crashing.
To say it's important to keep the area around the knees strong would be an understatement.
If you have a knee injury, there's a very high possibility of never surfing again. Maybe I'm dramatic, but it's true.
By keeping your knee and surrounding area strong, you will lessen the damage caused by the intensity of surfing and will heal faster should you sustain injury.
Types of Knee Injuries
While a direct blow to any part of the body will cause injury, the most common reasons for knee injuries are through twisting or stretching, which causes more strain than it can handle.
Such injuries include:
This can happen from changing direction suddenly, slowing down too quickly while running, or landing from a jump.
Often, this is caused by a direct hit to the outside of the knee.
The PCL is often injured when an athlete receives a blow to the front of the knee or makes a simple misstep on the playing field.
Usually, this refers to a torn Meniscus, a tough, rubbery cartilage attached to the knee's ligaments.
The Meniscus is your knee's shock absorber. For athletes, tears can occur when twisting, cutting, pivoting, or decelerating.
Knee Injury Prevention: Important Muscle Groups
Prevention is key to preventing serious knee injuries.
To prevent stress on the knee, focus on strength and flexibility in these muscle areas:
- Glutes: located in the pelvis, hip, and butt areas. Act as support, extender, and rotator;
- Quadriceps: a group of four large muscles in the upper thigh. They're flexors for the hip and extensors for the knee surrounding the femur;
- Hamstrings: a group of tendons at the back of the thigh and behind the knee. They flex the knee and extend the hip;
Balance boards are really good for knee-strengthening exercises because they provide a safe, smooth, controlled platform that is also challenging enough to build the strength necessary for surfing and skimming.
They allow you to target all the major muscle groups necessary to build strength to protect the knee.
Knee Stretching Exercises
Check out these knee workout routines.
Prevent knee injury before it happens by trying these knee-strengthening exercises:
Practicing the following knee-strengthening exercises will keep your muscles strong while stabilizing your joints.
Sit straight with your feet in front of you. Loop a resistance band around the top half of your foot:
- Keeping your heel on the ground, pull your toes toward you;
- Hold for 20 seconds and repeat five times;
- Switch legs and repeat;
Sitting on the floor with your back straight, stretch both legs out straight:
- Reach your arms forward as far as possible, bending at the hips. Keep your knees and back straight;
- Hold for 10 seconds;
- Repeat five times;
Stand straight, and if you need to, use a ledge for balance:
- Bend your knee back and grab onto your ankle;
- Pull your foot in as close to your butt as possible;
- Hold this position for 30 seconds;
- Let go and return to a standing position;
- Repeat five times for each leg;
Knee Strengthening Exercises
Glutes: X-Band Walk
The only thing you will need for this one is an elastic exercise band:
- Step on the band with your feet;
- Cross the band, forming an X;
- Squat down slightly and walk sideways;
- Move one leg at a time. Don't drag your foot on the ground as you move. Pick it up and move while resisting the tension of the band;
- Reverse direction and move the opposite leg;
For increased difficulty, use a stronger tension band or pull harder on it with your arms.
Glutes: Side-Lying Hip Abduction
Lie down on your side in a straight line:
- Lift your upper leg up as far as you can, keeping it straight with the heel pointing outwards;
- Don't move your torso;
- Perform two sets of 10 repetitions per side;
For increased difficulty, use a tension band.
Glutes: Side-Lying Clams
Lay down on your side with your knees facing front and slightly bent:
- Lift your top leg up by just using your gluteal muscles;
- Keep your upper body in position, and don't push with your toes;
- Start with a low range of motion. When done correctly, you should feel some of your butt muscles working;
- Focus on contracting those glutes;
- Hold the upper position for 2-3 seconds;
- Perform two sets of 10 repetitions on each side;
For increased difficulty, use a tension band.
Quadriceps: Heel Drop
Standing on a step, slowly lower one leg down towards the floor:
- Gently touch your heel to the floor and lift your leg back up again;
- Only your heel needs to touch the floor;
- Perform the same exercise in the front, side, and back;
Quadriceps: Terminal Knee Extension
Wrap a resistance band around your knee and secure it to a steady object:
- Start with your knee slightly bent with the weight of your body on it;
- Straighten your knee backward, pulling against the resistance of the band;
- Don't lock your knee straight;
Standing with your feet just shoulder-width apart, point your toes straight ahead:
- Keep your back straight and move with your hips;
- Bend at your knees, pushing your butt out behind you;
- Keep your knees centered over your feet - Don't let them go past your toes;
- Don't squat deeper than 90 degrees (right angle) at the knee;
- Return to the starting position;
- Breathe in as you bend down;
- Breathe out as you return to the starting position;
Hamstrings: Step-Up, Kick-Back
Facing a low bench or step, hold a light dumbbell in each hand, resting by your side:
- Lift one foot onto the bench and raise your body up while pressing through your right heel;
- Raise your other foot back slightly (about one foot) with a smooth, controlled movement and tighten your glute;
- Bring your leg back to the ground;
- Perform four sets of 20 on each side;
Hamstrings: Box Jump
Stand in front of a box or a step with feet lined up with your hips and hands resting at your side:
- Bending at the knees and hips, lower into a crouch position;
- Keep your back straight and look forward;
- Jump quickly, with energy, from the crouched position. It's ok to use your arms in a swinging motion to get more air and momentum;
- Land on the center of the box using your legs to absorb the impact;
- Stand up straight;
- Either jump off backward or step down from the box and repeat the movement;
Hamstrings: Glute Ham Raise
You can either do this on the floor with your legs anchored at the ankles by a person or using a secure bench.
There are also machines or contraptions with knee pads that can be used:
- Start in a kneeling position;
- Slowly, in a controlled manner, lower your body forward, bending at the knees;
- It's ok to use your hands to "catch" yourself as you go down onto the floor;
- Depending on your strength, pull yourself up using your hamstrings or push up lightly from the floor back to the kneeling position;
Prevent hip injuries before they happen by using these hip-strengthening exercises and stretches for wave riders.
Hip problems are not just for the elderly; hip problems are common among people who run a lot.
Types of Hip Injuries
Many hip issues can become recurring if they aren't dealt with properly. Here are the most common issues:
A hip pointer is a deep bruise or contusion caused by a direct hit or falling hard on your side.
Your body has small sacs of fluid (bursa, or bursae for plural) in the joints, which act as shock absorbers and cushions between bones and the surrounding soft tissue.
Bursitis is when the sacs become irritated and swell up from getting hit, overuse of the joint, and/or not warming up prior to surfing.
Muscle Strain: Groin, Hamstring, and Flexor
The muscles around the hip and pelvis can become strained when overused, pulled, or stretched beyond their capacity, causing weakness, pain, and spasms.
The most common hip strains are groin pulls, hamstring, and flexor strains.
Strains come in first, second, or third degrees:
- Grade 1: one of the muscles has been stretched or slightly torn;
- Grade 2: a partial tear of the muscle or tendon;
- Grade 3: the muscle or tendon is completely severed;
Recovery can range from a few days to a few months, depending on the damage.
Hip flexor strains are often caused by kicking and sprinting motions.
Lack of flexibility, cold weather, and/or inadequate warm-up are also contributing factors.
A dislocated hip is a very common hip injury.
The hip becomes dislocated when the thighbone slips out of its socket in the hip bone, often caused by a hard bail.
Hip fractures are a crack or break in one of the hip bones due to a hard impact.
Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI)
Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) is caused by too much friction in the hip joint.
Damage occurs when the ball and socket of the joint rub too much or in an unusual way. FAI is very common among high-level athletes.
Using these techniques (in conjunction with the ankles and knee exercises above), you can maintain strong, flexible hips to increase your performance:
Swimming is one of the best hip-strengthening exercises to practice, especially if you have been injured, because of its non-impact, low-stress actions.
Swimming for 20 minutes on a regular basis can help to both tone and lengthen muscles and increase flexibility.
Discover some proper surfer-driven swimming techniques that will relieve hip issues.
Side Lunge with Leg Lift
Start in a standing position with a wide stance:
- Lunge to one side, bending your knee and keeping your back flat;
- Inhale and push off with your bent leg, keeping your balance on your other foot;
- In the same motion, lift your arms up and kick your leg up and out to the side;
- Slowly lower your leg back down, back to the starting position;
- Do two sets of 12-15 reps per side;
- Challenge: Use a 5-10 lb weight medicine ball or kettlebell;
Walking Forward Lunge - Elbow to Instep
With your arms at your sides, lunge forward on your right leg:
- Put your left hand on the floor and bring your right elbow down to your right foot;
- Pause here for a brief stretch, then turn your torso to the right, reaching your arm out and up towards the sky;
- Place both hands on each side of your right foot and straighten both legs, hinging at the hips to bring your chest in toward your right leg;
- Stand, then repeat with the left leg;
Frog Squat Jump
Start in a squat position, keeping your back straight and knees behind your toes:
- Jump up explosively and reach for the sky;
- Then quickly come back down to a squat and touch the floor;
- Do this for about 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps, keeping a fast pace;
- Challenge: Use a 5-10 lb weight medicine ball or kettlebell and/or try it with your eyes closed;
Hip Stretching Exercises
Front-to-Back Hip Swing
Lie on your side, resting on your arm or propped up on your elbow:
- Curl your bottom leg at a 90-degree angle for stability if needed;
- Lift your top leg to be level with your hip, keeping your toes pointed;
- Swing your right leg forward as far as you can;
- Don't move your hips or upper body, and keep your abs firm;
- Then swing your leg back behind you as far as you can while squeezing your butt;
From a kneeling position, place your hands down on the ground so you are on all fours:
- Bring one leg in front of you and the other leg to the back;
- Bend your front leg so that your knee is in line with your hip;
- Keep the back leg straight behind you, also in line with your hip;
- Stay in this position, or bend forward at the hips, keeping your back straight and rest on your elbows (or go all the way to the ground if you can);
- Hold for 30-60 seconds;
- Switch legs;
Open Lizard Stretch
Step the right foot to the outside of the right hand:
- Bend the right knee so that the right thigh is parallel to the floor;
- Turn the right toes out slightly;
- Come down onto your elbows, putting a block underneath the elbows if necessary;
- Keep the neck the natural extension of your spine, press the left heel away, and keep the hips square;
The Back and The Core, The Shoulders and The Arms
The whole body is affected by the back and core areas. These are also the areas that control most surfing tricks.
Balance, the direction of the turn, and how much air - these are all affected by the back and core.
Because surfing requires so much effort from the back and stomach muscles through twisting and bending, the stronger these areas are, the better you will perform.
One of the most common problems is back pain and the often named surfer's neck.
The best back and core strengthening routines for surfers include kettlebell exercises, low back workouts, and flexibility exercises that help restore balance in the spine.
Low back exercises often focus on strengthening the abdominal muscles to be able to provide stabilization of the spine.
Shoulders control your direction.
Wherever your lead shoulder faces is where you are going to go.
Shoulders and arms also take the force of most falls, so it makes sense to keep them strong and flexible.
Surfing and nearly all wave sports are endurance sports requiring short bursts of great energy.
Just one paddle into a wave can leave a person nearly breathless if they haven't the capacity for such action.
When time is short, whole-body workouts could be an option.
Cardio seems to be everyone's least favorite, but it's a necessary evil if you want to have longer sessions.
Great whole-body workouts also include plyometric exercises, beach fitness, pre-surf warm-ups, and kettlebell workouts.
For additional workout routines, visit the Surf Training corner and read how to get a surfer's body.
Words by Nicole Rigler