While surfing borders on a spiritual pursuit for many, it is still a complete physical sport. The simple act of paddling around and catching a wave engages muscles from your neck to your toes and all points in between. It is physically demanding, requiring not just strength, but balance and stability, flexibility, and endurance and stamina. From paddling and duck-diving to finding your feet and making that hacking cutback—not to mention the epic wipeouts and lung-burning underwater tumbles—surfers require a pretty high level of fitness.
Paddling alone targets multiple muscles, with triceps, biceps, deltoids, trapezius, rectus abdominus, latissimus dorsi, and obliques all engaged in the action to keep you moving. When catching a wave and standing up, starting with a good pushup with your pectoralis major, your lower body gets in on the action. While surfing, your quadriceps, gluteals, and gastrocnemius (calf) are all working to keep you upright. And when you’re getting ready for that smooth bottom turn or carving the face, heavy torso rotations are not just targeting your torso but core as well. Even between the action, when just sitting on the board waiting for the next set, your core and abdomen are engaged to keep your balance while you bob. In fact, finding balance and stability is a near constant pursuit in all aspects of surfing, engaging your core nearly the entire time.
All of this means that there are plenty of opportunities for one to get injured—not exactly a fun scenario when in the middle of a hurricane swell and rip currents are at cat 5. Warming up and staying fit are important to ensure you don’t put yourself and/or your surfing buddies at risk while grabbing a session. Here we offer a few tips to keep it fit and safe out on the water.
Before hitting the water, it’s a good idea to run through a few exercises that mimic the movements used when surfing. Your goal is to get your heart pumping and those joints in action, which is best achieved through a “dynamic warm-up,” essentially a series of ranges of motion repeatedly for eight to twelve repetitions. These should be challenging yet comfortable movements—the goal is to get the body primed, not over-exerted. Toe touches, squats, arm and shoulder circles, lunges (warrior and reverse), standing knee hugs, ankle circles, and standing trunk rotations will help engage some of the muscles that will be utilized during your session.
Vary your warm-up for surfing, targeting a variety of muscles and muscle groups rather than strict static stretching, which tends to limit the explosive movement needed in muscles when surfing.
For those looking to stay in surfing form, here are a few workouts and exercise tips to prepare for the next swell.
Plyometric exercises—quick, powerful moves that start with eccentric action (muscle lengthening) followed by concentric action (muscle shortening)—improves muscle power, helping with those quick, explosive movements needed when surfing.
Surfing is a full-body sort of activity so its important to try and replicate the demands a day in the water will take. This means full body movement types of exercises, where motion is stressed over isolation exercises. Some exercises to try are squats, kettlebell swings, lunges (variations of this will help with rotation and trunk stability), dead lifts, and plyometric movements, as well as good oldfashioned pushups, chin-ups, and sit-ups.
Balance is key to be a successful surfer—without it, you’re just swimming. A good way to work on balance is through single leg movement exercises. From simple single leg balance exercises to single leg squats and step-ups, any one-legged movements will help you find your center of gravity, essential when that ride is a bit unruly. To work on balance while targeting other muscle groups, the use of a stability trainer like the Indo Board will not only up the workout difficulty, but is pretty fun too. From squats and pushups to oblique twists and various dumbbell/kettlebell routines, the combination of the wobbly board and range of motion engages the core throughout the process, much akin to surfing.
For a truly dynamic exercise, bent-over rows and other strength training exercise paired with a stability trainer, like on the Indo Board above, not only works on the targeted muscle groups, but your core as well.
Speaking of core, it’s imperative to incorporate some exercise to integrate your core. The use of medicine balls and exercise bands are great when combined with stability trainers like the Indo Board. For truly difficult workout, do some medicine ball chops while atop the Indo Board—this will take some practice, and be sure to have plenty of room to fall, but the rotational torsion of the exercise will do wonders for those swooping turns.
Surfing would be nothing without paddling, and paddling would be nothing without a strong upper back and shoulders. Paddling is easily the most exhausting part of surfing, especially on those nasty closeout days where the inside is nothing but a wash of white water. Bent dumbbell and seated rows, chin-ups with isometric holds, chest and reverse fly exercises, and dumbbell pullovers will all give your back and shoulders a boost of juice for that next session.
With water being the central element to surfing, swimming is one of the best ways to keep your body surf-ready. Open water swimming can be a great way to keep the heart racing, but can be tricky—tides, currents, storms, wind, and sea life can all play a factor in whether you’ll be taking the plunge in the ocean for a swim or not. If utilizing a pool, interval training is the way to go, helping increase your aerobic capability (endurance) while breaking the monotony of a continuous-intensity cardio workout. For a solid swim training routine for the surfer, check out this post on Surfline; it will have even the most ardent fitness buff gulping for air. If you want to vary up the interval training sessions, mix in some jogging/running (Runtastic is a pretty great app for that), boxing, or jumping rope; all will help build your cardio endurance, allowing for you to maximize that next surf session.
Head to page 2 for diet tips for the surfer >>
The importance of being properly fueled is never as apparent as when that third hour of a session rolls around and waves keep passing you by. South Florida’s surf season is short, and stormy windswells even shorter, so making the most out of each session is of the utmost priority. This means staying properly fed and hydrated is key.
A balanced diet will go a long way while out on the water. Whole foods, preferably sourced locally and organically, should be on the top of your list. This means opt for fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods and excessive sugar. And while you’re at it, reduce the amount of processed foodstuff in your pantry, including processed flours. Make sure you keep the protein levels up, as well as quality saturated fats like those found in avocados and coconut oil. And breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day, especially before a morning surf. My go-to bite is a banana or two (helps with cramps and replenishes electrolytes), a handful or two of mixed nuts or trail mix, and some Greek yogurt—its not too heavy but does the trick. In a pinch, smoothies will fill the void; just remember, there is nothing worse than surfing on a full stomach, but surfing on an empty one can be just as bad.
Everyone’s heard the mantra that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We’ve outlined five breakfast bites that pack an assortment of proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
We look at juices and smoothies, and offer up some recipes to try.
Consider these three health and nutrition apps, which are designed to help you make more conscious decisions about what you eat and how much water you drink.
And stay hydrated; the importance of clean water in your system—days before and after—is paramount. Avoid soda and artificially flavored drinks like sports drinks—they tend to do more harm than good. After a session, you might be down on those vital electrolytes (it’s what plants crave!), so here’s a handy, healthy homemade electrolyte drink that is just as important as the towel when headed out the door:
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 cups water
- 2 tbsp. local raw honey
- 2 pinch of sea salt
Add all ingredients in a sealable bottle; mix well. Refrigerate.
Click here to head back to A South Florida Guide to Surfing.