Harness the Power of the Squat!

squatweightsIf you’re not squatting, either your bodyweight or free weights, you should be!  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, elderly or young, squats are one of the single most effective workouts for activating the major muscle groups, developing core strength, burning calories, building bone density, and promoting flexibility.  If you’re new to squatting, then start out by squatting your bodyweight for a couple of weeks, doing 3 sets of 20 squats everyday.  Then, depending on your health and fitness level, try squatting with a large staff or an olympic bar without any extra weights on loaded.  If you’re a more advanced weekend warrior or athlete and squats aren’t in your current workout repertoire, then it’s time to add them!  There’s no faster or more effective way to improve your athleticism and strength.

Squats activate the body’s central nervous system and promote a muscle building, restorative state. Squats build the muscles of the buttocks, hips, thighs, trunk, lower back, shoulders, and arms.  They also help strengthen ligaments and tendons in the legs. People often worry about injuring their knees by performing squats, but when performed correctly, squats will actually strengthen the knees and protect them from future injuries.

Free Weight  Squat Technique: 

  • Be sure to use a squat rack that will catch your weights in the event that they are too heavy to lift back up
  • Load the olympic weight bar low on your upper back, with your hands gripping the bar about shoulder width apart
  • With the proper technique there’s no need to use a bar pad
  •  The bar will rest somewhere just above your shoulder blades
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and be sure that the bar is centered and balanced.
  • After un-racking the weight, take a couple step BACKWARDS (dont’ load the weight so that you are walking forward)
  • You’re back will be straight but leaning slightly forward as you squat
  • Go down until your hip joints are just below your knees, then rapidly stand up
  • Look forward
  • Don’t lock your knees

For a great explanation of how to squat, watch the video below by StrongLifts:

 

 

Originally posted 2013-06-08 00:42:44.

ATTENTION MEN: Discover what foods and habits will raise your testosterone levels!

For men, having enough testosterone is about more than being macho or “ripped,” it’s about health and quality of life. Testosterone is a hormone (a cellular messenger) that plays a vital role in bone density, red blood cell production, mental acuity, metabolism, muscle strength/mass, and sex drive. While testosterone levels naturally start to decline after age 30, there are a number of nutrients and actions that promote the highest levels of testosterone possible at any given age. The key is Creation Based Living (eating real food, getting sunshine, exercising, and getting enough rest), but I’ve broken down some of the specifics as they relate to testosterone below:

Nutrients

  • Magnesium – Most Americans are at least 100 mg deficient of this important nutrient. Magnesium has dose dependent, positive effects on testosterone levels. Good sources of magnesium include: swiss chard, spinach, collard greens, halibut, pumpkin seeds, and mustard greens.
  • Zinc – Zinc deficiency contributes to low testosterone levels. Zinc is an important co-factor in testosterone production. Testosterone levels increase with zinc supplementation but stabilize after adequate zinc is obtained.
  • Vitamin D – Supplementation with cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) corresponds with increased blood levels of testosterone. In studies, testosterone levels were dose dependent but plateaued at higher levels of vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D produced by the skin during sun exposure may be one of the best ways to boost testosterone levels, as 15 minutes in the sun can result in up to 20,000 IU of water soluble vitamin D.
  • Vitamins C – Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C has been shown to improve sperm quality, as well as lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is very similar to testosterone but has the opposite effects. Cortisol is released in response to mental and physical stress and directly corresponds to decreased levels of testosterone. Vitamin C may help maintain testosterone levels by protecting against excess cortisol production during extreme stress.

Exercise

  • Weight-loss/lean muscle mass – Obesity is linked to low testosterone and can result in a vicious cycle of ongoing weight gain. The best way to break the cycle is by eating a healthy diet and following an exercise routine.
  • Resistance Training/Heavy lifting – Lifting heaving weights is associated with increased testosterone production. High intensity exercises activate the central nervous and endocrine systems — jump starting the body’s testosterone output. To maximize testosterone levels, perform compound movements like squats, dead lifts, and bench presses, and lift with heavy enough weight that you can only perform 3-8 reps per set.

Rest

  • Sleep – Getting enough sleep is vital for a healthy reproductive system, keeping cortisol levels low, and boosting testosterone. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night.
  • Meditation – Lowering mental stress is an essential part of maintaining optimum testosterone levels and overall health. Meditation is a proven technique for reducing anxiety, increasing calmness, and lowering cortisol levels.

In order to further limit cortisol production and excess estrogen, avoid the following:

  • Xenoestrogens – These are organic and synthetic compounds that imitate estrogen and may disturb the body’s appropriate estrogen/testosterone balance. Xenoestrogens include chemicals like BPA, phthalates, and PCBs.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Excessive caffeine consumption
  • Excessive mental and physical stress

The take away: what’s good for your manliness is good for your whole body!

ReferencesMagnesium Supplementation in Older MenMagnesium and Testosterone Levels in AthletesAdequate Zinc and TestosteroneZinc Status and TestosteroneVitamin D Supplementation and Testosterone LevelsVitamin D and Dose DependentVitamin C and Cortisol,Testosterone Levels in Health Men: Facts and ConstructsObesity and Low TestosteroneThe Association of Testosterone and Sleep

Originally posted 2013-03-13 23:25:11.

On Using Weight Lifting Straps

wriststraps2Should you use weight lifting straps for exercises like dead lifts, pull-downs, rows, and pull-ups?  The answer is yes.

Personally,  I wish I would have known about weight lifting straps when I first started lifting.
Weight lifting straps aren’t the wimpy way out and they aren’t cheating.  Straps simply help you target the muscles you are trying to target.  While grip strength is important, the main point of compound exercises like the dead lift isn’t to develop stronger hands, it’s to build strong leg, core, and back muscles.

Using straps will allow you to max out the muscles you’re trying to target.  As you lift heavier weight, your grip strength (forearm muscles) will not be able to outlast the ability of your large muscle groups to perform repetitions with heavy loads.  A weakened grip can cause you to drop weights or compromise form — both can lead to injury.

Straps are especially useful if you workout a lot or participate in a number of different sports.  For example, I enjoy rock climbing, and if I don’t use straps for weight lifting during the week, my grip strength is shot when I’m ready to climb on the weekend. Use straps to preserve your grip strength when you need it.

There are a couple of ways to develop grip strength without going completely strapless:

  • Begin your workout without straps, but use the straps as soon as you feel your grip start to weaken.
  • Target your grip strength with separate exercises, like wrist flexes or roll-ups.

The take away: Use straps for heavy pulling exercises.  They’ll help you lift heavier, get stronger, and stay more active.

Originally posted 2013-03-13 22:24:05.

The Ultimate Ancient Exercise

Our ancestors practiced this ancient exercise on a regular basis, lifting stones and logs for shelter and other survival activities, but now we rarely do it as part of daily life. Yet, while it’s gone by many names and has fallen out of regular use, it remains one of the most important exercises for athletes of all kinds — it’s most commonly known as the deadlift.

The human body is specially designed to pick things up, to lift heavy objects. The ability to lift things well sets us apart from most other creatures. And since we have this special gift, we need to exercise it in order to maintain optimum health.

The largest muscles in the body (the glutes, hamstrings, core, and back) are all activated by this powerful lifting movement. These muscles, in fact, depend on lifting things for health. The ancient deadlift is probably the best overall exercise for strengthening the core, building strength, reinforcing the spine, and improving posture.

The deadlift can be included as part of a variety of fitness routines. Whether you want to strengthen your back and improve general health, burn excess fat, or build muscle mass, lifting heavy things will do the trick. Weight lifting boosts the body’s resting metabolism, which means burning more calories while not even lifting a finger. The deadlift is particularly good at boosting the metabolism because it activates so many major muscle groups at once.

If you want to build strength and muscle mass, deadlifts performed with heavy weight will activate the central nervous system and signal the body to produce growth hormones, increasing the body’s anabolic activity. Deadlifts also help develop a solid foundation of muscle for improved performance of all types of weight lifting exercises and athletic activities. In addition to strengthening the legs, core, and back, deadlifts are effective at improving grip strength, which can have great turnover application for sports like rock climbing.

There are a number of ways you can go about incorporating deadlifts into your fitness routine. If you want to start with something light or minimalistic, pick up a medium-sized rock during your next run. Grasp it with two hands, then pick it up and lower it to the ground in one smooth motion. Try doing three sets of 15 reps. If you want to get more serious about it, the best way to perform a deadlift is with a barbell. If you’re aiming for basic strength and fitness, start with a weight you can perform three sets of 12 reps with. If you’re hoping to add muscle mass, I recommend using a weight you can perform five sets of five with, or try increasing your weight progressively during each set (a pyramid lift).

femaledeadlift1The deadlift is an extremely taxing exercise, so most people only include this exercise in their fitness routine once a week. Also, it’s crucial that you maintain proper posture:

Keep your feet shoulder width apart, and stand with the middle of your feet under the bar, then reach down and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Your arms should be perpendicular with the floor.
Your knees should be bent and your upper body slightly leaning forward. Keep your back straight or slightly arched, then lift the weight, pushing up with your legs.
Shoulders should be slightly back and down.

Do not jerk the weight. Rely on the legs to lift the weight during the initial phase, then allow the momentum to assist your arms and back in lifting the weight the rest of the way.
Lockout in the standing position, then return the weight to the floor by pushing your hips back first and then bending the knees when the bar is at knee level.
Maintain posture and control as you return the bar.

If you’re a beginner, I recommend watching a few videos first and exercising with an experienced partner that can offer helpful pointers. It’s also a good idea to stretch and warm up with a few body weight squats before performing deadlifts.

Most importantly, have fun joining the ranks of ancient fitness practitioners with one of the most effective and practical exercises known to man!

Originally posted 2013-02-21 19:15:00.

Core Strengthening – It's About More Than Getting A Six-Pack

It seems most people these days do core exercises for one of two reasons: to eliminate excess stomach fat or to obtain the elusive “six-pack” abs look.  Unfortunately, the logic behind these two reasons for doing core exercises is somewhat misguided, and here’s why:

  • Core specific exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and planking don’t promote weight loss around the mid-section.  Excess fat is always burned in the reverse order from how it’s gained.  If a person stores excess fat around the abdomen first, then that fat will be the last to be burned.
  • The best ways to burn excess fat are: improving the quality of food consumed (no refined or processed foods), reducing total calories consumed, doing exercises that boost the metabolism like HIIT and strength training, and reducing unhealthy stress on the mind and body.  
  • While having a six-pack might look good by our culture’s standards, it doesn’t necessarily coincide with have a strong overall core.  The core muscles consist of far more than just the abdominal muscles, and all of the core muscles should be strengthened in a balanced fashion for optimum fitness.  
Although doing endless crunches or sit-ups to lose excess body fat or to get a six-pack isn’t the best fitness plan, there are a number of good reasons to strengthen your core, some of them include:
  • Improved posture and confidence
  • Less back ache from sitting and lifting
  • Better balance
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Improved comfort in the performance of daily house duties
The core is the crucial link between the upper and lower body, upon which all strength and balance hinge.  The best exercises for strengthening the core activate as many of the core muscles as possible (located in the abdomen, back, pelvis, sides, and buttocks), not just the abs.  I recommend integrating some of the exercises below into your daily workout schedule.  It will take some experimentation to figure out what routines work best for you.  Also, keep in mind, they should not cause excess pain or discomfort.
 
Planking engages all of the core muscles in the back and abdomen area.  Example routine – Plank for 45 secs, then do 12 oblique raises on each side, repeat two more sets of the same.
 
Squats and lunges require stabilizing muscles and target the core muscles in the pelvis and buttocks.  Beginners – perform with body weight only (try three sets of 15 with 45 secs of rest in between each set).  Intermediate and advance – perform with dumbbell, barbell, or kettle ball weight.  For advance and intermediate athletes, dead lifts are another very effective exercise that build strength in the core and the entire posterior chain.
 
Exercise Ball workouts require stabilization, promote improved balance, and activate all of the core muscles.  Some good core workouts include:
  • Leg tuck: Place your hands on the ground in a push-up position, and place the top of your shins on the exercise ball.  Use your legs to roll the ball towards your arms, then roll the ball back.  
  • Trunk twist: Place your feet flat on the ground and lean/sit against the ball with your lower back.  Clasp your hands together and extend your arms straight up, perpendicular with your body.  Then twist your arms from side to side, twisting as far to each side as possible.
  • Modified plank: Lay over the ball on your stomach with your hands and feet touching the ground on opposites sides and the bottom of your toes touching the ground.  Proceed to lift your upper body up off the exercise ball, with you arms straight out in a flying position.  Hold elevated position for several seconds, then return to the starting position. (For any of the above exercise ball workouts, start by trying to perform three sets of ten repetitions) 

Don’t have an exercise ball?  Get one here.

If you want to get a stronger core and washboard abs, don’t give up the sit-ups and crunches completely, just remember that by themselves they won’t fully strengthen the core or promote excess fat loss.  Functional fitness requires dynamic movements and full body engagement.  Also, if your goal is to burn excess fat, ab-specific exercises aren’t your best bet.  Focus on eating healthy, staying active, and exercising smarter, not necessarily harder!

Originally posted 2013-01-22 20:49:00.

The importance of failure — lessons from weight-training.

 

I’ve been weight-lifting off and on for about fifteen-years now. My primary purpose for weight lifting has been to stay lean and strong, ready for any outdoor sport or household chore. I’ve usually set some goals along the way too, like working toward a heavier bench-press, squat, or lat pull-down, but often times I’ve shown up at the gym only to go through the motions. Sometimes going through the motions is better than nothing, but it’s not the way I want to live.


One thing I’ve learned is that life is only truly lived when It’s lived intentionally.

Whether weight-lifting or loving my family, excellence requires a giving of self, risk, the chance of failure. In fact, I would even argue that a life without failure is no life at all. If we aren’t providing ourselves with opportunities to fail are we really living meaningful lives?  

Earlier this week I realized that weight-lifting provides a perfect analogy for the importance of failure. For the last several months I’ve been trying to push myself in several different lifts in order to build strength and improve my speed for the 100 meter dash. The thing is, I really wasn’t pushing myself to my full-potential. I was satisfied with reaching arbitrary goals, like accomplishing 4 sets of 10 repetitions with a certain weight, but I wasn’t getting stronger. Then I remembered that making strength gains requires overcoming mental barriers and pushing my muscles to new limits — it requires FAILURE.  

Ask any professional athlete or strength trainer and he or she will tell you the same thing; if you want to get stronger you have to push your muscles until they can’t perform a given exercise for even one more repetition. It’s only when you get to the point of muscle failure that you’re challenging your body to make new gains.

The same is true in life. If we don’t put ourselves in situations that provide opportunities for failure then we aren’t providing opportunities for growth and fruitfulness.  

Failure in anything can be difficult. Being OK with failing in front of others requires a firm sense of identity and a proper perspective. It’s easy to make the mistake of focusing on failures instead of using failures to help us get closer to a goal. But what happens when we focus on our failures instead of our purpose and value as human beings is that failure can secretly and subconsciously become a goal in and of itself. Don’t be afraid of failure but don’t focus on it either.  

Whatever you do, do it do the fullest. When you fail, use that failure as a learning opportunity, a means of becoming a better person. Failure isn’t something we are — it’s just something we do. It’s something we need to do in order to live and succeed!

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Originally posted 2014-01-08 16:33:23.

Movements That Build Muscle: The Deadlift

Does the Deadlift Build Muscle?

Exercise enthusiasts may pose the question, “does the deadlift build muscle?” The short answer is yes, and to a noteworthy degree. The deadlift, properly executed, offers a full body workout that is not duplicated by other movements. Muscle fiber recruitment is staggeringly high in this basic lift, as a variety of muscle groups are engaged in the fundamental task of lifting an inert bar off of the ground.  From a biomechanical standpoint, this makes the movement complex, increasing the difficulty of the lift and making the necessity for proper technique especially important. To further understand how the movement builds muscle, consider some facts related to the deadlift.

Augmented Hormone Production

Movements that involve larger muscle groups at high weight and maximal intensity facilitate the secretion of hormones, most notably, testosterone. Increases in testosterone increase neurological efficiency and functionality, thereby increasing muscle size and strength.[1]

Increased Muscle Fiber Recruitment

As a basic, heavy movement, the deadlift requires greater force production from a larger number of muscle groups than most other exercises. As force is created, muscles recruit additional motor units to meet the challenge of extra weight.

Primary Muscles Exerted

  • Back Extensors – The upward and downward portions of the deadlift employ the back extensors. As the bar is lifted from the ground to the knee, the back extensors contract concentrically. The lowering movement (knee to ground) causes the extensors to extend eccentrically.  Studies have conclusively demonstrated that the deadlift engages the extensor muscles to a greater degree than similar exercises intended to work the same muscles.[2]
  • Abdominal and Trunk Stabilizers – Since the deadlift is a free-weight exercise with some imbalance, a number of stabilizer muscles are used to steady the weight. Since the body is in a prone position and must counteract the imbalance, considerable effort must be given to controlling the bar during the motion.[3]

Biomechanics

The deadlift, while tremendously efficacious, can be extremely dangerous with improper form. Great care should be given to spinal posture, foot placement, chest position, and bar path and proximity to the body.

  • Spinal Posture – Flexed trunk muscles galvanize the back to lift the weight. Excessive leaning can place significant strain on the lower back, increasing the potentiality for injury. The torso should not parallel the ground, but should be angled upward to diminish strain on the lower back. The torso’s posture should be inflexible and taut to support the vertebrae.
  • Foot Placement – The feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and pointed slightly outward. This will allow the knees to bend and lengthen throughout the movement without excessive strain.
  • Chest Position – The chest should be pushed out, thus allowing the back to remain in a straightened position.
  • Bar Path and Proximity to the Body – As the bar is lifted, keeping the bar in close proximity to the body allows the torso to remain taut without rounding the lower back.

[1] Hales. Improving the Deadlift: Understanding Biomechanical Constraints and Physiological Adaptations to Resistance Exercise.

[2] Nuzzo; McCaulley; Cormie; Cavill; McBride. Trunk Muscle Activity During Stability Ball And Free Weight Exercises.

[3] Hamlyn; Behm; Young. Trunk Muscle Activation During Dynamic Weight-Training Exercises and Isometric Instability Activities

Originally posted 2014-01-06 17:19:14.

Exercises You Should Try: The Seated Row with Chest Support

MVC-003S

Reasons to Try the Seated Row with Chest Support: Rowing is a physiologically intuitive motion, bringing natural and rhythmic exertion to the muscles of the upper back. While the movement properly practiced is natural and beneficial, bad habits involving poor technique can place undue stress on the lower back. As an exercise that combines this beneficial motion with a support mechanism to ensure proper form, the seated row with chest support is an exercise you should consider.  By placing very specific demands on the upper region of the human back, this exercise forces activated muscle groups to respond and strengthen, while protecting the lower region of the back against excessive strain and potential injury.  Consider some of the benefits of the chest-supported row:

Enhancing your Back’s Function

Integrating a rowing motion into your routine can improve the functioning of your back. As a rowing motion that activates the Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, Rhomboid, and Posterior Deltoid, and Biceps Bracii, the seated row with chest support galvanizes the major muscle groups of the upper back. This increased workload brings about neurological and muscular changes in the aforementioned muscles, aiding muscle tone, function, size, coordination and strength. Improved function in the upper back is also helpful in the prevention of shoulder and chest injuries.

Aiding your Technique

Rounding your back during a rowing exercise places exorbitant stress on the lower back, leaving you vulnerable and prone to injury. As the name suggests, the seated row with chest support has a padded mechanism to ensure that your back remains flat during the motion. With greater ability to perform this exercise properly, you will be able to better focus on engaging the muscles of your back.

Balancing your Push-Pull Variation

Any good routine will have a balance mixture of pushing and pulling motions. Focusing on one type of movement to the exclusion of the other can result in strength inequity and greater vulnerability to injury.  As a reciprocal movement to the bench press, the seated row with chest support gives you a motion that balances your routine. If you spend a disproportionate amount of time on pushing motions, consider this exercise as a way of complementing and enhancing your exercise sessions.

 Suggestions:

  • Start Light – As with any new exercise, the body needs time to adjust to the movement. Getting the biomechanics down is not automatic, and thus requires a good amount of time and practice. Keep the movement steady and controlled, and avoid rocking. Move deliberately and gradually. Try light weight and high repetitions in your initial sessions, get the technique down, and add weight as you feel more comfortable.
  • Be Consistent – In realizing the benefit of any exercise, it is important to perform it with regularity. Your body needs time to adapt to the motion and benefit from it. If you are wondering why you are not benefitting from the exercise, set up a routine and stay with it!
  • Be Creative – You don’t need a machine or gym membership to incorporate this motion. You can replicate it easily with a slightly inclined bench and some dumbbells.

Reference: Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-10-24 13:16:50.

5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners

Believe it or not, training for running a race involves more than putting miles on your running shoes. Strength training is an important part of race training. Integrating strength training into your running routine will help prevent injury, build up supporting muscles, and increase speed over time.

Running activates numerous muscles throughout the body, but one of the most important areas is the “core.” The core includes the abs, back, and hips.  According to Runner’s World, core strength improves running performance and reduces risk of injury. I can personally vouch for the importance of core training too.  Last year, when I didn’t include core training in my preparation for a race,  I experienced breathing issues, as well as the much-feared “side stitch.” Avoid the mistake I made and be sure to train your core for better running performance.  

One great move to increase ab strength:

Planking. Planks can be done from the forearms or hands in a basic push-up position, as well as on each side of the body to target your obliques. Hold a front plank and side planks for 30 seconds each (or no longer than you can maintain perfect form) for severals set. Or test your strength to see how long you can hold the plank (with proper form).

Some moves to increase lower back strength:

If you’re a runner, it’s crucial that you give special attention to strengthening your lower back. I suffered a back injury a couple of years ago, which had to do with the fact that all I was doing in my training was running. Lower back pain is common today, a product of sitting in the same position for long periods at a desk, or at the opposite spectrum, from standing in the same position all day. The mild back pain caused by lack of movement can generally be relieved with strength training. (Be sure to check with your doctor if you have moderate to severe lower back pain before attempting any of these exercises.)

Bridges. Lie on your back with feet on the floor. Tighten abs and glutes to raise your body off of the floor towards the ceiling. You can do a number of reps in a rhythmic up/down motion, or hold the position for a period of time. Do 15-20 reps or one 30 second interval for a set.

Back extension. This move can be done with an exercise ball or with weights. Lie face down on an exercise ball, with hands behind your head and feet against a sturdy object (such as your couch or a wall). Squeeze your glutes and raise yourself slightly off the ball until your body forms a straight line. Hold the raised position for 30 seconds or do 10-15 repetitions for a set.

(See links below for more lower back exercises.)

Here are some moves to incorporate to develop supporting or stabilizing muscles in your legs:

You’d be surprised at how many runners neglect training their legs, since they figure they are getting their leg workout in when they run. Yet, running without strength training can cause weaknesses and imbalances in the leg muscles. When these supporting or stabilizing leg muscles are weak, incurring an injury while training or racing is more likely.

Single leg squats. This move focuses on building stability in each leg. Stand in a squat position, but place more weight on one side and only keep the toe of the other foot on the ground. Squat down, with back straight and focus on the one leg going down and up. Do 10-15 of these on each side for a set.

Dead lifts. This move simultaneously works multiple leg and core muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes, quads, and back muscles. With legs slightly bent (to prevent injury) stand with feet at a hips-width apart, free weights or bar in front of you (with bar centered over the top of your feet). Keeping your back straight, bend slowly at the waist until your weights or bar come to your knees (or wherever you feel comfortable). Focus on feeling an equal stretch in your left and right hamstring. Do 15-20 reps for a set. Read this article for more on dead lifts.

You can use all of the moves in this article for a quick strength training routine to support your running, doing 2-3 sets of each. Remember, focus on form over quantity for the best results!

Questions:

Do you integrate strength training while training for a race?

Have you ever been injured while training for a race? How are you healing and/or preventing this from happening again?

Sources: Runner’s World article: Strength TrainingRunner’s World article: The Core of the MatterDiary of a Semi-Health Nut: 10 Moves for a Strong Lower Back.

Originally posted 2013-09-24 15:38:07.

Surf-Specific Strength Training

56th_2012_09_29-7Wave surfing requires a unique combination of anaerobic and aerobic strengths.  A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that the the primary activities performed by surfers can be broken down into the following percentages:

  • Aerobic Paddling – Approximately 54% of time in water
  • Anaerobic Sprint Paddling for Waves – Approximately 8% of time in water
  • Standing and Riding Waves – Approximately 4% of time in water

Correlating well with these activities, another study found that top competitive surfers had one primary strength in common: anaerobic paddling power.  While there are undoubtedly a number of others skills involved in surfing, paddling power is perhaps the most important factors for being able to catch the waves that provide the best rides.  

Once a wave is caught, however, a number of other factors come into play. The four primary athletic abilities surfers should work to improve include: 

  • Pulling power and endurance: Anaerobic rowing power is directly related to paddling power.  Improve paddling power by performing barbell rows, cable pull-downs, seated rows, and cleans. Use heavier weight to gain strength (an amount you can do about 5 sets of 5 reps with) and higher reps to build muscle and paddling endurance (for example, a weight that you can perform 4 sets of 10 with). 
  • Pushing power: Pushing power is essential for the “pop-up” phase of getting up on the board while catching a wave. Improve pop-up power by performing push-ups (especially plyometric versions like claps push-ups or using a medicine ball), bench-press, and burpees.
  • Core Strength/Balance: One you’re up on the board, turning and controlling the board requires balance and twisting at the hips; it’s all in the core.  There are a variety of ways to build core-strength.  Deadlifts and squats are two of the best core and leg strengthening exercises, but there are other-surf specific exercises that are good too.  Some surf-specific core-exercises include performing kettle-bell cleans while balancing on a Bosu ball, performing squats on a balance board, or walking a slack-line.  
  • Squat Strength: Squat strength is another important part of getting up on the board as well as controlling it once you’re riding a wave.  Squat/leg strength is closely related to core strength.  Some great exercises include squats, cleans, wall-sits, and box jumps.

Remember, surfing requires a unique set of endurance and power, so be sure to vary your workout.  Also, in all of the studies related to surf performance, overall strength wasn’t as important as relative strength.  In other words, how well you’re able to surf is directly related to your ability to effectively and quickly move your own body weight.  Weight-lifting with explosive but controlled movements will help you develop the power you need to catch waves swiftly and effectively.  

For a few examples of surf-specific exercises, check out the videos below.  Have fun!

References: Association Between Anthropometry and Upper-Body Strength Qualities With Sprint Paddling Performance in Competitive Wave Surfers; Physiological Demands of Competitive Surfing; Anaerobic and Aerobic Fitness Profiling of Competitive Surfers

Photo Credit: Andy Langeland

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Originally posted 2013-09-19 14:09:43.