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.

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