Updated: Jun 3
In a surf lesson, regardless of your athletic background, you’ll have the proper guidance to learn the foundations and successfully progress in catching waves. Nevertheless, surfing will test your entire body on endurance, strength, mobility, and balance. It’s a good idea to prepare for your next surf trip with a few exercises and movements that are designed to target the muscle groups that surfing requires.
This article is part one in a two part series. The first part covers foundational drills that build endurance and strength. The second part will dive into basic exercises that improve mobility and balance. You won’t need any equipment for these exercises and they are accessible to all levels. There are also many variations available to modify the difficulty level, as well as the option to add weights or other equipment. It’s important that you know your limits and pay attention to your body to avoid pushing yourself to the point of pain or injury. With a little preparation, you will be able to surf for hours and ultimately progress faster.
A lot of surfing hours need to be logged in order to spike the learning curve. Your biggest asset in this pursuit is your endurance on the water. Endurance can be improved through cardio: any activity that keeps your heart rate elevated as you use your body (in a physically demanding and usually repetitive movement). One of the best endurance training exercises for surfing is swimming. Not only will you get a full-body workout while building your stamina, but you’ll also develop your skills as a swimmer and improve confidence in the ocean. If swimming isn’t available to you, there are many other cardio exercises such as running, cycling, rowing, jumping rope, or even dancing!
On top of endurance, building strength, especially in certain muscle groups, will give you the control and power needed to ramp up your surfing. The following are some suggestions for foundational exercises that target and strengthen essential muscles.
Strong arms and shoulders:
Strengthening your shoulders and arms will prepare you for hours of paddling. It will also give you a quick and smooth pop up, giving you a better chance at catching waves.
Start with your hands on the ground slightly wider than shoulders and arms straight. Extend both legs back with toes tucked under, feet slightly apart. Your body is in a straight line from shoulders to heels.
Keeping your body in a straight line, engage your core, and lower your upper body by bending your elbows as low as 90°. Keep your arms close to the sides of your body. When you’ve lowered your body as much as is comfortable, pause for a moment.
Extend your arms so that you return to the starting position and repeat the steps.
Keep knees on the floor
Elevate upper body by placing your hands against a wall or on a bench
Lift one leg as you lower down
Elevate feet onto a step or block
Shift body weight forward as you lower down
Change the width of hands or feet
A strong core will help to stabilize your body and find balance from popping up to riding a wave.
Start with hands on the ground, wrists are under shoulders and arms straight. Extend both legs back with toes tucked under, feet are slightly apart. Your body is in a straight line from shoulders to heels.
Keep your arms straight and your upper body position stable, bend one knee and bring it into your chest as you stabilize the rest of your body in position.
Extend the bent leg back, parallel to your other leg. Repeat by alternating between sides.
Rest toes of the bent leg on the ground under your chest
Bring the bent knee to the outside of your shoulder
Cross the bent knee to the opposite elbow
Bring the bent knee to wrist, elbow, or shoulder height
Targeting your back muscles will be especially helpful, since you need to keep your chest lifted as you paddle between breaks or to catch a wave.
Superman Back Extensions
Start laying down on your stomach with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing down.
Lift your chest, arms, and legs off the ground. Keep your arms and legs extending straight back. Hold the lifted pose for a count of five and then lower your body.
Repeat lifting to hold and gently lowering.
Keep legs on the ground and only lift chest
Place hands under shoulders to help lift your chest
Extend arms in front and lift
Flutter kick arms and/or legs while in the lifted position
Lift chest, extend arms back and pump arms
Lift chest with arms extended back and then swing them to the front and back
Strong glutes and legs:
To help balance and direct the board when riding a wave, surfers keep their knees bent and feet wide. This stance fires up the lower body, which makes targeting these muscles part of a well-rounded preparation. There are two complimentary exercises that build the different muscles used to stand and ride a wave.
Start by standing with your feet hip distance apart, toes can be pointing slightly out. Micro-bend your legs so that they are not hyper-extended. Hold your arms out in front for a counterbalance.
Slowly bend your knees and lower down as if you were going to sit in a chair. Make sure your knees stay behind your toes by focusing on sitting down and back. Lower your body as much as possible, without lowering past the point at which your thighs are parallel to the floor.
When you reach your lowest position, pause for a moment. Then lift yourself back up to the starting position. Pause for a moment and repeat.
Only lower down slightly
Hold onto a stable bar or ledge for support
Change the width of your legs
Use a resistance band around thighs
Do a jump squat
Hold the low squat position for longer
Start by bending one leg 90° with the knee over ankle and thigh parallel to the floor, or as close as possible. Extend the other leg straight back and stand on the ball of the foot.
Slowly bend and lower the back knee to hover just above the floor. Keep the rest of your body as stable as possible. Pause for a moment in the lowered position.
Straighten and extend the back leg to the original position. Pause at the top and repeat the steps.
Lower the back knee down only slightly
Hold onto a stable bar or ledge for support
Step your lunge by starting in a standing position, feet together and then stepping one leg either forward, backwards, or to the side and then lowering down
Hold onto weights
Place the back foot on a raised step or block for a deeper bend
Walk the lunge by taking long steps and lowering down in the lunge position between each step
A Final Note
Endurance and strength building exercises will help you maintain your power on the water, which in the end gives you more opportunity to learn and develop your skills. It is also an important step to prevent injury and ensure overall safety. Even if you only complete a couple sessions a week, you’ll notice your efforts and improvements on your next surf trip. To complete your at-home workout between surf trips, check out the second part of this foundational exercise series. In that article you’ll find key suggestions to improve mobility and balance, which will help you maximize all of the strength and endurance that you’ve built.