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Surf Fitness Part One: Building Endurance & Strength

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

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.


Building Endurance

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!

Cardio exercises:

  • Swimming

  • Running

  • Cycling

  • Rowing

  • Jumping Rope

  • Dancing


Building Strength

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.

Push Ups

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Extend your arms so that you return to the starting position and repeat the steps.

Easier variations:

  • Keep knees on the floor

  • Elevate upper body by placing your hands against a wall or on a bench

Harder variations:

  • 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


Strong core:

A strong core will help to stabilize your body and find balance from popping up to riding a wave.

Mountain Climbers

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Extend the bent leg back, parallel to your other leg. Repeat by alternating between sides.

Easier variations:

  • Rest toes of the bent leg on the ground under your chest

  • Move slowly

Harder variations:

  • Move quickly

  • 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


Strong back:

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

  1. Start laying down on your stomach with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing down.

  2. 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.

  3. Repeat lifting to hold and gently lowering.

Easier variations:

  • Keep legs on the ground and only lift chest

  • Place hands under shoulders to help lift your chest

Harder variations:

  • 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.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Easier variations:

  • Only lower down slightly

  • Hold onto a stable bar or ledge for support

Harder variations:

  • Change the width of your legs

  • Hold weights

  • Use a resistance band around thighs

  • Do a jump squat

  • Hold the low squat position for longer


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Straighten and extend the back leg to the original position. Pause at the top and repeat the steps.

Easier variations:

  • Lower the back knee down only slightly

  • Hold onto a stable bar or ledge for support

Harder variations:

  • 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.

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