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Surf Fitness Part Two: Improving Mobility & Balance

Updated: Jun 3



Landlocked surf enthusiasts around the world are commonly forced to wait weeks to months between surf sessions. For the occasional surfer, it can become incredibly difficult to build and sustain momentum in the learning curve. To help overcome this challenge, surfers can draw from an entire domain of exercise and mobility movements that specifically target and enhance the muscle groups that surfing requires. Committing to an exercise routine, even a simple one, can give you the edge you need to maximize every precious minute on your board.


This article is the second part in a two part series on surfing fitness. The first part covered foundational drills that build endurance and strength. This article continues that conversation and suggests a number of exercises to 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. By taking advantage of the time between surf trips, you will be able to surf for a longer period of time and ultimately progress faster.



Improving Mobility


These days personal trainers and coaches often prescribe mobility and flexibility drills as a part of their client’s routines. The motivating idea is that an improvement in mobility will result in an improvement in performance, since strength can be maximally applied through a full range of motion.


Unlike stretching, which is typically a static pose that is intended to lengthen muscle tissue, mobility exercises are dynamic movements aimed at improving a joint's range of motion. Both stretching and mobility exercises have their merits and should be part of a warm up routine or simply as a daily practice. The following are a combination of stretching and mobility drills selected with essential surfing movements in mind.

Shoulder mobility:

Improving the range of motion in your shoulders will increase the power and consistency of your paddling stroke. You’ll also improve your stroke by strengthening the stabilizing muscles around the shoulder. A smooth stroke will increase your efficiency and allow you to catch more waves.


Arm Circles

  1. Start standing with your arms out to the side in a ‘T’ position.

  2. Make a small circle with your arm by rolling your shoulders, while keeping your arms extended in the ‘T’ position. Think about pinching your shoulder blades together as you bring your arm back, and then pushing your shoulders forward as you bring your arms in front.

  3. After a few small rotations, enlarge the circle to a medium size.

  4. After a few medium rotations, enlarge the circle to your maximum range of motion.

  5. Repeat these steps in the opposite direction.

Easier variations:

  • Place hands on the respective shoulders so that elbows are pointing out. Follow the same steps while you keep your arms in the bent position.

Harder variations:

  • To build shoulder stability, hold a light weight as you go through the rotation sequence

  • Increase the speed of your rotations to warm up the joint and muscles

  • Rotate arms in opposite directions at the same time

Spine mobility:

Spinal mobility will help both your paddling position and maneuverability while riding a wave. Since spinal mobility is so important, there are three suggested mobility exercises to improve both the paddling and maneuvering elements.


Cobra and Upward Facing Dog

  1. Start laying on your stomach. Bend elbows and place both hands flat on the ground underneath your shoulders.

  2. Gently press into your hands to lift your shoulders and chest a few inches off the ground. Hold this lifted position for a few moments.

  3. Gently lower your chest back to the floor. Repeat and progressively lift your chest slightly higher after each repetition, up until both arms are fully extended.

Easier variations:

  • Move slowly and reduce the number of repetitions

  • Only lift the chest a few inches from the ground for every the repetition

Harder variations:

  • Move directly to the maximum height with both arms fully extended

  • Lift both hands an inch from the ground and then raise and hold your chest using only your back muscles (you’ll only be able to lift your chest a few inches)

Cat and Cow

  1. Start on your hands and knees; hands are under your shoulders and knees under hips. Your spine is in a neutral position.

  2. As you inhale, arch your back by dropping your stomach to the ground, tilt your tailbone up towards the sky, open your chest forward and pull your shoulders down and back. Gently gaze up to the sky.

  3. As you exhale, round your back by pulling your stomach up towards the sky, tuck your tailbone down, press through the space between your shoulder blades. Gently drop your head and gaze towards your stomach.

  4. Repeat these two movements fluidly using your breath as a guide. After an equal amount of repetitions, finish in the neutral spinal position.

Easier variations:

  • Place a towel under wrists and/or knees to soften the pressure on those joints

  • While sitting in a chair, place hands on knees and apply the same wave-like spinal movement

Harder variations:

  • Lifting one leg/arm, or lift the opposite leg and arm as you drop your stomach and tilt your tailbone upwards

  • Lifting one leg/arm, or lift the opposite leg and arm as you round your back and tuck your tailbone down and crunch the arm and/or leg into the centre of your body

  • Combine the above two suggestions using either an leg or arm, or the both the opposite leg and arm at the same time: as you drop your stomach lift the leg and/or arm up and as you round your back keep the leg and/or arm lifted and draw it into the centre of your body like a crunch (repeat this as a fluid movement)

Seated Spinal Twist

  1. Start either sitting in a chair or with legs crossed on the floor.

  2. Place one hand on the opposite knee, place the other hand either on the chair or the floor behind your back.

  3. While keeping your hips stable, twist from the torso in the direction of your front hand and gaze over the back shoulder.

  4. Pause and hold this pose for a few moments. Repeat on the other side.

Easier variations:

  • If seated on the floor, sit on a block to raise the seat

Harder variations:

  • While sitting on the floor, extend one leg and bend the other so that the foot is flat on the ground next to the extended leg’s knee. Take the opposite arm to the bent leg and either hug the bent knee or place the elbow on the outside of the thigh. Place the other hand on the ground behind to support the spine. Keep the hips stable and twist from the torso in the direction of the bent leg and gaze over the back shoulder. Repeat on both sides.

  • Lay on your back, bend one knee and bring the leg into your chest. Take the opposite hand from the bent leg and place it on the outside of the bent knee. While keeping both shoulders flat on the floor, use your hand to gently pull the bent leg across your body creating a twist. Gaze over the opposite shoulder. Pause and hold this pose for a few moments. Repeat on the other side.

Hip mobility and flexibility:

Increasing your hip mobility will help you pop up faster and more efficiently. You’ll also be able get a deeper squat in your stance and use a greater range of motion, which will give you better balance and control over the board. One way to think of hip mobility is as being bi-directional: a front to back and a side to side range. To improve each of these directions, there are two suggested movements.


Lunges

  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 place your back knee on the ground behind your torso. You can tuck your toes under or rest on the top of your foot.

  2. You can place your hands on the ground on either side of your foot, rest them on your thigh, or extend them over head.

  3. Pause in this pose and sink into your hips as they gravitate towards the floor.

Easier variations:

  • Use blocks on either side of your hips to rest your hands on

Harder variations:

  • Tuck your toes under and lift your back knee off the ground for a high lunge

  • Extend your arms out into a ‘T’ position and twist from your torso in the direction of your front leg

  • Place both hands on the inside of your front leg. Stay on hands, or move forearms onto the floor or a block

  • Place either hand on the inside of your front foot and reach the other arm over head to twist, complete with both hands on each side

  • Add movement into the lunge using any of these suggestions in a repetitive and gentle motion (lifting the back leg, twisting, raising your arms from floor to overhead etc.)

Deep Squat

  1. Start by standing with your feet hip distance apart, or slightly wider.

  2. Keep your feet flat on the ground and bend both knees so that you rest your thighs against your calves (your sit bones are near your heels). Open your chest and maintain a long and straight spine.

  3. Place your hands on the floor between your legs to find balance.

  4. Pause in this pose and think about letting your hips drop towards the floor.

Easier variations:

  • Place a rolled mat or towel under heels

  • Place a rolled towel behind the knees to rest on

  • Place a block under seat bones

Harder variations:

  • Hold hands in a prayer position

  • Fold forward by reaching out in front and letting your body extend between your legs

  • Twist to either side by placing one hand on the floor between your legs and extending the other arm over head, opening your torso to the side (add movement by gently switching the twist between sides)

Leg flexibility:

Incorporating leg (hamstring) stretches will not only round out your entire mobility routine, but it will also also relieve tension along the whole backside of the body, including the lower back. There are two similar techniques that stretch the backside of the body. Both are suggested below for added variation.


Standing Forward Fold

  1. Start standing with feet hip width apart.

  2. Hinge at the hips and fold forward. Think about keeping your back flat and open your chest. If necessary, bend your knees to help maintain a straight spine; over time, slowly straighten your legs.

Easier variations:

  • Place a block in front your your feet to rest your hands on

  • Bend your knees so that your torso is fully resting on your thighs

  • Sit in a chair and fold forward, resting your chest on tights and reaching towards your toes

Harder variations:

  • Widen the stance of your legs

  • Cross one foot over the other so the outside edges of your feet are close together (feet are flat on the ground)

  • Bend one knee, place one hand on the floor and reach the other arm over head to twist and open to the side (either hand and bent knee combination works)

Sitting Forward Fold

  1. Start sitting on the floor with your legs extended and together.

  2. Hinge at the hips and fold forward. Think about keeping your back flat and open your chest. If necessary, bend your knees to help maintain a straight spine; over time, slowly straighten your legs.

Easier variations:

  • Keep your upper body upright, in an ‘L’ shape and place your hands beside your hips to help lengthen the spine upwards

  • Use a strap or towel around your feet to hold and gently pull your chest forward

Harder variations:

  • Bend one knee and place the sole of the foot on the inside of the extended leg’s thigh, and then fold towards the extended leg

  • Widen the legs and fold forward down the centre, or fold towards either leg



Improving Balance


Without a doubt, surfing will test your balance. However, most people skip the opportunity to specifically train for better balance. To some extent, physical exercises help improve this skill by strengthening the muscles and increasing the range of motion in joints; a healthy and fit body will be able to keep itself upright more easily. There is also a less obvious benefit to the physical drills: the mental component of balancing is also improved through better coordination and a greater awareness over one’s body and movements. While some people are able to find balance more naturally than others, with some practice anyone can improve. Since balancing is such a huge factor in surfing, it’s worth taking some time to include drills and exercises that work on the physical and mental strength needed to stay focused and hold balance.


Improving balance is all about challenging balance! There are many ways to test yourself, whether it’s simply standing on one foot, trying certain yoga poses, or standing on uneven or wobbly surfaces. Listed below are a few exercises that test and improve balance. These are divided into three categories: easier, harder, and equipment-based variations. Try to add one or two of these moves into your weekly routine and continue to test your limits as you progress!


Balance exercises:

Easier variations:

  • Test how long you can stand on one foot

  • Close your eyes in a simple, static poses (e.g. deep squat or lunge variation), or while balancing on one foot

  • Tree pose: Stand on one foot and place the sole of the other foot against the standing leg, either as a ‘kick-stand’ against your ankle and the floor, on the inside of your calf, or on the inside of your thigh (to add challenge, reach arms up and/or look up, or close your eyes)

Harder variations:

  • Single leg squats: Stand and lift one leg straight out in front, slowly bend the standing leg to squat and then press back up — all without letting the other leg touch the floor

  • Warrior three: Stand on one leg and extend the other leg back as you tilt your torso forward so that there is a straight, horizontal line from your head through your lifted leg (to add challenge extend arms forward, or close your eyes)

  • Half moon pose: Stand on one leg and extend the other leg back as you tilt your torso forward so that there is a straight, horizontal line from your head to your lifted leg. Then open the hip of the lifted leg so that your torso faces to the side, place the top hand on your hip. (to add challenge extend the top arm up and/or gaze to the top hand, or close your eyes)

Equipment-based variations:

  • Indo/Wobble board: Invented for board sports but used by all! An indo board is a flat, rectangular board with an attached or unattached dome or cylinder centred underneath. A wobble board is the same concept, but uses a circular board instead. Try to balance or challenge yourself with squats or other exercises on the board.

  • Exercise/BOSU ball: An exercise board is a large inflated ball. A BOSU ball is similar, except it is half of the inflated ball attached to a hard, flat base. Try to balance or challenge yourself with squats or other exercises on the board.

  • Pillows or uneven surfaces: You can use many different household items, such as a pillow, that provide an unstable surface to balance on. Use this with exercises or to simply try and find balance while standing.


A Final Note

Incorporating exercises that improve flexibility, mobility, and balance is key to maximizing your strength and endurance while surfing. If your body can sustain optimal performance, you’ll have a good chance at rapidly developing your skills and techniques as a surfer. Also, you’ll be better able to avoid injuries that can often occur. This surf fitness series is a complete guide to foundational exercises that target the muscles and skills needed for surfing. Once you’ve mastered the foundations, you can increase the challenge through any of the additional variations provided. If you spend your time at home practicing a few of the exercises suggested in this two part series, you’ll give yourself a major advantage for your next surf trip.


Of course, these exercises are by no means exhaustive. Breathing and meditation techniques have recently gained traction among surfers as a way to increase lung capacity and efficiency, or as a way to improve mental concentration and relaxation. Your preparation can also include yoga or pilates classes, weight lifting, a pull-up bar, gymnast rings, or any number of other exercise options. On top of physical exercise, it is important to fuel your body with a healthy and well-rounded diet. Overall, a good diet combined with a great exercise routine is a recipe for success on your next surf trip!

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