Simple Land Exercises to Increase Surf Performance

Surfing and water sports are among the most efficient, relaxing, and rewarding sports all are excellent modes of exercise for both the body and the mind.

They typically require the involvement of the entire body, recruiting muscle groups large and small. Therefore, it results in a greater energy expenditure. The invigorating outdoor environment can make for the best workout setting, leaving one feeling peaceful and re-energized. For both those who enjoy water sports for leisure or who engage in high-performance water sports, there are a handful of training techniques that can be done on land to enhance performance in the water.

Dynamic warm-ups are ideal to warm the limbs up before a hard paddle out or swim session. Different training approaches maximize muscle endurance or muscle mass, depending on each individual’s needs. Muscle groups in the back, chest, and core can be strengthened on land to create more power in the water. Lastly, balance training is beneficial for many water sports, given the constant instability water provides.

Dynamic warm-up

A dynamic warm-up consists of warming up the limbs through various movements rather than traditional methods of static stretching. For example, a dynamic shoulder warm-up before surfing or swimming could consist of performing arm circles both backwards and forwards. A static stretch would be simply crossing one arm across the chest and holding it for a few seconds.

The former is becoming a more popular method as it familiarizes the body with movements carried out more intensely later into the workout. For example,  it mimics movements of swimming freestyle or paddling aggressively to catch a wave. In addition, dynamic stretches do a more efficient job of lubricating the joints rather than simply stretching and releasing a muscle like a rubber band. As a result, there is a lower chance of injury. Dynamic warm-ups also help elevate the heart rate at the beginning of a workout. In turn, this results in a greater ease into heavier intensities. Post-workout, the body has cooled down and the heart rate has decreased; this is when static stretches are most helpful.


Upper Body Strength and Endurance:

Most water sports require a great deal of upper body and core strength. Specifically, muscles of the back, chest, and abdominals are exercised extensively. Therefore, land exercises should target these muscle groups with an emphasis on building muscle mass or muscle endurance. Depending on the sport, one may benefit from increasing muscular endurance or muscle mass/strength. Muscular endurance refers to the ability to sustain repeated movement against resistance for a long period of time. Muscle mass, on the other hand, consists more of performing powerful movements that require heavier loads. Both are achievable with resistance training. Muscular endurance is improved through sets of lower resistance and higher repetitions. Muscle strength is acquired through heavier sets with lower repetitions and more rest in between.

How to Achieve Muscular Strength and Endurance:

Swimming, rowing, and surfing all rely on strength of the back. The latissimus dorsi is the large, flat muscle on the back that stretches to the sides of the arm. It provides much of the strength required to carry out these activities. Therefore, building the strength of the lats is beneficial. Lats are often built with exercises such as push-ups and rows.  These exercises are efficient in that they train the lats, as well as muscles of the shoulders, biceps, and adjacent back muscle groups.

For activities like surfing that require the lower back to be engaged for long periods of time, exercises such as superman holds and hyperextensions can improve the strength of the lower back, spine, and core. Other exercises such as push-ups, chest flyes, and planks are all beneficial in increasing upper body and core strength, as they too work the muscles of the chest, triceps, shoulders, and abdominals. As with nearly any mode of exercise, lower body strength is important in establishing a solid foundation. Exercises such as squats, lunges, hip bridges, and deadlifts are efficient at working different muscle groups of the lower body.

Balance Training:

Balance training is extremely beneficial in both water sports and for general health overall. Given the ever-changing environment that water provides, balance is key to performance in the water, especially for sports like surfing. Even activities like rowing and kayaking require constant balance and adjustment from the muscles of the core and spine to remain upright. Certain exercise equipment such as medicine balls and bosu balls are helpful in creating an unstable environment on land and improving balance. A bosu ball, which stands for “both sides up,” is an extremely versatile tool that can be used with traditional exercises like squats, push-ups, lunges, and more, to create a more unstable surface. As a result, smaller stabilizing muscles, as well as deeper muscles of the core, must adapt to the constant imbalance. Performing push-ups with the hands-on medicine balls can provide the same effect.

bosu ball push ups santa cruz core

Bosu Ball Pushups for Balance Strength Training, working out at Santa Cruz CORE, now in Watsonville!

In addition, when performing exercises such as shoulder presses and biceps curls that can be done standing up, challenge your balance by raising one leg off the ground or by standing on the flat side of the bosu ball with the domed side facing down. Performing exercises in a less stable environment on land will allow one to become more efficient in the water.




Are you a surfer, swimmer, or rower? If you’re a water sports enthusiast, CORE is here for you! We regularly train and treat surfers, swimmers, and other athletes, and we’d love to help you too! Stop by CORE for Semi-Private Training or Personal Training to get you ready for that water, or reach out to our Chiropractors our new Osteopath doctor to treat musculoskeletal pain!


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