Do you want a surfer’s body? Do you want to surf better and paddle hard without getting so tired?
There’s a reason you don’t see too many out-of-shape surfers. All of the best surfers in the world are lean, strong, flexible, and have great endurance, which are the byproducts of their sport, training, and lifestyle. The sport of surfing challenges the body in a variety of ways – strength, endurance, balance, core stability, and great mobility are all required to ride a fiberglass board on a rolling wave.
4 Types of Surfing Exercises
The top 10 exercises I recommend are organized into 4 sections:
Strength: to build and maintain muscle so you can paddle into waves and stand strong on the board.
Endurance: to build stamina and increase your conditioning for long surf sessions.
Core and Balance: to make you more stable through your trunk and hips.
Flexibility: to make sure you are loose and mobile enough to easily get into the right positions on your board.
Let’s get started.
1. Alternating Sandbag Lunge
Stand tall gripping the sandbag in front of your body. Step back into a reverse lunge as you rotate the sandbag to the outside of your front foot. As you step forward, rotate the bag in front of your body. Then step your other foot back into a reverse lunge and rotate the sandbag to the outside of the front foot. The challenge is keeping your core engaged so the sandbag doesn’t pull you off balance.
2. Surfer Pop-up
This is the exact move you do every time you catch a wave. Think of a surfer pop-up like a push-up combined with a jump to your feet.
Lay down on your stomach with your feet together and your hands under your shoulders. Powerfully drive off the ground as if you are doing a push-up and jump to your feet in a split stance. You want to land your front foot directly under your chest and your back foot about 3 feet behind. Then return to the start position on your stomach. Shoot for 5 pop-ups with the right foot forward and then do 5 with the left foot forward.
Don’t worry if you don’t nail this on the first go. When I teach people to surf, we can spend hours just perfecting the pop-up.
3. Lunge Jumps
Start with your right foot forward and left foot back in a lunge position. Drop your back knee down as you keep your upper body tall. From the split stance, jump up and switch your foot position in the air. Land softly with the opposite foot forward and then immediately jump and switch again.
The idea here is to jump from each position without resting. I like to set a timer for 2 minutes and perform this move 4 times for 20-second intervals of work and 10 seconds of rest. Try it out!
4. Jumping Rope
Jumping rope is one of the more underrated tools for conditioning. Not only does this exercise help train your cardiovascular endurance, but it also develops good coordination between your upper and lower body, which is crucial if you want to surf well.
5. Swimming / Boxing / Rowing
Take your pick of any of these exercises. The idea here is to train your aerobic energy system to increase your endurance and stamina. Shoot for 1-2x per week of 30+ minutes to build your aerobic capacity.
Core / Balance Exercises
6. Leg Lowering
While this exercise will strengthen your whole core (and especially your lower abs), it’s much more than just a core exercise. Leg lowering is also a motor control movement that teaches you how to control and stabilize your hips, which will directly lead to better stability and balance.
Start lying on your back with your legs fully extended in the air directly above your hips (bend your knees if you can’t keep your legs straight) and your hands by your sides. Keeping your back flat against the ground, lower your right leg down slowly towards the ground while your left leg stays straight up. Slowly return the right leg up to meet the left. Repeat on other side.
The key here is to keep your spine completely flat against the ground and your hips square. If you have trouble maintaining this position, bend your knees to 90 degrees throughout the exercise.
7. Stability Ball Rotations
Position yourself on the stability ball so that your back rests on the ball, hips lifted, and knees bent at 90 degrees. Start by reaching your hands straight above your shoulders. Keeping your left arm straight up, lower your right arm out to the side while rotating your spine to follow without letting your mid-back off the ball. Slowly return to center and rotate to the other side.
8. Stability Ball Jack Knife
The stability ball jack knife is a core and shoulder exercise combined. The goal here is to maintain a strong plank position as you lift your hips towards the sky and then lower them back into plank. All the while, your shoulders are working hard to stabilize your body as you move from plank to pike.
Start in a push-up position with your feet on the ball and hands on the ground. Maintain your body in a straight line from head-to-toe. Drive your hips up to the sky, rolling the stability ball slightly closer to your hands. Try to keep your legs straight so you create a V shape with your body. With control, return your hips back to the starting position without letting your lower back arch. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
To make this exercise easier, start with the ball underneath your shins or knees instead of your feet. If you have trouble keeping your legs straight, you can bend your knees into your chest instead.
Flexibility / Mobility Exercises
9. Deep Squat Hold (with rotation)
Lower down into a deep squat, ideally with your butt below your knees. Once you’re comfortable, reach one arm outside of your leg and rotate your spine to follow. Hold the rotation for 10 seconds, then return to center and repeat on the other side. Try to maintain in this deep squat position for up to 1 minute, doing a few rotations on each side.
In a deep squat, your goal is to keep your back straight. That means no arching or rounding. This is really important to keeping your spine safe and healthy. Also, make sure your knees stay inline with your hips and ankles.
If deep squatting is tough for you, you can try holding a moderate weight (dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a heavy rock) in front of your chest to help you achieve greater depth. Alternatively, hold on to a post, sturdy chair, or doorway to help you maintain a deep squat and a tall spine. For more ideas, check out these tips on how to increase your squat depth.
10. Rib Roll
Lay on your left side with your right leg bent at 90 degrees on a foam roller. Lightly place your left hand on your right leg, and place your right hand on your left rib cage. While maintaining that position, breathe and let your spine gradually rotate from your mid-back so that your right shoulder drops towards the ground. Keep your hips and lower back still and do most of the rotating from your mid-back. Hold for about 30 seconds, then switch and repeat on the other side.
What’s the #1 Exercise to Get Lean Like a Surfer?
I get asked all the time, “Nick, what is the best way to improve my surfing?”
“Surf” I always say! There is nothing quite like it.
But if you want to cross-train to get stronger and more stable, or you’re stuck without an ocean or waves, these exercises will definitely help you get into surf shape.
If you try any of these exercises, or have others that you use to be a stronger surfer, share in the comments section below!