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Limits Exist ... Sort Of
Everyone knows that surfing is one of the best exercises out there for all-over strength, conditioning, and overall physical fitness. It’s challenging, exhilarating, relaxing, and simply just fun. However, not all of us live within a reasonable daily drive to the ocean. Many of us live in places where the ocean is a frosty prospect for much of the year, or where the waves aren’t quite up to standard. For us, the mere mortals of the surfing world who do not own a beach house in the tropics, surfing as a sole means of exercise doesn’t work—not because we don’t want it to, but because of the constraints of normal life. Like many all-encompassing passions, surfing enters every aspect of your life, sometimes whether you mean it to or not. Sometimes it manifests in habitual checking of weather and wave forecasts, sometimes by pouring over surfing magazines and catalogs. When you are out there, it's all you can think of. When you’re not, all that you can think of is how to get back. Not bad for a pursuit that hones your core, strengthens your heart, and lends great mental balance to everyday living. Facing the Challenge The hitch is how to get the most out of the days you DO get out there, and how to fling yourself tirelessly (okay—almost tirelessly) into one wave after another all day long? If you’re landlocked, what do you do to prime your body for the best surfing? Like most great athletic challenges, the answer comes in the form of cross training. Not only does cross training up your overall performance, it also lessens your likelihood of sustaining an injury that would keep you from performing at peak efficiency. Professional athletes have been incorporating aspects of other branches of fitness for years; what works for them can also work for the everyday Joe who wants to make the most of his weekend or vacation. Like any great discipline, attention to the small details makes all the difference. The Basic Theory When people do repetitive actions over and over again, whether through sports, employment, hobbies, or habits, the great danger lies in overuse issues. Tendinitis, bursitis, sprains, and strains can all stem from overusing some muscle groups while allowing others to stay weak or underutilized. By incorporating different patterns of use and movement, any given muscle group can be toned and strengthened in ways that both prevent injury and optimize performance. This has been apparent in the NFL for decades, as ballet core exercises have been assimilated into training programs. Greater balance and flexibility allows for the body to undergo great strain and demand, while still being able to bounce back unharmed. In this light, cross training falls into three categories: cardiovascular activity, strength training, and flexibility. Training on the Run Cardio, in a nutshell, is the branch of exercise that focuses on training your heart and circulatory system. It may manifest in activities that make us pant and sweat; but the true target is to strengthen your heart so it can beat with greater efficiency and distribute blood and oxygen to all parts of your body. A strong heart manifests most obviously in great endurance—something that is essential, to make the most of a day of surfing. Paddling and swimming both take a great deal of cardiovascular training; and, while riding a wave is the fun part, it's only about 5% of your time in the water. Supplementing your aquatic cardio with land-based pursuits like cycling, dancing, running, and martial arts will pay of dividends. Pick Things Up and Put Them Down Resistance or weight training seems to evoke a love/hate reaction from people. Fear of “bulking up” or “not bulking up enough” haunts this otherwise very reasonable activity. It is also very time intensive and physically challenging—but it works. By including weight training in your surf body preparation and maintenance program, you achieve several different benefits. First, stronger muscles in general lend to better performance and balance. Squats are a prime example of a perfect land-based training exercise that translates well onto a board. By strengthening those muscles that most come into play, abrupt shifts through fatigue and loss of balance are less likely to occur. Push-ups, crunches, and plyometrics can all be assimilated into your land routine with spectacular results. Additionally, strength training has the long-term benefit of increasing bone density, making your skeletal structure less susceptible to the fractures and breaks that occasionally accompany rough surf or bad luck. Don’t Be So Uptight Like any physically demanding activity, warm up and cool down time are absolutely essential. Even if you have superb cardio capacity and rock-hard abs, you can still fall afoul of strains, sprains, and overuse issues. These are perhaps the most insidious kinds of injuries, accumulating slowly over time and taking even longer to properly recover from. Without properly supple muscles, abrupt shifts of balance can net you a painful tear that keeps you landlocked for weeks on end. To this end, attending a regular yoga or barre class can be an enjoyably social way to ward off injury while simultaneously improving your overall balance. No one has ever claimed that yoga or ballet is easy; that being said, this discipline of regular stretching may be the single most essential aspect to staying healthy and strong in between surf sessions. If you’re lucky, you can even attend classes that blend stand up paddleboarding and yoga, combining two challenges at once, with a guaranteed soft landing if you lose your balance. Just Do It The Ancient Greeks said “All things in moderation,” and to some degree that applies even to such a fantastic sport as surfing. Hampered by time, geography, and responsibility, not everyone gets to surf as often as they like—and that is perhaps not such a bad thing. Time away from the ocean allows for different but complementary training that enhances the time we do get to surf, and it wets our appetites and our enthusiasm.
The Best Core Exercises to Supercharge Your Surfing
The first day of surfing can leave even the most physically fit of novice wave-riders exhausted. The continued paddling, repeated “pop-ups,” and holding posture while riding waves to shore can take a lot out of a person. But the muscles that are most often pushed to their limit? The core muscles. This multi-muscle network is responsible not just for simplifying your push to your feet, but keeping you balanced as you await the perfect wave, as well as keeping you upright once you pop to your feet. Contrary to popular belief, core strength means more than having defined abdominal muscles. There is actually an inner core―composed of the diaphragm, multifidus, pelvic floor, and transversus abdominis. The outer core, surrounding these elements, is comprised of the abdominal muscles, the obliques, and the muscles running up the spine. Both elements of the core must be strong, flexible, and engaged for good surfing to take place. Why the Core Is Central to Good Surfing A strong core is about more than just looking good in the bathing suit you’ll surf in. An engaged core will keep you upright while out on the water; without attention to these key muscles, your performance atop your board will suffer, or perhaps even cause injury. In addition to strength, however, any workouts you do to strengthen this area must also encourage its flexibility. Cris Mills elaborates: Do you have the required flexibility to rotate the lower body away from the upper body? If not, and you go into high speed core training or whippy snaps, you’ll really end up hurting something. To ensure that you’re building a core that can serve you well out on the water, Mills encourages you to focus on “spinal stability and pelvic control, and then progress into high speed rotational work, which is much more functional.” You’ll appreciate taking the time to develop these muscles once you’re shredding waves, pivoting expertly without pain, discomfort, or risk of injury. Isolated exercises, such as crunches, are minimally effective when building up the sort of strength that aids surfing. Instead, seek to focus on abdominal exercises that mimic some of the motions you’ll utilize out on the water. This will commit these motions to muscle memory, making them easier to do when called upon in the moment. Planks Planks are a comprehensive exercise; they engage not just the abdominals and back muscles, but also the shoulders and arms. Further, you’ll pass through the plank position in your “pop-up” to your feet, and so this is a good position to get used to. To plank, get into the “top” position of a push-up, with a straight back and straight arms. Feet should be flexed, with the toes holding up the body. Start by seeking to hold the plank position for 20 seconds, and gradually add time as workouts get more complex. Prone Swimmer Another exercise that engages the back muscles, a portion of the core that is often neglected, the prone swimmer also can provide relief for tight abdominal muscles. Lie face down on the ground, then arch the back, and lift the arms and legs off the ground. Then pull your arms back, as though you were doing the breaststroke on dry land. This added arm movement will give you practice in warming up the shoulder muscles, another set of muscles that must be strong for success in surfing. Jackknifes Also sometimes called V-sits, jackknifes start from a full lying position on the back. At once, lift your extended arms and legs up in the air, aiming for them to touch with the body folded while balancing on the butt. Once the arms and legs touch (or come as close as possible), return to the extended lying position in a controlled release. Aim for twenty reps of this exercise to start, increasing this number as your strength improves. Ab muscles and back muscles are engaged here, while also helping you adjust to bringing the arms and legs together quickly as you do in the pop-up. Walking Lunges While holding the upper body straight up and down (clench the abdominal muscles to make sure of this), lunge forward with one leg, bending the knee at ninety degrees. Push off that leading leg to return to the neutral position. Then, repeat the motion with the other leg. This motion should be repeated twenty times ―ten on each leg―with reps increasing as you get stronger. In addition to engaging the core, the lunge helps to engage and move the hip flexors, another key part of rotating the lower body away from the upper body. One final note: as you work to build strength, make sure that it’s not at the expense of also developing flexibility. These two abilities work in concert to prevent fatigue and injury, but overdevelopment of muscles can prevent flexibility when it’s needed―such as during and after a fall from your board. Supplement exercises like the ones above with copious stretching before and after you hit the waves, and yoga workouts as cross-training. Attention to the strength needed to surf well will keep you safe, energetic, and strong as you ride the waves in to shore.
Surfing Songs: The Best Surfing Inspired Music
Out on the water, the only soundtrack you have is the ebb and flow of the waves pulsing through your ears. On land, however, you have a little more control over the music that inspires and fuels your surfing. If you’re searching for a bit of inspiration, whether your time is spent dreaming of surfing or just relaxing on the beach, we’ve got a number of suggestions for you! Dick Dale, “Miserlou” You likely recognize this tune from its role in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, or its use as a sample in The Black Eyed Peas’ “Pump It.” But Dale’s song, and indeed his whole repertoire, has been iconic enough to earn him the title “King of Surf Rock.” Dale and his Del-Tones formed in the early 1950s and played the lion’s share of the songs that formed the genre during that time. Though their style evolved to focus more on cars than surfing in the sixties and seventies, Dale returned to it in a solo career later on. Despite advanced age (at the time of publication, Dale was nearly eighty) and a host of medical issues, he continues to tour and delight audiences with distinct guitar licks and liberal use of a whammy bar. The Ventures, “Hawaii Five-O” In addition to giving us one of the most iconic TV theme songs, The Ventures are one of the most popular instrumental rock groups of all time. The song charted in the top five in 1969, although this was far from their only chart success. In fact, they had 37 albums hit the charts between 1960 and 1972―a staggering total even today. Their name was a verbal representation of the genre-hopping they were willing to do to stay inspired, and they proved highly prolific as a result. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, and occasionally still tour with a modified lineup. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds It may not have the immediate surf appeal of “Surfin’ USA” or “Surfin Safari,” but Pet Sounds solidifies the exceptional nature of The Beach Boys as a band. The groundbreaking album from the Beach Boys celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 2016, and continues to have an impact on longtime fans and newer listeners alike. The band’s eleventh studio release, it features some of their most popular songs, including “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” and “God Only Knows,” a song Paul McCartney once deemed the best song ever written. Their breezy, beach-inspired sound captures the energy of the best beach days, and gives you hope for channeling their genius into your time on the water. Weezer, Blue Album What The Beach Boys did for surf-inspired music in the sixties, Weezer may have done for the nineties. Their Blue Album hit upon surfing themes directly with songs like “Surf Wax America,” and even recreated the sock-hop craze that shared a time period with surf films in their video for “Buddy Holly.” The gentle but intricate lead guitar work that you hear through the music of the prior artists shows up, courtesy of frontman Rivers Cuomo. Give this album a listen while en route to the beach, or even while cleaning your board after a long day of surfing. Jack’s Mannequin, “Holiday from Real” The opening strains of Everything in Transit evokes memories of the beach, with the blowing wind and gentle squawk of seagulls. From there, lead singer and pianist Andrew McMahon launches into this song about spending time with friends near the beach, living a life that feels like a getaway. Those of us who use surfing as a getaway from a hectic or less peaceful life undoubtedly identify with this message. The rest of the album takes an emotional and less escapist trajectory, but its opening song was just made for a carefree trip to the beach. Jack Johnson, “Upside Down” Especially when shredding in the barrel of a roaring wave, the world can feel like it’s upside down when we’re out on the water. Jack Johnson’s quiet twangy “Upside Down” captures that with a combined bounciness and stillness that feels like the right song to play in your head as you catch a wave and prepare to ride it to shore. Especially when you make it to your feet, and the rush of euphoria washes over you, it’s easy to think what Jack repeats toward the end of the song: “I don’t want this feeling to go away.” This is far from a comprehensive list, but we hope it’ll get you started in building your playlist. Have suggestions on what to add? Let us know in the comments!