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 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.
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.
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.
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.