surf fitness exercises

The Best Strength Exercises to Improve Your Surfing

Last week we focussed on cross training exercises to get your surf fitness up. Today we focus on the best strength exercises for surf fitness

Surfing is not like most sports: there’s no running clock, there’s no designated playing area, and there is certainly no prescribed training regime that works for all athletes. Many would argue that surfing is not a sport, but rather a lifestyle.

Hanging out at the beach in front of our Caribbean Surf Resort and catching waves certainly doesn’t feel like a sport. Regardless of one’s views on where surfing fits into the sporting world, no one can deny that surfing is physically demanding. Simply paddling out on a decent sized day requires a well-tested cardiovascular engine and a fit upper body. Catching a wave and popping up entails heightened agility and ample flexibility.

While the act of actually riding a wave and carving demands intense core strength and sturdy legs. Not all surfers are the type to hit the gym and pump serious iron, and that’s ok. Bulky muscle is not conducive to paddling, anyways. To achieve an optimal level of surf fitness, one needs the perfect blend of strength and muscle endurance. Dive in below, to check out Swell’s:


1. Pushups

surf-fitness-exercisesThis may seem obvious, but the simple push up is a highly effective, yet often overlooked, tool for building upper body strength and endurance. The good thing about the push-up, as with any bodyweight exercise, you won’t build bulky, excess mass.

Instead, you will build functional upper body strength that is proportionate to your body weight. Work to perform a high number of reps at a high intensity. Set a lofty goal, like 100, 200, or 300 push-ups, and see how long it takes you to get there. Like paddling, the pushup, or press up as it is often referred to across the pond, requires a blend of strength and muscle endurance.

2. Pull-ups

Surf strenghtLike the pushup, the pull up is another phenomenal bodyweight exercise that will build functional strength relative to one’s body weight, not bulky, unnecessary mass, so an ideal surf fitness exercise. Similarly to how we described the pushup, with the pullup we want to build our rep capacity.

Start with a reasonable number like 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 and attempt to execute that many reps in as few sets as possible. As you get stronger, set your rep goals higher. Unlike the pushup, the pull up does, somewhat, mimic paddle movement and work the large muscles in the back (the lats) that are activated during paddling.

3. Inverted Rows

surf strenght exercisesOften used as a scaled down pull-up substitute, inverted rows are a great way to strengthen your lats, the small muscles in your upper back, and your rear deltoids (all paddle muscles). As stated previously, if you cannot do a pull-up, inverted rows are a great place to start. To perform lay horizontal below a suspension trainer or secured barbell. The higher off the ground the suspension trainer/barbell, the easier the exercise will be.

With your heels planted on the ground, grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart, or hold your suspension trainer in a neutral position slightly wider than shoulder width. Pull your chest towards the bar/ suspension trainer. As you pull, keep your core tight and hips up, in line with the rest of your body. As your chest moves higher, pinch your shoulder blades together to activate the smaller muscles in your back. Perform three sets of ten.

4. Handstand Push Up

hand stand exerciseHandstand push-ups might sound intimidating, but they are not as difficult as they may look and they have a myriad of benefits that will directly improve your surfing. Handstand pushups target your deltoids, which are used heavily when we paddle. What makes Handstand pushups superior to any old overhead press, for surf training specifically, is that like the aforementioned push-up and pull up, handstand pushups build lean muscle and functional strength relative to one’s body weight.

To perform, place a pad about 12 inches from the wall.
Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder width on the sides of the pad and kick your feet up so that you are in a full handstand position with your heels supported by the wall. Lower your head slowly down until it is resting on the pad and then push up to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 5-10 reps.
Here is a good article on how to get started with handstand push ups (opens a new window)

5. Pike Push Up

For those not quite ready to kick up onto a wall and crank out handstand pushups, the pike push-up is the ideal substitute.

Like the handstand push-up, the pike push-up targets our shoulder muscles (deltoids), which are crucial in paddling. To perform a pike push-up, place your feet on a bench or box, with your hands on the ground, wider than shoulder width, shape your body like an inverted L. With your torso vertical, and your legs horizontal, lower your head down to the floor between your hands, and press back up.

6. Suspension Trainer Rear Delt Fly

The small muscles in our back our crucial for paddle endurance, but they are often overlooked in training. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to keep your rhomboids and surrounding muscles fit. You don’t need to use a lot of weight, in fact, you only need to use a fraction of your body weight. Suspension trainer rear delt flies are a great way to train these muscles and you can do it virtually anywhere.

To perform, grab the suspension trainer handles and hold them together vertically, at arm’s length away from your chest. Walk forward a few steps and lean back so that your body is hanging at a slight incline, supported by the suspension trainer. Firmly gripping each handle, with your elbows slightly bent, pull the handles apart, while simultaneously pinching your shoulder blades together. Perform 3 sets of ten, focusing on control and maintaining a slow movement throughout the set.

7. Burpee Box Jumps

If you’re looking for an intense way to train explosiveness, like that required in a pop up during a steep drop, look no further than the burpee box jump. Yes, it is as brutal as it sounds, but the combination of these two already explosive exercises create the perfect pop up trainer. The burpee portion mimics the pop-up movement, training muscle memory, while the box jump adds lower body strength training and explosiveness to the equation.

To perform, stand in front of a box slightly further than an arm’s length away. Drop to the ground, chest to the floor with your arms tucked at your side like you are about to perform a push-up. Then, explode off the floor back into a standing position and in one movement, execute the box jump.

8. Bosu Ball Stability Squats

This exercise is a tad more advanced than some of the others, but if executed properly and regularly, it will enhance your surfing ability. The Bosu Ball is a unique piece of fitness equipment that allows you to train strength and balance simultaneously.

If you can already properly execute a squat while balancing on a Bosu Ball, consider adding weight. If you’ve already added weight, try adding uneven loads, like one kettlebell overhead, and alternate sides. To perform, place the Bosu Ball ball side down and stand on the platform with your feet shoulder distance apart. Slowly and carefully, lower yourself down into a squat position. Make sure your knees never go past your heals. Add weight if necessary.

9. Rowing

The erg machine might be the best piece of equipment in the gym for total body surf training. Rowing recruits massive amounts of lower body strength, arm and back strength, muscle endurance, and heavy aerobic activity. Whether you’re training to paddle hard, toss buckets on turns, or to last hours in the lineup rowing is the exercise for you. To start, try rowing 1000 meters for time.

The most important part of training and getting in shape, is finding something that works well for you and that will keep you motivated. If you can surf every day, do it. There is no better surf training than surfing itself. If you can’t surf every day, hit the gym, the pool, the yoga studio, or the trail.

This article: Surf fitness exercises is part of our Swell instructional how to surf blog posts. Other popular episodes are:


Have a look and see what a surf holiday with Swell is all about. We offer learn how to surf holidays for adults looking for an active & social water sport holiday. But we also offer a stylish and comfortable place to stay for people that already know how to surf.

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surf fitness

7 Cross Training Tips for Peak Surfing Performance


We all want to be able to ride the waves like a true champion. When you first begin surfing, no matter the age, you are both excited and motivated to take on this new challenge. As many will attest though, despite any amount of youthful confidence in your earliest lessons, many are shocked to discover that the challenge of being the next pro surfing great, is indeed greater than they anticipated.

Not to be discouraged though, many new and experienced boarders will simply bounce back up and give it another go. There are several exercises and tips you can incorporate though if you really want to maximize your ability and potential on the board. Here are 7 of the best to improve your surf fitness:


skiing surf fitnessMany may recommend snowboarding here, and whilst practicing another board sport is an excellent way to prepare for the open water, skiing just adds that extra dynamic of having your feet move more freely. This is something which absolutely helps to improve your focus, and given the unpredictability of the waves on occasion, we feel like I is a similar match for that of the mountain and the obstacles which it presents.

Working on your skiing will help you focus on a variety of areas which are considered essential in surfing too. These include knowing where your feet are positioned and how to direct them at all times. Besides this great footwork training, you will also get accustomed to dealing with the reality of falling down but getting right back up again. This is something which is likely no more perfect to prepare you for the life beyond the TV glamour of learning to surf, which undoubtedly will involve many horizontal moments.


swimm surf fitnessIt seems like an obvious selection, but as a reminder to some who may have overlooked it, swimming is the most important skill which any surfer must possess. It is after all a water sport, and you will indeed find yourself in the ocean on more occasions than you may expect. This is key through all stages of your surfing development. As you start to become more accomplished, sure you become a better surfer, being a top quality swimmer suddenly becomes all the more important.

The added advantage with bringing top notch swimming skills to the water add is that you will have the confidence in swimming so that you do not fear falling from the board. This can be a key tool in helping you overcome challenges when learning. As any surfer will tell you, the water often feels like their second home, this is particularly useful at times when you feel challenged by boarding techniques.


skateboard fitness
Another board sport which many surfers gravitate toward and vice versa. Skateboarding is ideal from both a theoretical and practical viewpoint when you are learning to surf. It helps you identify the best boards that suit your style. FinBin is an awesome resource for choosing your surfboard, but skating really gets you in the groove in terms of identifying what you need and prefer.
As a more experienced surfer, it is not always possible to get on the water, that could be due to poor conditions or a variety of other reasons. Skateboarding is perfect for keeping your skills honed and on point when you can’t make it to the surf. Achieving your potential really requires constant practice and keeping those skills sharp at all times. This is one of the primary reasons you will find many of the world’s top surfers at your nearest skate park on the off-season.


dance to surf fitnessThis next training technique is a bit of a curve ball for many. Dancing can have a number of benefits to see you reach peak performance on the board. How is that possible? – Movement. This movement and most importantly coordination with your partner in dancing, can easily transfer across onto the board. Knowing where your feet are positioned at all times is vital when boarding and dancing.

Timing, movement and coordination are all vital parts of both activities, therefore it actually makes perfect sense that the best surfers in the world should spend some time on the dancefloor perfecting their moves. That said, if you have two left feet on the dancefloor, don’t worry too much. There are many other methods you can use to reach peak performance in surfing as we have outlined.


surf fitnessThis is a broader concept, but staying upright on a surfboard requires a lot of core strength. Not only that, but getting back up on to your board and keeping your balance are all centered on the core of the body. Therefore, anything you can do to boost your core strength will result in positive results in the swell.
Luckily for us, many of the exercises mentioned here are also fundamentally based around improving your core strength, so in many cases these activities come with multiple benefits to help you get the best out of your surfing potential.


cross to surf fitWhat better way to boost that core strength we just mentioned than engaging in one of the trending exercises of the moment. CrossFit training will absolutely help boost your core strength and that of the rest of your muscle groups whilst also promoting and improving agility. There is so much crossover here which can help you with your surfing performance that most top guides nowadays would actively encourage registering yourself with a CrossFit program.
Naturally, this strength and agility will help you on the board, but it should also serve to boost your self confidence in that beach body too! This is something which cannot be underestimated when boarding and getting the most out of your performance. Having the ability and confidence to test yourself and not be afraid of failure is absolutely vital.


calisthenics for surfWhen we talk about movement, agility, and flexibility, we absolutely must give a mention to calisthenics. This makes us focus on all of those areas and boosts a number of the areas which we have already discussed. This attention to bodily movements and the amazing boost which some of the workouts will give you raw core strength is vital if you want to take to the waves and be the best that you can be.
A final key area where calisthenics proves invaluable to surfers is focus. Focus and clarity of the mind may be one of the single most important attributes a surfer possesses. Having the ability to focus on themselves and the challenges they face, without distraction. This is something relevant to any professional sport and particularly surfing. That is a primary reason why you will see many top surfers and athletes in general now engaging in more and more calisthenics training. Try This Beginner’s Calisthenics Workout ( opens a new window)


Of course, much of a really elite level surfer’s skill comes from a profound level of natural ability. Desire and motivation to reach those challenging goals are also vital. Having the right type of equipment too. What we have outlined though is that through training, in any area, there are multiple ways in which you can improve your own performance and skill level.

Working hard and training hard is a vital element in any sport or profession, surfing is no different. With multiple options to choose from, there is no excuse not to engage and derive some benefit from any of the activities mentioned which can ultimately translate to you improving your surfing skills regardless of your level.

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