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Why You Should Strength Train For Surfing

As an avid surfer, this topic is near and dear to my heart. The one constant I get from people who surf for the first time is “It’s so much harder than it looks!” I remember the first time I “attempted” the sport, I felt the exact same way.

Surfing requires things like balance and coordination, which some people think comes naturally. But, what’s just as important is strength and endurance. These take practice, work and training outside of the water.

Surfing a Balance of Mobility & Stability

Surfing is biomechanically stressful on the body. It challenges both upper and lower body strength and coordination. The sport is a true combination of explosive high-speed movements and stabilizing activity as it all takes place on an unstable surface.

Mobility of the shoulders and hips are key for surfers. It’s estimated that 50% of surfing is spent paddling. Paddling requires full range of motion of the glenohumeral joint and scapulothoracic joint (the joint between your shoulder blade and rib cage). Paddling also means work for back muscles, specifically the erector spinae, to keep the upper body and head lifted as your arms do a lot of the work. Joint stability and mobility are important here as the facet joints in the spine need to have the ability to extend, and then maintain that position.

The pop-up is all hip flexibility and flexor strength. Can you push yourself up to your feet from your belly in a second with a wave pushing you forward? Not without upper body strength, the ability to hip hinge and squat.

You remember our Essential Seven moves. Well, surfing is basically a high-speed combo of push, squat, lunge, anti-rotate and hinge. If that’s the case, doesn’t it make sense that we train these on dry land, to master them on what is basically a wobble board at sea?

Always Start at the CoreSurfer getting ready to strength train on land

This sounds familiar. Our core is our source of stability. It also powers explosive movements and is the basis for our balance and coordination.

If the core is weak (and that doesn’t mean if you have a six-pack you’re excluded from this) surfing will be hard for you! Doing 100 crunches a day won’t lead to the type of core strength you need to stabilize the body.

Here are some helpful ways we check for, and train, core strength. First, we use Neurokinetic Therapy muscle testing to find any compensations in the body that may lead to core weakness or inhibition. Often times things like scars, limited mobility in the midback joints or areas of pain or past injury can lead to an inhibited core. It’s important to clean up any compensations and then work to strengthen the core directly. In the clinic, we use Active Release Technique for specific soft tissue compensations and other modalities like Graston and precise chiropractic adjustments. We then use Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization, a type of rehab, to specifically target the deep core muscles including transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques.

We assess things like belly breathing as this is an important aspect of accessing the core. When at the top of the wave just before popping up, it’s key to take a belly breathe and create intraabdominal pressure before exploding upwards to your feet.

Core strength is also a necessity when it comes to stabilizing and protecting the lower back during the wide range of movements involved with surfing, especially because paddling involves a position of held extension in the back.

Common Injuries Associated with Surfing

The most common surf-related injuries I see are shoulder injuries. Paddling is hugely carried out by the shoulders, and any limitation in mobility during a highly repetitive motion can lead to sprains and strains. Proper shoulder joint and scapulothoracic joint mobility is needed to allow for smooth, powerful movement without injury.

Internal rotators of the arm like the latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major will often overwork for the muscles that need to stabilize like the serratus anterior and middle trap. With specific NKT testing, ART release and DNS strengthening, we get shoulder mobility and stability at its peak so surfers are at their best.

Another common injury from surfing is rib pain. The first time out during the season for a long surf, I frequently get anterior rib tightness from the pressure of lying on a hard surface and combining that with extension and movement. A chiropractor can assess for rib joint dysfunction. Belly breathing is also helpful to fix this issue.

Sensorimotor Training

Important components to training on land for surfing include:

Land and Sea

While most of us can’t spend hours practicing in the ocean (sigh), the work we put in on land can be just as beneficial, if not more so, to enhancing our surfing ability. Balance and coordination may be somewhat inherent and built upon from childhood and development, but strength is something we can train! Strength on land only prepares our body with strength at sea.

Our goal is to find your body’s specific compensations, that may be preventing you from being your best at surfing, snowboarding or another activity. If you’re looking to enhance performance, or have us look at a sports-related injury, feel free to call us at 212-355-0445 or shoot us an email at

Dr. Adriana Lazare, DC