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Surf Conditioning Training - Is More Actually Better For Female Surfers?

femalesurfcoaching surftraining surftrainingforwomen women's health Jan 09, 2023
female surfer getting barrel surfing in Mentawais
image courtesy of Liquefy Maldives 


3 Tools To Help You Get Your Surf Training Right


Breath training, yoga, pilates, surf coaching, confidence coaching, strength training, stability training, HITT training, pop-up training, surf-skate, this method and that method - whew! In a world where a myriad of training options exist to help improve your surfing, it is easy to keep adding to your ‘training plate’. You could be a full-time athlete and still not fit it all in! 

The question is, is this the BEST approach to improving your surfing performance? By adding more to your plate, are you improving your capacity for surfing OR are you undermining your training and hamstringing your performance? Before you buy into the concept of more is better, let me share some interesting facts and observations as a sports performance practitioner - particularly one that specialises in female athlete performance. What I have to share with you may have you re-considering your ideas about surf training and getting out the red marker for your current surf conditioning program.


Here’s an interesting observation from our 2022 female surfer screening program: 80% of the participants said they experience fatigue symptoms to the point where they need to rest or sleep in the afternoons. Research also suggests that female athletes are more prone to burnout, including symptoms of emotional exhaustion and a reduced sense of self-worth. 

Studies indicating females are more prone to fatigue symptoms, compared to men, say that there are a number of different causes, not just intensity and volume of training. In fact, there are biological, social and psychological factors that are unique to women that may increase our risk of fatigue, burnout and reduced performance. That’s why it is so important for women to train as women and why doing more surf training may not result in improved surfing performance.

Creating the ideal surf training regime requires the delicate art of balancing. Consider your day-to-day life and the vigilance and multitasking involved as a mother and busy working woman. How many roles do you fulfil in your day? As an athlete, how much travel do you do in a month? What sponsorship demands do you have on your plate, to also fit in amongst your surfing? What phase of your cycle and lifespan are you in?

Overtraining and stacking your week with too many activities can induce fatigue, emotional exhaustion, decision-making errors, ongoing muscle soreness, delayed reaction time, illness, injury, poor sporting performance and a lack of love for surfing itself! Nooooo! This is the OPPOSITE of what you are trying to achieve through surf conditioning training. 

Training load, duration and intensity need to align with your life, and you need to ensure you have the space to adapt and grow. If your week is a mad rush, with a heap of high-intensity or high-load group exercise classes, coupled with 3-5 2-hour surfing sessions a week and back-to-back pilates days when you are stressed to your eyeballs, you may find the key to improving your surfing performance is actually DOING LESS. Yes, doing less can result in improved performance. 

Let me introduce you to a good friend of mine and a very underestimated performance tool: recovery.


I like to refer to recovery as ‘the magic space between’. It is a powerhouse space, where repair and the physiological adaptations you’ve pushed for, with your training are embedded into your body. Here, I’ll use the metaphor of a revving engine. If you continue to rev your engine at very high RPMs what happens? Your engine explodes. Your car’s engine doesn’t have the capacity to constantly work in a high-stress stage before it all falls apart with disastrous consequences. The same can be said for the human body. It is NOT designed to work in a constant state of stress - stress caused by life, or by training. It needs the chance to come back, drop down into lower gears and take the foot off the gas for a while. It needs the chance to repair, create new changes and establish a new equilibrium of performance efficiency. Repair, adaptation and change don’t occur in a state of stress, simply because resources need to shift. If you are using all of your energy exercising or dealing with stress, there’s not a lot left over to manage digestion, nutrient absorption, the development of new neural pathways, the elimination of cellular waste, detoxification, management of inflammation, etc. This magic occurs at REST and during recovery where you take the foot off the accelerator, and the energy can be distributed elsewhere. Then your body can adapt to the training loads and stress you’ve placed it under. 

If you think of recovery as the opportunity to pull back from stress and redistribute important resources, then recovery should not add more stress to your system. This is important to consider when you choose your type of recovery methods and tools. If the extremes of ice baths and the torture of Theraguns are going to cause you more stress, is it in fact recovery?  And if you are a recreational surfer, experiencing an average heart rate of 130 beats per minute per surf, less than 5 times a week, do you need complicated recovery strategies? If you are a competitive surfer, and you have three back-to-back events, with multiple heats per event, including travel and climate acclimatisation, more acute recovery tools, such as ice baths and specific supplementation, may be necessary. Regardless, there is power in getting the basics right and keeping it simple. Great gains can be made from the ‘low-lying fruits’ of recovery, ensuring you have simple but sound recovery strategies in place before tackling more spicy techniques.

When programming recovery tools and strategies into a female athletes program, I always ensure they have the following three basic recovery strategies down-pat. Without these solid foundations, I question the surfer’s ability to adapt to more complex strategies. 



1)  Plan your training week - avoiding overdoing and overstressing. 

A simple but effective tool is to plan your life + training in a weekly planner. This may seem obvious but remember that burnout and reduced physical performance can be caused by emotional, mental and environmental pressures. So rather than looking at fitting your training into your week from a time perspective, look at fitting your training in from a stress perspective

  1. In your weekly planner, write down your obligations such as work, meetings, running kids around to soccer games, exams, media requirements, travel etc. Mark how stressful these activities are for you on a scale of 0-5 (0 = no stress, 5= stressed to my eyeballs)
  2. Next, factor in your training in terms of the level of intensity (volume and effort; e.g. 30min vs 60min and low, moderate or high intensity/ level of effort). 
  3. From that plan, check if you have space around your high-stress activities. 
  4. If not, consider restructuring your week to include a recovery session instead of another heavy gym session. Perhaps an end-of-week massage is required or you need a good meal out with your friends.

Without taking a good look at what we are including in our week, stress can easily outweigh our chances for recovery and fast track us to a fatigue state. So take a moment to rearrange your weekly training to prioritise rest and ensure you aren’t taking on too much, at the wrong time. Give your body the chance to adapt.

2) Stay hydrated and eat well

A 2% body weight reduction due to fluid loss, is enough to impact performance on many levels. If you are thirsty, your performance is already impacted. As surfing is a sport where we are immersed in water that is often cool, we may not be aware of fluid loss or that we are dehydrated. You want your urine to be almost clear. If it is quite yellow after a training session, work to gradually increase your level of hydration. A post-surf coffee may need to be substituted for coconut water or that handy bottle of water you keep in your car. Including rehydration strategies in your post-surf routine can greatly assist your recovery and get you ready for your next session. 

As female surfers, we also need to make sure we eat. Inadequate nutritional intake is one of the major reasons for overtraining symptoms, prolonged fatigue and menstrual disturbances in female athletes. Unfortunately, surfing is still an aesthetic sport for females and competitive female surfers often need to participate in modelling tasks to earn a sponsorship income that supports their career. Sports that require a low body fat percentage for performance advantages or aesthetic purposes place females at higher risk. We need body fat for hormonal health and as women, we need to protect our muscle mass. So even if you are a busy mum in survival mode, make sure you are:

  1. Eating often - reflect upon your day and consider how often you ate
  2. Eating foods that are stacked with nutrition (vitamins and minerals - go or a colourful plate of food for example) 
  3. Refuelling appropriately after a surf. Are you getting both protein and carbohydrates into your post-surf meal? Or is it coffee and a muffin?

Reminding yourself to have good self-care around your nutrition, even if you just begin with your post-surf rituals, can support your energy capacities for surfing and surf training activities.

3) Sleep well

Once recovery sessions are factored into your training plan, and your hydration and nutrition are monitored, the next low-lying fruit is sleep. Sleep is the space where body gets to rest and resources get distributed to cellular recovery and repair. Important repair hormones, such as growth hormones, are released in the initial stages of sleep, so ensuring you hit the pillow at the same time every night is important for recovery. You can also monitor the number of hours you slept and your sleep quality (apps are great for this) and map this against your performance - did your training session feel great? Or did you feel fatigued, uncoordinated, unable to make good wave selection, were you slow to your feet, easy to fatigue?

Personally, as an athlete, 7.5 hours meant training felt mega hard. Whereas 8.5 hours made training a dream (pardon the pun). During a heavy cognitive/brain load, such as research and exams periods, I needed 9.5 hours to perform at my best! Achieving your optimal sleep volume and routine will have you feeling VERY ready for surf training and your next surf session.

A final point is to keep checking in with yourself. If you are feeling fatigued or brain fogged, if your post-training muscle soreness is persisting beyond 2days, or if your pain and niggles are escalating, go back to the low-lying fruits I have mentioned above and check-in. Have you optimised each of these strategies this week? If you have and you are still feeling the symptoms of poor recovery, something else may be going on and it will be worth checking in with your GP along with a qualified training professional, someone who has the knowledge of how to best set up a surfer’s training program around training load and recovery. 

At The Female Surfer, we are university qualified exercise professionals specialising in the development of training plans and protocols for women who live to surf. We can work with you to ensure you have a surf training program that is well-planned and reduces the risks of over-doing it and over-training. We take the guesswork out of surf conditioning with our online and in-person surf training services. Train in a way that supports your biology and how you work as a female. Because women are different. Period. 




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