Three tips to take to the overwhelm out of surf training, so you can get started TODAY!Dec 23, 2021
If you have found yourself perusing this article, my first guess is that you are a water woman who revels in the waves. A charger on a foamy that wants to get stronger for pop ups. Or an intermediate short boarder who wants to push her surfing to the next level and get more barrels. Perhaps you are a woman of the ocean who wants to FEEL more confident with her surfing, more capable, strong, able, and ready to charge on into the sunset.
My second guess is that you have done a good ol’ google search or social media search for ‘exercises to improve my surfing’. My question is - how did you go? A quick scroll through social media is a perfect example of how much information is out there. There are a myriad of fancy pec popping, booty busting, spinning around, upside down, convoluted, and downright strange exercises out there. Some are good. Some are VERY bad. Only a small percentage are prescribed by people who know what they are doing and have the appropriate qualifications. Even less (like a speck) consider your unique biology as a woman.
The overwhelm of information can be a real barrier to getting started and sticking to any sort of surf training program. How do you know where to start if you want to do land-based surf conditioning? How do you know what is right for you? How do you understand what is safe? Is the training you want to participate in, even going to do anything for your surfing? What if you haven’t done any sort of training before? What if you have an injury that needs to be considered?
My goal with this blog is to take the overwhelm and guess work out of surfing conditioning for you. I am going to share with you below, three fundamental principles to starting a surf conditioning program. I’m going to keep it simple and straight forward, so you can feel sure of yourself and confident in choosing what to do next. This is as relevant for a surfer who is just beginning as it is a competitive female surfer, that wants to progress her surf training. No more confusion, just a clear sense of direction.
Step 1: UNDERSTAND WHAT SURFING IS ASKING OF YOUR BODY
This is where I feel A LOT of confusion arises with surf conditioning training. There are so many exercise options out there, but the number one rule of training is that you want it to be transferable to your surfing. Otherwise, what’s the point?
To ensure your conditioning is going to transfer into your surfing you want to make is as specific to surfing as possible. That requires understanding the demands of surfing, which will vary for each surfer. For a CT surfer that is about to surf heaving Pipeline, the demands will be very different to a recreational long boarder who wants to surf Rainbow Bay. So, it is a matter of understanding the demands and what type of surfing you want to do. Those demands become the goal and the performance variables you want to achieve. Let me give you an example:
Surfer A. is a female intermediate surfer that wants to surf Indonesia and feel confident if 4ft + barrelling waves. Here are just a few of the performance variables I would be looking at:
- Cardiovascular fitness to deal with respiratory and energy demands of high intensity surfing, getting out of the impact zone, and duck diving intense waves
- Capacity and skill set to surf left confidently
- Paddle power and capacity to get on fast moving waves with a lot of water behind them (‘freight train catching’)
- Capacity for lower limb load and handling turns on powerful waves
- Capacity to deal with anxiety and overwhelm in challenging surf
Surfer B. is a middle-aged female surfer who has been surfing for 6 months and loves a social longboard with her friends. She loves surfing but wants to improve her strength so she can surf better and FEEL stronger in the water. Understanding the demands of this type of surfing, I would look at:
- Balance and ankle range of motion
- Pelvis and core stability for load transference
- Shoulder function and push capacity when clearing waves on a very floaty board
- Global functional strength training that will assist with movement efficiency and flow
Can you see how the demands become the variable you want to train? Ask yourself what your type of surfing, or the surfing you want to achieve, asks of your body and write a list.
Step 2: KNOW WHERE YOU’RE AT
This step is the assessment or baseline measure component of your training program. Why bother you ask? Why not just choose a bunch of exercises and get started? Well, firstly training comes with risk. Participating in any ol’ program or picking and choosing exercises from social media, doesn’t consider your uniqueness as an individual, and what is right for you. If you have any niggles or an injury/illness history, including complicated childbirth or a cesarean birth, then you need to mitigate the risks of surf conditioning by getting some individual attention. This can be as simple as a screening process or assessment that looks at your posture, how you move and considers injury/illness history at the very least. A good practitioner will be able to adapt an assessment to your own needs and the goals you want to achieve.
If you are injury free and ready to get started, I would still recommend a baseline assessment because you need to know your starting point. Knowing where you are at RIGHT now tells you a) what you need to work on and b) how close you are to achieving those variables you listed in step 1. Let me give you an example, I recently assessed a young female surfer who is hyper-mobile (very mobile joints). She assumed that she needed to stretch more because she feels stiff after surfing and wanted exercises to improve her range of motion. However, following some baseline testing, we identified that the ‘stiffness’ she was experiencing was the result of instability. So, although she was ready to stretch all day, what will support her surfing and draw her away from injury, is stability and load training.
Knowing where you are at RIGHT now also serves as great motivation as you track your progress towards your goals. You might only be able to do 5 push-ups in a muscular endurance test, at the start of your program. However, by the 4th week of training, you may be able to pump out 20! Those achievements are worth of noting. There is nothing better than seeing your capabilities improving and knowing that you are getting stronger and fitter.
Step 3: JOIN THE DOTS
You know what your type of surfing is going to ask of your body. You have your assessed your baseline and understand WHAT you need to improve. Your surf conditioning then becomes a matter getting your baseline to match the demands. ‘Joining the dots’ so to speak.
Having a training plan here helps immensely. For athletes and competitive surfers, I plan training into a seasonal schedule that includes all their events and the amount of rest and recovery needed. Each variable to train would be matched with the appropriate training intensity and duration. Any specific skills and psychological training would also be included along with nutrition and hydration strategies. The plan can become incredibly dialled in and micro, micro-managed.
But start simple – know what variables you need to train and see what else you have going on in life. Ask yourself how much time and energy you have for training. If you need to improve your strength and you are a female over 30, I suggest including at least 2 strength training sessions a week. If you want to improve your confidence in the water, you can’t go past cardiovascular fitness, and this is an area that I think is really underdone with most recreational surfers. So, you could add 2 fitness sessions in there a week as well. If you live a highly stressful existence and need to manage your anxiety in the water, then I would include a decompression movement type session that calms your nervous system and gets you back into your body. Here is the start of what becomes a well-structured surf conditioning program.
If you work 5 days a week and need to take your kids to soccer and swimming training and cook dinner and help with homework and do the grocery shopping etc, write out your week in a timetable and importantly consider rest and recovery. If you know every Thursday, you work a 12 hour shift – don’t put a high intensity training session in at 5 am the next morning. Give yourself some recovery first. The same goes with the intensity of your training. Training 6 days a week, with each session being high intensity training can be far less effective than you think. More isn’t necessarily better. Be smart. Start simple. You can always increase your training. But if you start by doing too much, you might burn out, experience pain and throw your surf conditioning out the window.
I firmly believe that the most performance enhancing thing you can do for your surfing, is have a clear sense of direction with your training. It helps you STAY FOCUSED and importantly ACHIEVE your surfing goals. It’s also super fun! And keeps you surf ready for when the wind is howling northerly or the surf is flat. Even though I have been prescribing surf conditioning programs for years, I understand the overwhelm that can occur with knowing where to start. It can happen even if you have trained previously but don’t know how to reach the next level of your surf training.
Of course, as much as I have attempted to keep this process simple for you, it also helps to get some professional advice and support. At the Female Surfer we specialise in gender specific surf conditioning strategies, to help women surf their best waves possible. We have several options available that will help you begin your surf conditioning journey pronto.
If you are a competitive female surfer or a water woman that has injuries, niggles or special concerns, then a purely individualised training program would be ideal for you. Our one-to-one appointments can be completed online, and package options are available if you are looking to periodise your training program toward say…an epic surf trip???
If you live overseas or not close to our home base, our flagship 8 Week Discovery Program is designed to do exactly what this blog is hoping to do – KICK START your surf conditioning journey. The beauty of this training option is that we take the guess work out where to start. The course progresses from fundamental range of motion and stability training to power-based training for more critical waves. You get to train with World Surf Champion Chelsea Hedges and myself AND get access to some incredible knowledge and performance enhancing tips from World Surf League practitioners. It’s an insanely good package.
If you do hail from the Gold Coast or Northern New South Wales, then our BRAND-NEW squad training could be just for you. It is due to commence on February 24, 2022 and will cover the performance variables that surfing asks of you – make sure you sign up to our online community so that you can stay up to date with timetables and classes.
We nerd out on providing you surf training strategies that are evidence based, intelligent and considerate of your unique biology and challenges as women. If you haven’t joined our online community, do so TODAY, so you can feast your brain and your body on the tools and resources we offer.
Enjoy the waves!
Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Exercise Scientist
Founder of The Female Surfer
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