January 17, 2002

Surfing and Staying Fit

There have been several topics I have always gotten questions about, they are fitness and exercise, and how they relate to surfing, and life in general. Exercise can be defined as bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness, or basically to train (Webster's). Most people think of exercise as running, weight lifting, biking, and swimming. This is without a doubt true; these are all great types of "exercise". We can also describe fitness as a combination of aerobic capacity and muscular strength and endurance that enhances health and the quality of life (Sharkey). Doctors have told us all how exercise is good for us, and how it will keep us healthy This is not B.S. there have been hundreds of studies proving that being active will improve your quality of life. This information that the doctors, fitness advocates, and conditioning specialists have been telling us for years applies to us all, not just grandma.

The quality and type of exercise stimulus is subject to many different principles; intensity (at what level of muscular activity you will be performing), specificity (is the exercise you are performing similar to the activity you will be doing, i.e. golf, surfing), frequency (how often you will engaging in these activities), and variation (different types of activities). An important key to remember when training for surfing is to train the different components of sport fitness; speed, coordination, cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, flexibility and power.

Surfing and training specificity go hand in hand. Obviously, if you are going to be surfing, you would like to exercise in a manner that will best enhance your surfing performance, right? That is were specificity comes into play. Lets say a golfer would like to improve his game, he takes lesson after lesson, but he is not totally happy. He is not getting the distance he would like, he gets tired after nine holes, and his back is always sore. The reason being is that just playing golf alone without any additional "exercise" or training is not going to make you a stronger golfer. Sure you can hone your skills, but you won't be at the top of the game. Get the point?

Surfing is a very unique sport, in that there are many different elements to deal with; a surfboard, constant changes of the ocean, other surfers, sea pest, and the sun. Basically it is a very hectic sport. You always have to be on top of it or you are going to get hurt or to the extreme you can lose your life. Now I have your attention, lets talk specificity of training and surfing. When training for specificity, you want to perform exercises that will mimic what you do in the water. No I don't want you to flail around like a kook at the gym. Your exercises should be as close to what a surfing maneuver looks like, be it a cut back or a simple paddle. Obviously we cannot duplicate all of the surfing maneuvers out there, but we can try our best. If it looks like surfing, and smells like surfing, you are the right track, it should help your surfing.

Lets talk about intensity, duration, and speed. Some of us I am sure have not even thought of any of these things while working out, let alone surfing. As with any type of exercise, start out slow. Be smart and don't go right into 2 hour bout with the squat rack. When surfing, you can burn over 500 calories per hour. Just think of a day when you actually spent more time paddling than surfing. It happens, and when you are not ready for that long haul, you suck wind. This is were training intensity(how hard you are going to train), and duration(how long you are going to train) comes into play! If you plan on surfing a long hard session, be ready for it. Don't train ½ hour at the gym if you plan on killing it for a solid 2-3 hours. You are going to need to step up, and turn up the volume! But as I said, do it slow. Gradually increase your time at the gym, running on the beach, swimming, etc.

Speed is another one of our training components that need to be discussed. The scientific definition for speed is a length one, so we will break it down to basics. Speed is basically reaction time and movement time. How fast can you actually paddle your arms for that 5-10 second burst? If you train these movements slow, what do you think will happen, that is right, you're going to be slow. What we need to do is simulate a surfing action or movement and do it quick. Slow at first, then we go like hell.

Surfing is chaotic, so lets train that way! No, don't throw that dumbbell at your friend. Why are we constantly seeing surfers in the gym doing the same thing, seated chest press, leg press, ab machine, the list can go on and on. These are great tools for building mass, that is what they were built for, body builders. I am not going to knock the old seated triceps push down, don't get me wrong. What we need as surfers is a more functional approach to our training. By functional I mean a body that works to as one, in an integrated fashion. Surfing is a total body sport, so train your body the same way. How is a seated leg extension going to help your surfing?? It will give you big, un-functional legs. Does it look like surfing? Does it smell like surfing? What looks more like surfing to me is a squat with rotation at the bottom. (see figure 1)

Figure 1 MB squat with rotation

We need to train in a different manner than Joe Body Builder. He just wants to be huge. We can look good too, but have a better functioning body. Train standing up, use free weights, bands, pulleys, balls, and balance boards. We are multi-planner beings, we have 360 degrees of freedom, and we rotate, flex and bend every way imaginable, so it makes sense to train that way, doesn't it? As surfers we need to train basically from our fingers to our toes. Hit everything in between. If you have a stronger more functional body, it not only can help your surfing, but your quality of life.

Here are a few more "surf specific" exercises…
MB PNF chop(great warm up)
Great for balance and coordination

You can exercise wherever you can bring your equipment. If you like going to your local gym, go hang out there and get your work out in. You can go down to the beach with your boyfriend, girlfriend or training partner, and hit some 30 yard sprints, push ups in the sand , pull-ups on the beams on the Pavilion, or just do squats till the sun comes up. There is really not a right or wrong place to exercise. The only thing that limits you is your imagination. If you think it is going to be fun, most likely it will be. If you think it is going to suck, most likely it will. But whatever you do, have fun with it!

By Mark Hoffman

Mark Hoffmann is currently enrolled at Florida Atlantic University, pursuing a Masters degree in exercise physiology. He is nationally certified as a personal trainer through ISSA(International Sports Science Association), and also certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association). He and his business partner Andy deRojas have started one of the newest conditioning programs to hit surfing, Surfitness Inc. He can be reached at Mark@surfitness.com or check out www.surfitness.com

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