Strength and Conditioning for Surfers

This article will look at the strength and conditioning for surfers: the demands of the sport, the needs analysis and give a case study of how Ox Strong Health has been supporting a Surfer in Pembrokeshire.

Surfing is a highly popular activity in the UK and with significant improvements in wet suit materials, surfers are spending longer periods of time in the water. Further to this, improvements to wave forecast websites and wave-buoy data means that the sport isn’t limited to the seaside residents but also to those living further inland; with the most inline areas only being a few hours from the coast. However, ideal surfing conditions are often sporadic and are often followed by weeks or months of poor surfing conditions.

The irregularity of the surfing conditions means that surfers cannot rely solely on surfing to get fit. The time spent on the water, the intensity and the frequency is therefore dictated to by environmental factors. Although a surfing session may last several hours, only a small duration of this is actually spent riding the waves. It is therefore essential that surfers are conditioned in a way to enable them to perform to their ability, whilst reducing the risk of injury. A land-based training programme is therefore essential in a surfers preparation to participate in the sport.

Source: Jack Abbott photography @jackabbottphotography

Strength and Conditioning for Surfers

According to Mendez-Villaneuva (2005), surfing is described as a stochastic sport with high intensity bursts, followed by medium intensity work. The following activities make up a surf.

  • The Paddle Out – The surfer is in a prone position and paddles beyond the breaking waves. This propulsion and movement is provided mainly by the arms. The back may also be in hyper extension with the abs in contact with the surf board. By doing this the surfer is able to view around them and also further allows for shoulder circumduction. Also, to get the board under a waves that has just broken or a wave that is about to break, the surfer may use ‘duck dives’.
  • Sitting – The surfer may assume a sitting position and wait for approaching waves. They may also be paddling to get in to position or to counter act drifting within the environment.
  • Power – When a wave has been targeted by the surfer, they will position the board facing away from the wave. They will assume the prone position and use powerful strokes in order to accelerate.
  • Upright Position – Once the surfer has caught the wave, they will transition from the prone position to a standing position in an explosive manner.
  • Surf – Once in the upright position, the surfer will manoeuvre the board on the wave face. The upright position that the surfer will be in will typically be the 1/2 or 1/4 squat position. The feet will be slightly wider than shoulder width, with one foot near the front of the board and the other foot near the middle.

The Demands of the Sport

A study by Meir et al (1991) looked at one hour of surfing and reported the breakdown of surf time was as follows:

  • 44% paddling
  • 35% sitting waiting for waves
  • 5% riding the waves
  • 16% – other activities: duck diving, retrieving the board etc.

Similar results were found within a study by Mendez-Villaneuva, et al . (2005). These studies also concluded that upper-body power output plays an important element within a surfers performance.

During the paddle-out phase of the surf, upper body endurance and power is required. Often, these are developed during surfing sessions and can be further enhanced by swimming training; especially when the surf conditions are poor. Further to this, during the power strokes phase and pop-up, it is necessary for the surfer to produce high forces of power. During the duck-dives and manoeuvring the board, core and trunk strength is required to maintain balance. The pop-up phase of the surf requires surfers to use low-body power to move in to position. Once position is gained, leg strength and balance is further required. Lastly, the surfer must have a high degree of mobility, flexibility and coordination.

Surf Specific Exercises

Strength and Conditioning for Surfers is physically demanding with emphasis on coordinated triple extension and flexion movements. Therefore it is important that any training plan incorporates ballistic exercises and Olympic lifts:

  • Squats
  • Power Cleans
  • Power Snatches
  • Split Jerks
  • Presses
  • Rows
  • Pulls

These movements are essential and allow the surfer time to work on the technical aspects of surfing.

Surfing is an unstable environment and therefore requires high degrees of core control, stability and also balance. Therefore, functional activities such as using a bosu ball, balance boards and stability balls have been shown to be key aspects of surfing training ( Anthony, 2003). However, it should be noted that the surf board is most unstable when it is stationary or moving slowly. This provides the rationale of inclusion of movements such as Olympic lifts and Ballistic movements.


Strength and conditioning for surfers requires key planning including the creating of a macrocycle (annual plan). Favourable surf conditions tend to follow seasonal variations, with the best conditions typically being in the Autumn and early Winter. The macrocycle below illustrates a typical plan to prepare the surfer for peak condition for this key period.

Annual Plan for Surfer S&C
  • AR = Active Rest
  • BF = Base Fitness – focus on aerobic power and muscular endurance. This can be achieved through swimming, rowing, free-surfing. For the land work, high repetitions of squats, presses, rows and pulls should be included. Repetitions should be in the 15+ range.
  • STR = Strength – The goal of this phase is to develop the strength of the surfer but to maintain the aerobic fitness. Repetitions should be in the 10-12 range.
  • PWR = Power – the power phase should include squats, Olympic lifting movements, squat thrusts and plyometric style press-ups. The aim of this phase is to develop the power of the surfer.
  • SPC = Specific – Specific adaptations to both the surfer and environment.
  • PP = Peaking Phase – reduction of volume and intensity to ensure peak phase of the surfer.
  • AR = Active Rest

Note that the above annual plan (macrocycle) is generic and not should not be seen as a one plan for all. It is impossible to forecast the response of an athlete to training and therefore adaptations are required during mesocycle planning.

Surf Specific Stability Exercises:

  • Medicine Ball Squats on balance board – this movement will support the development of balance.
  • Single Leg Squats – This movement will develop the medial and lateral hip stabilisers and improve balance.
  • Hyperextension on balance board – Improve the muscular endurance of the erector spinae and to improve balance.

Movement Specific Exercises:

  • Press-Up with Knee Tuck (TRX) – movement is similar to pop-up and allows for the development of muscular endurance and speed.
  • Squat Thrusts – movement is similar to pop-up and allows for the development of power and speed.
  • Plyo-Ball Push Ups; moving ball from one hand to the other – supports the development of pop-up power.
  • Pronated Pull Up – This closed chain movement replicates that of paddling.
  • Rope Ladder climb – This closed chain movement replicates that of paddling.

Injury Prevention Exercises

  • Ys and Ts – These movements will support the stability of the scapular.
  • Rotator Cuff Stretch – These movements will support the stability of the scapular.
  • Soleous Stretch – Increase ankle dorsi flexion which will increase the dropping knee position when on the board.

Strength and conditioning for surfers is a key component in the development of performance.

Case Study: Gareth Jones

One client, Gareth Jones, approached Ox Strong Health in July, looking for guidance towards a training programme for surfing. Gareth is an accomplished, confident surfer and has good experience of land based training over a number of years.

Gareth Jones , source: Source: Jack Abbott photography @jackabbottphotography

Awesome – started off with a comprehensive rehab programme after injury – video analysis and feedback has been invaluable. Nathan has adapted the ongoing programme to help me develop surf-specific strengths, which have impacted my fitness and performance both in and out of the water.

Gareth Jones (2020)

Gareth trains at home but has a wide range of equipment available to him including weighted plates, a bar (not Olympic), dumbbells, punch bag, skipping rope, medicine ball and resistance bands (oh, go and check out our resistance band training guide).

Over the weeks running up to the peak phase of the training plan, Gareth developed his strength through squats, rows and push-ups. This was coupled with accessory movements, as well as core work. We worked and developed balance and coordination through bilateral and unilateral work.

Sample of Training Plan

During these phases, Gareth built up a good, strong foundation that allowed for easy transition in to the power phase of work. This included squat jumps, depth jumps, and plyometric work. Gareth is 100% committed and challenges himself on a weekly basis.

As we go through the winter months in to the new year, Gareth’s annual plan will move to a transitional phase of general preparation. This will focus on muscular endurance and aerobic power.

Gareth is also a very talented tattoo artist located within Pembrokeshire. Follow him on Instagram @bonesjonestattoo

Ox Strong Health works with a number of athletes and professionals to help them reach their aims and objectives. Whatever your training experience or ability, we can help. Get in touch today and claim your free 2 weeks of online personal training plans; specific to your needs.


The Guardian (2006),learners%20return%20to%20the%20waves.

Mendez-Villaneuva, et al . (2005) Upper body aerobic fitness comparison between two groups of competitive surfboard riders. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Pages 43- 51.

Meir, R. A., Lowdon, B. J., Davie, A. J. (1991) Heart rates and estimated energy expenditure during recreational surfing. Australian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 23, Pages 70-74.

Anthony, L. (2003) Surf Conditioning. Idea Personal Trainer. May

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