The perfect surf mobility/ stretches to improve your surf game + reduce injuries.
Let’s ensure that we are still able to surf even after we max out our surf fitness. Joint mobility plays a big role. If you’re unable to get into safe positions on your board because of your mobility restrictions or imbalances, it not only risks greater chance of injury but your overall performance suffers and progression stalls.
Spending 10-15 minutes a day on specific stretches, release exercises, and stability drills can do wonders for your mobility and overall surf game. Which is great because this then means fewer injuries, more time for fun in the water and faster skill development. The ability to be able to perform and control our joints in a full range of motion is one of the fundamentals for both performance and longevity in any sport.
The thoracic spine (the area of the mid and upper back) is a common sticking point not just for surfers but everyone as the pitfalls of our modern lifestyle are creating a whole load of stiffness. Welcome to the 21st century of bad posture hunched over on the phone, computer or watching movies. If you’re paddling out past the break, tightness through your T-spine makes it harder to extend and rotate and get an effective, upright paddling position. This causes excess strain on your neck, restricting the shoulder blades’ ability to reach out overhead.
A great place to start is the Foam roller.
1. Rolling out the rib cage for better paddling.
How to: lay on your back starting the foam roller at the bottom of your rib cage perpendicular to your body. In order to activate the deep neck flexors and give your neck some internal support, keep your mouth closed and tongue pressed gently against either the teeth or roof of the mouth, just like what happens when you swallow. Cross your arms over your chest (or place them behind your head if your neck gets tired) and spend about 20-30 seconds gently rocking your torso side to side.
Next position: arch up over the roller reaching your arms above your head, keeping your arms close to your ears. Keep core tight to prevent ribs from flaring. Then return arms back to across the chest and repeat 10-15reps. Keep repeating the same process, moving up one segment of the spine at a time until you get to the base of your neck.
Then we come to some movements.
2. Lunge and twist for sharper turns.
The lunge and twist addresses one of the most common complaints and postural issues in surfers- the lower back pain. The combination of a spine bend at the hips in a surf stance paired with sitting out of the water, the hip flexors become chronically short and tight thus causing anterior rotation of the pelvis leading to stiffness and compression in the lumbar spine. The lunge is potentially a great way to loosen up. Adding the twist is like wringing out the spinal tension like a wet towel. The mid-back, which was touched on above, can often be limited in rotation by our restrictive lifestyles and postures, similarly the neck. Having tension like this makes turning your surfboard harder to do as well as less efficient therefore impacting those cutbacks.
How to: The lunge and twist.
1. Start on all fours, step your right or left foot through the inside of the same hand.
2. Keep your back leg knee to the floor or elevate for more of a challenge, but make sure to keep glutes contacted if the knee is lifted to protect lower back.
3. Take the hand that’s next to the foot you have stepped forward (L,L R,R) off the ground and rotate your upper body towards the leading leg. If you are comfortable then twist your neck, looking up at the hand off the ground.
4. Make sure to take a deep breath in through your nose, as you slowly exhale gauge whether you can move into a deeper position. Repeat 5-8 breaths on both sides.
3. Sleeper stretch for greater paddling.
Being able to paddle out past the break or catch waves requires a great deal of shoulder mobility, particularly internal rotation. If you’re finding yourself unable to fully rotate, it means your shoulder is in a less stable position when paddling, resulting in poor or insufficient technique. Do not fear, it just means paddling becomes more of an effort and harder to catch those waves. The goal with the sleeper stretch is to avoid all this and strengthen the shoulder cuff.
How to: the Sleeper stretch.
1. Lie on your left side, knees bent and your chest facing a 45-degree angle to the ceiling/sky. Bend your left elbow at 90 degrees and grab your wrist with your right hand.
2. Keep your left shoulder on the floor (very important) using your right hand gently guide your left forearm towards the ground until you can feel a stretch. When you get to your max stretch hold for 40-60 seconds.
3. Next step, take a deep breath holding for 5-10 seconds, pushing your left arm against your right away from the floor, the right arm resisting the force.
4. The last position as you breath out release the force against the right hand. Release the right hand and use your own strength of your left hand to guide the hand towards the floor. Holding 5-10 seconds. Repeat all 3 steps on both sides a few more times.
If you’re finding more restriction on one side than the other, spend more time on the weaker side.
4. Squat sequence for hip mobility.
Having a good range of hip movement makes any physical activity easier, less restricted and far more enjoyable. Having mobile hips means a faster, smoother pop up. Not only does having good range of movement help your pop up but it also helps with knee stability, healthy ankle joints and ligaments and gaining even more thoracic range. Which are all key components for maintaining control and balance over your board. How to: two different squat positions: Squat sequence.
1. Starting, sitting down on the ground, with internal and external rotation at the hips. Brace your upper body on your hands behind you. Lift your left heel off the ground, slowly externally rotate (turning leg away from body) to max range. Now that you have externally rotated, let’s internally rotate (turning towards the body). Complete 15-20 reps and on the right side.
2. The second position is a squat and rotate. I will give two examples one being a modified version. Let’s start in a deep squat, grasp your right shin with your left hand and rotate your upper body as far as you can to the ceiling. Gaze following your right hand reaching overhead to rotate your neck (same as the lunge and twist). Return to the centre and repeat 15-20 reps both sides.
3. Modified version: instead of starting in a deep squat, squat as low as you’re comfortable. Place your hands above your knees, instead of grasping your shins from there rotate the same.
Finally to round off these exercises balance.
5. Balance work for stronger knees.
Knees can take a bit of battering when you surf regularly, as there is a ton of force loaded down of joints when turning, especially on that back leg which is generally prone to collapsing inwards. If performed regularly the hip sequence exercise Number #4 is a great way to protect knees from injury. Having those free moving hips allows external and internal rotation without restrictions. Reducing the force on the knee in your bottom turn. The two positions to complete for: Balance and stability.
1. Single leg balance, simple as lifting one leg up to a 90 degree angle, making sure glutes and core are engaged and tight. If it is too much of a challenge to hold your leg at 90 degrees just lower to comfortable height. Hold this position for 60 seconds on both sides.
2. Second and final exercise. Keeping your core activated your going to extend your leg out at different points. At each point (north, east, south and west) tap your foot slowly to the floor. Allow your standing leg to bend if needed but focus on trying to prevent the ankle and knee from collapsing inwards. Like a compass your movements are, North (in front of you), North East, East then all the way behind to North West. Repeat for 3-5 circles both sides.
This is a good guide to start your surf recovery and strength. Try to find 10-15 minutes when you can in your schedule. A great way to keep yourself on track, is to include the five exercise in your pre-surf warmup. Consistency is key!