Surfing Requires a Love for Water and a Whole Lot More by Lizl Kotz
Surfing demands a lot from the body both physically and mentally. Courage, good judgement, determination, quick reaction time, flexibility, strength, balance, power and finesse. All of the pre-mentioned come into play in order to pop up and enjoy that six second glorious ride.
Ankle Joint Mobility
When conditioning surfers, I start by looking closely at the flexibility in the ankle joint. Healthy dorsiflexion sets in motion healthy movement further up the kinetic chain. In surfing, the method of compression and extension stores and then releases energy to generate speed. Like a spring, the more compressed a surfer is on his or her surfboard the more potential energy is stored. Compression on a wave requires a crouched position with the back knee dropping in towards the front knee. This combined position of half-squat-half-lunge requires a mobile ankle joint. For the shin to approach the dorsum of the foot (closed chain dorsiflexion), the talus needs to glide posteriorly in respect to the crural joint and the gastroc-soleus muscle complex needs to be flexible enough to allow this motion. Once my patients demonstrate good ankle joint mobility, we can start working on strengthening the small stabilizers in the foot and ankle.
- Address soft tissue restrictions by foam rolling the calf muscles followed by calf stretches
- Address join restrictions by having a physical therapist teach you a manual ankle dorsiflexion mobilization exercise
- Strengthen the foot and ankle stabilizers by balancing on a balance pillow on one foot at a time while barefoot.
Once we have assessed and improved our ankle mobility and stability we want to work on improving intrinsic knee stability to protect those knees. Surfing place our knees in some extreme and awkward positions and our hip stabilizers need to be ready to control and protect the knees during these positions.
- Perform lunges in soft beach sand in order to wake up the proprioceptors in the ankle/knee/hip joints
- Perform a single leg squat with added trunk rotation over stance knee. Perform these exercises barefoot. Add a balance pillow for further challenge
- Single leg squats placing non-stance leg on a slider and sliding leg out to side and back behind body
- (see Lizl Kotz Performance Facebook page for videos)
Hip Mobility and Strength
The dynamics of surfing places huge demands on the flexibility of the hip joints. Absorbing rotational forces through the hip and core musculature instead of the spine is huge in keeping the spine healthy during surfing. Improve your hip flexibility to save your spine from injury and to pop-up faster. Once the hips are free to move we address hip strength in a serious way. Because the torso is rotated in surfing most of the time, the hip muscles are constantly asked to fire. The more powerful those hip muscles, the bigger those turns. Surfers should strengthen barefoot when possible and perform many single leg exercises to simulate instability the same way balancing on a surfboard does.
- Tall kneel on a stability ball to train hip and core stabilizers
- Single leg bridge. Place bridge foot on a bench to increase the challenge
- Opposite arm/leg extenders progress to same side arm and leg extenders to challenge the trunk rotators and anti-rotators (see facebook for videos)
The Scapula and Thoracic Spine
Last, but certainly not least is the mobility in the thoracic spine and the stability in the shoulder blade. In order to have a strong paddle stroke, the upper back and the shoulder blade must work in harmony. A forward slouched posture (flexed thoracic spine) will tend to drive the entire shoulder complex forward, decrease the subacromial space and place the rotator cuff tendons at risk for impingement syndrome. In turn, good thoracic extension promotes good scapular movement and pain-free elevation of the shoulder.
- Wheelbarrow walk with feet on sliders to strengthen scapular stabilizers
- Push-up position with scapular row