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How your local physiotherapist can improve your surfing

Summer is once again knocking on our door. The Northern Beaches is a mecca for lovers of all things outdoors. Beautiful beaches, great weather and great waves have lured many people to this beautiful part of the world (myself included). Over 2.5 million Australians surf recreationally, and over 420,000 participate in an event at least once a year. Yet despite its prevalence, many people don’t understand the physiological factors related to surfing performance. Surfing is underrated as a physically demanding sport.

It requires upper body strength to paddle and push up quickly, core and lower body strength to help turn and pivot, balance, flexibility and interchangeable endurance and rapid fire bursts of energy. Because it is such a physically complex and demanding sport, it can be difficult to train for which can lead to injuries and stifle progression. This is where a local physiotherapist with all sports knowledge and functional training techniques and facilities can help keep you surf fit while improving specific functions of surfing itself.

Failing to adequately train and stretch before surfing can lead to a number of injuries. Common injuries from surfing can be broken down into overuse and acute injuries.

Overuse Injuries:

Surfing is an intermittent sport, with paddling and remaining stationary – lying or sitting on the board representing approximately 95% of the total time spent surfing. Wave riding only accounts for 4–5% of the total time. It should come as little surprise then that most overuse injuries stem from paddling. This can be due to a number of factors. The prone position paddling puts a large amount of pressure on the lower cervical spine around the C5/6 vertebrae, where the spine hinges into extension to lift the head up and look forward.  Long term and repeated paddling in a sub-optimal positions can cause compression of the joints of the neck, upper back and ribs or inefficient loading of the shoulder tendons and rotator cuff. Hence the most common overuse injuries to surfers present in the shoulders, neck and upper back.

Acute injuries

About 19 % of all acute surfing injuries were found to be knee sprains and strains. When wave riding, your knee on your back leg is in a flexed valgus position, which places high stress loads on the medial collateral ligament and the lateral meniscus during rapid manoeuvres. To demonstrate a flexed valgus position stand up and do a squat. Now with your feet remaining stationary try and touch your knees together; this internal rotation of the thigh bone on the shin and bending inwards is flexed valgus. Poor technique, lack of flexibility, insufficient warming up can all lead to strains of the hamstrings, neck, and back while executing snaps and lay-backs.

How functional training can help

Surfing is all about controlling a number of different body parts simultaneously to work together on a wave. In order for the body to function properly there must be decisive brain control over our bodies. Functional training aims to improve how efficiently we move and adapt to our environment. Functional training programs focused on improving surfing skills will centre on improving your balance, your body’s synchronicity, core strength and lower and upper body power and how they function independently of one and other. These exercises, when paired with regular strength training can help to lower your chances of suffering an acute or overuse injury, along with improving the basic physiological aspects required to surf well. Pick a local physiotherapist with access to facilities such as bodyweight suspension training systems (like the TRX), swiss balls and bosu, pilates equipment and other machines designed to test your combined strength and stability which always sorts the wheat from the chaff.

What functional exercises can you try right now?


The aerobic, anaerobic and upper-body physical strength required to surf is tremendous. As paddling takes up most of the energy and is the cause of a number of upper-body injuries, it is important to focus on this aspect. This bodyweight row is designed to increase pull strength and pull endurance to help your paddle become more of a glide through the water.

Bosu Ball push-ups

Logical progression leads to improving the next fundamental aspect of surfing – the push-up off the board. The bosu mimics the instability faced by your upper body and core when popping up from a surfboard. Do these rapidly, but focus on stability through each part of your arms and shoulders, making your body work together in synchronisation and balance.

Squat jumps

Now that you’re paddling like a champion and you’ve got a spring in your push-up, the next part to focus on is the lower body. The power and stability in your lower body determines how well you’re going to be able to stay on your board. Regular squats are great for strength, but the added jump turns this exercise into a plyometric one with a high intensity twist. Feet should be shoulder width apart, chest lifted and butt should be dropping back.

Whether you have suffered a surfing related injury, have an injury that is keeping you out of the surf, want to improve your surf specific fitness or increase functional skills to improve your surfing, The Beaches Sports Physio has the experts and state of the art facilities that’ll help you spend more time in the water.

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