Tips & Advice
Fitness for Surfing

A Surf Beginners Guide

Surfing is an incredibly demanding sport for both body and mind. Not only are you pushing yourself physically, but you have to concentrate and focus on reading the ocean at all times to catch the best waves.

That’s why being in the know about surf-specific fitness can make all the difference between getting out the back nice and easy, or getting a big set on your head, rag-dolling all the way back to shore. With this surf blog, we hope to give you the tips that bring you that little bit closer to being physically fit to ace your next surf session. 

This guide is aimed towards beginner surfers, weekend warriors and those whose sessions are few and far between. When learning to surf, the first few times when you come out of the water after a surf, you might not even be able to get your suit off because your arms are jelly from all the paddling. Sheer exhaustion, we’ve all been there!

If you’re planning a surf holiday or surf camp stay this summer, this article gives you the tools to physically prepare for it. We’ll talk about the main muscles used in the different actions and movements of surfing and explain how to train and stretch them for better surfing performance. Enjoy guys! We hope to be surfing with you all again soon.

Your Star Surf Camps Team

What does our Fitness for Surfing guide cover?

1. The Basics: Paddle, Pop-Up, Body Position

There are three main stages in the process of catching a wave.

 1️⃣ First is the paddle, an explosive movement with the arms.

2️⃣ Next is the pop-up, using the upper body to lift ourselves enough to bring the legs into our stance position.

3️⃣ And finally, once we are on the wave we use our legs, core and upper body to stabilise and create momentum on the wave-face (pumping) and to perform manoeuvres.

2. Which Muscles Do We Use When Surfing?

It’s pretty safe to say that you use most of the muscles in your body when you surf, some more than others and some in different ways. The main muscle group we use when paddling is the upper back ones. This provides us with the power needed to accelerate up to a similar speed of the wave itself. It is usually only a few strokes on each arm before popping up. In other words, it is a strength and power move, which we can train to its fullest potential.

Our shoulders are also used in the rotary motion of the move but generally only start to burn after a long paddle out, so endurance is the main factor for this set of muscles. The triceps get a good workout with duck diving and with the pop-up, as do the chest muscles. Again, the pop up is an explosive move so we can train our muscles to perform this more effectively. And finally, when we’re up and riding on the wave face, we use the core (in all planes) and legs for stabilisation and movement. 

3. Which are the Best Exercises for Surfing?

1. Pull-Ups: A great strength move to get more power in your paddle. Fully extend your arms at the bottom to stretch your muscles and squeeze your back at the top of the motion. Perform explosively for 3 sets 5-15 reps.

2. Swimming Front Crawl: The closest thing to paddling, great for building up the needed muscles.

3. Rowing Machine: Uses most of the same muscles as paddling, except for the biceps. Focus on pulling with your back and not with your arms.

4. Push-Up: A good one to build up your upper body strength for duck dives and pop-ups. These should be performed explosively to recreate the motion and power we use in surfing. Do 2-5 sets of around 10-20 to build strength and an element of endurance.

5. Clap-Up: Much more explosive than the normal push-up. Force your hands off the floor with an explosive drive with your chest and triceps. Once your hands are off the floor clap once or twice and land on the floor back in the push-up position (with bent arms to take the impact). Try to do as many as you can before you can’t do any more.

6. Burpee: Similar to the clap-up in terms of explosive power. This move is very similar to the actual pop-up itself. When in the push-up position, jump your feet forward to bring them between your hands and then extend your legs to stand up straight. From this position, reverse the action to go back to the start position. This can be done so you jump up to your surf stance position, training your pop-up technique as well as the muscles used to perform it. Perform 3 sets of 15 burpees.

7. Shoulder Walk-Outs: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, bend at the knees and hips to put your hands flat on the floor. Walk your hands out until you are in the push-up position and then back to the start point. Repeat for 3 sets of 15 reps.

8. Squat: Bodyweight squats are great for leg strength and stability. Standing with feet hip-width apart, bend at the knees and hips to lower yourself into a sitting position with your knees at right angles. Push back up through your heels and repeat for 3 sets of 20 reps.

9. Squat Jump: Add a jump to the squat to train your explosive power system. Just jump as high as you can from the squat position and land on your feet again with bent knees.

10. Pistol Squat: A one-legged squat with your free leg and arms extended in front of you. Keep your foot flat on the floor with your weight through the heel. Keep your core tight for stability.

11. Lunge: Take a large step in front of you and bend at both knees so your back knee is just off the floor. Drive your front leg to bring you back to the start position and repeat for 3 sets of 20 reps on both legs.

12. Ankle Touch: Lie faceup on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift your shoulders off the ground and reach down to touch one ankle and repeat on the other side. Great for the obliques which are responsible for lateral stability.

13. Knee to Elbow: In the push-up position bring one knee to the opposite elbow and repeat on the other side for 3 sets of 20 reps.

14. Plank: In either in the push-up position or with the weight on your elbows and forearms hold your core tight to keep your back flat, head up and body straight. Hold this position for as long as possible. A good target to reach is 3 minutes.

15. Balance Ball: If you have a yoga ball you can practice balancing by sitting on it and raising your legs off the ground and leaning back slightly to engage your core. Alternatively, you can try kneeling on it. Try adding some shoulder twists when you get the hang of it to involve more of your lateral stabilisers.

16. Balance Board: A balance board, also called Indo board, is the perfect way to train your balance. If you’re not familiar with them you should definitely check them out. We have them in our surf camps in France and surf camps in Spain for our guests to practise on during their surf holidays.

Here’s more on how balance boards can get you ready for a surf holiday

4. Circuits to do at Home

With the COVID-19 outbreak keeping most of us from surfing at the moment, we have put together two all-over circuits which you can easily do from home to prepare your muscles properly for your next surfing holidays or surf camp stay: Go from one exercise straight to the next until they have all been done once. Take a rest for around 30-60 seconds. Complete either one of these routines or both of them back to back. Then build your own routine!

Push-Up: 3x 20
Pull-Up (if possible): 3x as many as possible
Burpee: 4x 20
Squat Jump: 3x 20
Lunge: 4x 20 (each leg)
Plank: 3x 2 mins


Shoulder Walkout: 3x 10
Knee to Elbow: 4x 20
Pull-Up (if possible): 3x as many as possible
Squat Jump: 4x 20
Plank: 3x 2 mins
Clap-Up: 4x as many as possible

5. Which are the best Stretches for Surfing?

  1. Shoulders: Stand up straight and hold a towel or rope in a vertical line behind your back, with one hand behind your neck and one hand slightly lower, behind your middle back. Slowly creep your hands closer together to stretch the shoulders and triceps. Make sure you repeat in the other direction.
  2. Back: Stand up straight with your hands reaching as high as you can above your head. Allow the shoulders to relax for maximum reach, then bring your palms together and bend at the hips to one side. You should feel a nice big stretch down the side of your back and shoulders. Repeat on the other side.
  3. Chest: Place your hand on a door frame, tree or solid object and turn so that your arm is straight and raised to the side. Take a step forward to stretch the chest and hold it until the tight feeling subsides and then stretch a little further. Repeat on the other side, or this can be done with both arms at the same time.

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These workouts should keep you busy practising until your next surfing holidays or surf camp stay. If you enjoyed reading this article,  you might also like to check out our Online Surf School

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All of our “Learn to Surf Basics”-Episodes are now online. Learn to surf from the comfort of your own home with our Online Surf School video series. Enjoy!

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