Among the physical qualities that surfers train for to improve their surfing, one of the most important is flexibility. It’s the reason pro surfers do stretches and take up yoga, and the reason they can do things on water that most mortals just dream of.
The value of flexibility
If you’ve ever watched professional surfers do their thing on video or in real life, you’ve likely marveled at the ease with which they power their boards through turns or snap around on the edge of a lip, releasing those gratifying volumes of spray. And you probably wonder how they can do it without pulling a muscle or overstraining a joint.
Flexibility is key. Yes, you need strength and power, but if your body isn’t loose and and trained for a good range of motion, twisting your upper and lower body in opposing directions with great energy and speed is an injury just begging to happen.
Consider, too, when you wipe out on a wave. At those times, you might have little control over the contortions your body is forced into, so being flexible again can save you from being seriously hurt.
There are other reasons the best surfers take time to exercise for flexibility when they’re out of the water.
Besides preventing injury, flexibility exercises can also give you better control and balance, making you more aware of your body and improving your posture and coordination.
Flexibility can also delay fatigue in surfing. Each working muscle is paired with an opposing muscle, and when the opposing muscles are flexible, the working muscles need less energy to move.
Note: If you’ve had any recent injury or complain of pain in parts of your body, it’s best to seek medical advice before adopting any stretching routine.
Presuming the muscles you will be stretching are healthy and without recent trauma, stretch coach Brad Walker suggests the following stretching guidelines:
Warm up before stretching. This can consist of head to toe joint rotations and five minutes of jogging. This will raise the temperature of your muscles and make them more supple.
Stretch slowly and gently. (No bouncing) This will relax your muscles and make stretching more enjoyable, as well as prevent muscle tears and strains that quick, jerky movements might cause.
Stretch only till you feel tension. Stretching is not meant to be painful.
Take slow, deep breaths while stretching. Holding your breath will cause tension, making it hard to stretch. Breathe slowly and easily. This will relax and increase blood flow to your muscles.
When to stretch
Stretching is recommended before and after surfing so as to optimize performance, improve range of motion and decrease the risk of cramps or injury. It will also help muscles recover quicker in preparation for the next surf.
Stretching before a surf should be kept light, with a maximum time of seven to 10 seconds per stretch. Note, long slow-duration hold stretching before surfing can sedate your nervous system and actually hurt your performance.
After a surf you can do longer stretches, easing your muscles back to a pre-exertion state. Post surfing is also a good time for those yoga poses.
Surf Strength Coach’s Cris Mills maintains that if you can’t move well, you can’t surf well. He stresses dynamic flexibility within the interconnected muscle and fascia that create large movement patterns in order to surf with style.
Here are some dynamic stretches Mills recommends as a warmup for surfers.
Below are some stretches he does after heavy surfs as well as in the mornings before breakfast to loosen up overall.
Yoga for surfing
If yoga is to your taste, you’re in good company. Among the well-known surfers who practice yoga are big wave chasers Greg Long and Alex Martins, 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater, Malia Manuel, Coco Ho, and “Mr. Pipeline”, Gerry Lopez.
Here are some yoga stretches you can do after surfing:
Whatever flexibility regimen you decide to take up, consistency is key, so keep at it and take pleasure in the results you get. Enjoy your exercises, enjoy your improved fitness, and especially enjoy the improvement you see in your surfing.
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