Core strength, stability and power are key attributes in good surfing. Practically every part of surfing utilizes the core. When you paddle, when you pop up on your board, when you balance, when you direct your board on a wave, your core is working. Thus it makes good sense to train for a strong and stable core.
Great-looking abs do not equal a strong core. Core activity in surfing targets muscles throughout your trunk, not just the abs. Core stability training, for example, mostly works out the transverse abdominis, a corset-like muscle that encases the belly. This lies below the visible muscles of your stomach, so a prominent six-pack is not, as some might believe, an indication of a good, stable core.
Good core training in surfing does not work out muscles in isolation, so endless crunches will benefit you little. Effective surf core training works out the core in integration with the upper and lower body, strengthening it for the turning, twisting motions involved in surfing.
Now, given that surfing is a dynamic sport, some surfing enthusiasts think they should jump straightaway into very mobile core exercises, which is also a mistake. To avoid injury while training your core, work first on stability. Only when you have a stable core should you progress to core exercises with a lot of movement.
Core stability is a measure of how well your torso muscles protect your spine, whether you are able to keep your spine neutral (without too much rounding or arching) and how well your lower and upper body can move together. Surfing requires exertions of great power and strength with large dynamic movements, and stability will let you perform these without injuring yourself.
To test your core stability, trainer Nick Holte recommends the following tests:
1. Can you touch your toes, keeping both back and legs straight?
2. Can you perform a pushup with no movement in your lower back?
3. Can you simultaneously extend an opposite arm and leg, then touch elbow to opposite knee while keeping your balance?
If you fail any of the above, your core stability needs work. A couple of simple exercises, without equipment, can help stabilize your core:
Once you’ve got those exercises down pat, you can progress to intermediate exercises like the following plank variations:
Mastery of these can be followed by advanced core training such as rollouts and pikes with a Swiss ball:
Part of the stability that the core provides in surfing is preventing over-extension or too much motion in any direction that could hurt the spinal cord. Surfing also can require fast changes of direction, even quick shifts of movement in an opposite direction, so surfers can benefit from anti-rotation exercises such as the Paloff Press.
Rotational core training
Once you’ve built a good foundation of core stability, you’re ready to work on dynamic core strength. This is where rotational motion comes in, mimicking the sort of movements you’ll need while surfing.
Surf Strength Coach’s Cris Mills suggests the Russian twist, an exercise using a Swiss ball, to develop the core for side-to-side rotational movements.
Renegade rows are a very adaptable exercise for developing rotational core strength while also working out the upper body.
Mills also highly recommends exercises using the cable machine, either kneeling or standing, to strengthen core muscles for the sweeping, rotational motions that surfers use to paddle and to turn on their boards.
These examples should give you a good idea of the sort of workout you need as a surfer to develop your core.
A parting reminder: work first on achieving that core stability, and only after should you get into progressively more dynamic core workouts. This will keep your training and your surfing productive as well as pain and injury-free.
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