Surfing Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Surfing stretches to improve your performance and do away with surfing injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published October 14, 2010 | Updated November 13, 2018
Including surfing stretches in your surf training program can bring huge health and fitness benefits. The extensive use of specific muscles in this extreme sport can lead to overuse injuries, and regular surfing stretches will help to minimize the risk of these injuries.
Muscles used in Surfing
Surfing places a large emphasis on the core muscles, as well as the muscles of the arms, shoulders and back. The shoulders and triceps are used while paddling; hamstrings and quads help you to stand up; and the lower back muscles and obliques are used while turning.
- In the upper back, the trapezius, rhomboids and latissimus dorsi muscles are used.
- Among the chest and shoulder muscles, the deltoids, rotator cuff muscles and the pectorals are involved.
- The core muscles, such as the rectus abdominus and obliques, and the spinal erectors are involved.
To properly strengthen and condition all these muscles, surfers should include a series of stretching exercises during their surf training.
Most Common Surfing Injuries
Surfing is a sport with many inherent dangers. Drowning is a major concern in heavy surf. The violent tossing and bouncing in the surf can lead to traumatic injuries to the body. Most injuries in surfing are traumatic in nature. Due to the reliance on weather and surf conditions, rest days are common; allowing for recovery and reducing overuse injuries.
Aside from drowning, a surfer may also get lacerations (the head, legs, and feet), contusions, knee injuries, dislocations (shoulders most common), and skull and facial fractures.
- Lacerations: Contact with the surfer’s own board, another surfer’s board, the ocean floor, rocks, and coral can cause cuts or tears in the skin, also referred to as lacerations. Blood loss, especially while still in the water, is a concern with lacerations. A bigger concern is infection. While attempting to get to a safe place to treat the laceration it is bombarded with infectious materials, in the water and out. Clean the wound well and apply an antibiotic ointment to reduce the chance for infection. Cover it and keep it clean while it heals. Deep or long lacerations may require stitches, or other interventions, to close them.
- Bruises and Contusions: Contact with all of the same hard surfaces can lead to bruises and contusions, as well. A contusion is breaking of the blood vessels without the breaking of the skin. This causes blood to leak into the space under the skin causing swelling, pain and discomfort. It may be tender and discolored. The harder the impact the more tissue may become involved. Deeper contusions may cause damage to muscle tissue and, in severe cases, could lead to compartment syndrome. Ice, rest, and compression may help.
- Knee Sprain: Any of the ligaments in the knee are subject to sprain in the surfer. The most common sprains include the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL.) The ACL is often torn when the foot and lower leg are planted but the upper leg rotates. The MCL is commonly sprained by contact or violent movement of the board. The severity of the sprain is determined by the amount of tearing present in the ligament, with the worst being a complete rupture. Minor sprains may take 2 to 3 weeks for recovery, while a complete tear may take 8 weeks. Ice, immobilization, and NSAIDs will help with recovery.
- Subluxations/Dislocations: When being thrown around in the water, like clothes in the spin cycle, the body is subjected to a lot of forces. The shoulder and other joints are often forcefully moved through and beyond their normal range of motion. This can cause a partial, subluxation, or complete dislocation. When the bones of the joint are pulled out of their normal position, and do not return, they are dislocated. A dislocation usually requires medical attention to reduce it back to the normal position. Ice, immobilization, and immediate medical attention should be the regular course of action. Even if the joint returned to normal on its own, there may be ligament and tendon damage and should be seen by a physician. Recovery usually takes 4 to 6 weeks, depending on severity.
- Skull and Facial Fractures: Forceful impact with the board or other hard object can cause fractures to the skull. The fractures may occur anywhere, including the face. The immediate danger with this type of injury is involvement with brain tissue. Bleeding into the cranial cavity and damage to the eyes, ears, and spinal cord are also concerns. Any fracture, or suspected fracture, to the skull is an immediate medical emergency. Do not move a person suspected of a skull fracture, except to remove them from the water.
Injury Prevention Strategies
A conditioning program with focus on strengthening the core muscles for balance and flexibility training to reduce injuries will help the surfer stay on top.
- Knowing the limits of your ability and avoiding surf that is too big or rough will help prevent a lot of injuries.
- Learning and practicing swimming skills in rough surf will also keep the surfer safe, as well as providing a base of overall conditioning.
- A solid weight training program with strengthening exercises for all of the muscles will help protect the bones and joints from the impacts and violent tossing involved when wiping out.
- Proper equipment and clothing while surfing will also protect the body from many of the hidden dangers on the seas.
- A solid stretching program to increase overall flexibility will prepare the body for the many awkward positions it may end up in while rolling in the surf. It will also help increase overall conditioning for the surfer.
The Benefits of Surfing Stretches
Surfing trainers and surfers alike have emphasized the necessity and multiple benefits of proper surfing stretches. This makes it all the more important for you to include a suitable routine in your surf training program. Here are some benefits of a good routine:
- Improved Body Control: Regular surfing stretches will improve body control and balance, which is a very important factor in surfing. It also helps to improve body awareness, posture and coordination.
- Reduced Risk of Injury: When you stretch, you increase the limit to which your muscles can move without causing you injury. Regularly stretching reduces the risk of injury by improving range of motion.
- Reduced Fatigue: Surfing as a sport requires a lot of vigorous activity, resulting in fatigue. However, stretching can delay the onset of fatigue; for every working muscle, there is an opposing muscle. If the opposing muscles are flexible, the working muscle will not have to exert a lot of force, leading to reduced fatigue.
Despite the numerous benefits, it is important to bear in mind that stretching can have detrimental effects when done incorrectly. Improperly done stretches can over time cause permanent damage to ligaments and joint. When performing the stretching exercises below, be sure to warm up first and if any of the exercises cause pain or severe discomfort, discontinue immediately. Review my article on the rules for safe stretching for more information.
The Top 3 Surfing Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for surfing; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Lying Knee Roll-over Stretch: While lying on your back, bend your knees and let them fall to one side. Keep your arms out to the side and let your back and hips rotate with your knees.lean forward.
Kneeling Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.
Kneeling Heel-down Achilles Stretch: Kneel on one foot and place your body weight over your knee. Keep your heel on the ground and lean forward.
Watch the Surfing Stretches below
Click on the play button below to watch the 10 minute surfing stretching exercises video.
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About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.