Surfing: why warm up and improve your physical and mental performance

In my experience of coaching surf and kite sports, everyone benefits from a warm up and cool down. A lot of surfers may not appear to have a warm up routine, but jogging down to the beach and slowly paddling out to the waves is not a bad approximation of a pulse raiser followed by a dynamic warm up. But little routine doesn’t help those that drive to the beach, are taking a lesson, or don’t paddle out as they are still practicing in the white water.

Why warm up?
1. Gently raise the pulse and get the body from a state of rest and digest, to a fight or flight state in preparation for the effort ahead. A slow jog or hopping and skipping is an ideal way to do this.

2. Gradually raise body temperature and get the blood flowing to the muscles, tendons and ligaments, increasing their pliability and so reducing injury. Simple dynamic stretches such as leg swings, arm swings, shoulder shrugs, trunk rotations etc… work well.

3. Fire up the neuro-muscular pathways that connect to the muscles that will be used, a bit like taking a few practice swings in golf. Replicating surfing movements such as lunging and twisting, popping up, paddling, and so on on before you surf will create a better connection between the brain and muscle.

4. Improve balance by ‘switching on’ proprioceptors in your body that tell you where a limb is in relation to everything else. Dynamic balance drills before a surf such as tilting forward on one leg whilst stood on the board do a lot to prepare the mind and body for what lies ahead.

The last two may seem a bit fanciful, but I can tell you they are crucial to success. It might seem natural to assume that spending time on land during a surf lesson instead of in the water is counter-productive, but here’s a little anecdote that might help explain their importance. When I was teaching a lot of kitelandboarding, I would layer the lesson up with a series of drills with the kite only, board only, and then finally kite and board together. Due to the timing of the lesson the kite and board component would last around 15 minutes, which in a two hour lesson might seem quite short. However, if all drills were adhered to this would always result in 15 minutes of smooth success with the client riding on the board with kite power, under control. If any of the drills were skipped, this would result in a longer time for real-world kite and board practice but the success rate would fall off a cliff and the client would instead experience 30 minutes of failure.

Adapting to the surf environment
There are many changes that you can make to your body to prepare to surf better such as increasing cardiorespiratory efficiency, flexibility, and muscle strength and power, but these changes take time, which someone won’t have if they suddenly decide to take their first surf lesson the next morning. It seems to me though that we can change things of a more neurological nature such as coordination, balance and agility pretty quickly, just as you’d expect to see an improvement in a new skill with training over the course of a couple of hours. Examples that non surfers might relate to could include learning to play an instrument, mastering the controls of a video game, or taking a first driving lesson. So, by running through some surf-replication and balance drills on land before hitting the water, you will already be a better surfer than if you just went straight in!

This is why on every Surf Sanctuary lesson we begin with a good warm up routine. The intensity and duration will be varied according to each client, but no is ever sent in ‘cold’ to pick things up on the fly. Do you warm up before a surf and if so what moves have you incorporated into your routine?

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