Surf’s up: Train to prevent injuries


For those with a deep-seated love of surfing, it is more than just a sport. It becomes something of an addiction, where you find yourself always chasing the next wave. As the sport continues to hold you in its thrall, surfing begins to take priority in your life.

An early start will no longer bother you; instead you see it as an adventure. Fitness becomes fun and the distance you may travel becomes irrelevant. Surfing changes you, it centres you and you begin to live in the present, escaping the stresses of the world cluttered with technology. You are in pursuit of that ultimate perfect wave, a feeling nothing else comes close to.

But be under no illusions, surfing is a physically and mentally demanding sport. Your surfing development and performance is governed by one thing and that is your body. By neglecting this key factor, your surfing will only suffer.

To surf at your best, you must not only fuel your body with the right nutrients, but also complete regular dry land training to assist in the development of the complex movements involved in surfing. And on top of all this, like any sport, injury prevention training is essential to minimise any lack of performance or worse still, the inability to surf.

You may argue that surfing keeps you fit. Yes it sure does. However, as with any sport, injuries are inevitable if you are not physically prepared. Surfers are especially prone to overuse injuries including: muscle imbalances, impingements and tendonopothys, largely due to the repetitive nature of the sport (such as paddling).

Most common injury

Shoulder impingement
Regardless of how you may injure your shoulder (overuse, muscle imbalance, poor posture, overstretching) it will most likely develop a shoulder impingement. It is extremely prevalent in surfing.
Up to 30 percent of amateurs are affected by intermittent shoulder pain. A shoulder impingement can become extremely debilitating as you lose painfree range of motion.
Any overhead movements will begin to aggravate the shoulder. In a repetitive movement like paddling, every stroke will begin to cause pain. The more you paddle, the more pain you will suffer, as the shoulder becomes further inflamed. However, this pain can be easily avoided with the right approach.

So what is a shoulder impingement?
A shoulder impingement occurs when the space in the shoulder joint (subacrominal space) is compromised, due to imbalances in the soft tissue surrounding the shoulder, leading to irritation and inflammation.

Why should you care?
Whether you are presenting with shoulder pain or not, it is a matter of time due to the imbalances that all surfers develop over time. Shoulder impingement is not an injury that will heal on its own.
It is a result of an imbalance, the longer it is the neglected the worse it will become. Even worse, if ignored, it will become harder to overcome. With any overuse injury it is essential to be proactive and take the right steps to ensure optimal function and most importantly get you back out in the water.

Injury mechanism

How does this apply to surfing?
The action of paddling in surfing strengthens the larger muscles around the shoulder.

These muscles become overdeveloped and tight due to extended periods being in a shortened state, while the opposing muscles remain inactive.

This imbalance over time develops irritation and damage to the rotator cuff and can cause the bursa to swell, both of which cause pain, especially in overhead (paddling) movements.

Whether you have presented with shoulder pain or you are currently dealing with an imbalance or impingement, you should be completing these exercises to combat the inevitable imbalances. It should be an essential part of every surfers training programme, regardless of experience.

How to help prevent a shoulder impingement

Where to start?
It is as easy as 10-15 minutes two to four times a week. Follow this routine in order, to first mobilise the shortened/tight muscles to allow full pain-free range of motion. Once mobilised, the focus is on strengthening the lengthened/weaker muscles to rebuild the imbalance. If you feel joint pain at any point, please stop and see a medical professional.

Simply put to overcome a muscle imbalance you must take this approach:
Lengthened = Weaker = Strengthening
Shortened = Tight = Mobilise

surfer exercises

surfer exercises 2

Luke Taylor

Luke Taylor

A REP’s registered personal trainer, with a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science behind him, Luke has worked successfully with a wide range of clients, from children with weight issues to high level athletes.

Passionate about sport and fitness, he has chased his passion around the world, searching for the best surf and snow around. He has also competed at high level in sports including rugby, swimming, and beach volleyball. He is now actively working towards competing in endurance based sports such as triathlons and off-road multi sport events.

“Fitness and health has always been part of my lifestyle,” he says. “Like everyone, I have experienced high and low points, but what I have learned is to never give up and to believe that anything is possible Don’t let life pass you by, get involved.”

Luke’s other credentials and experience include: Trigger Point Performance Foam Rolling; Endorsed Stress Management Provider (SMEAEP); Certified Sports Medic; Certified First Aid; Sports Massage; Assistant Swim Teacher Award (ASTA); Waihi Surf Lifeguard (Bronze Medallion).


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