Pilates for Surfers

One of the major drawcards of surfing is perhaps the unpredictability of the ocean. No two surf sessions are ever exactly alike, as the outcome is largely dependent on factors outside yourself. All you need to do is show up and stick with it. Paddle, paddle and paddle is what it’s all about, as a surf instructor once told me. On average about 95 – 96% of time in the surf is spent cricking your neck for waves, paddling towards more promising spots and avoiding collisions with those new to the sport. It’s a surprising amount of time, really, and based on actual research – I didn’t just make that up! Click here to find out more.

But even though the majority of time is spent honing our patience and perseverance rather than catching epic waves worthy of lengthy recalls over beers with our mates, surfing is hugely enjoyable. Crappy surf, tough conditions or crowded breaks quite often still look much better than what’s happening on terra firma. It’s a great sport to get away from it all and quieten the mind. (And shut out even the good distractions like the girlfriend waiting at the beach.) But quite often, what’s good for the mind isn’t always quite as good for the body. I’m not saying at all that surfing is bad for your body. One look at the guys and girls parading their boards and bods up and down Manly Beach will tell you it can’t be THAT bad.. But similar to a brilliantly boozy night out in the Cross where you go too long, end up at the kebab shop at 4am and in bed with a massive headache, dodgy tummy and no desire whatsoever to know the name of the girl next to you, surfing can also bring home some unwelcome guests.

While surfing strengthens your upper body – not so much your lower body unless if you do tow-in surfing or kick your legs as if you were a clubbie or perhaps revert to stand-up-paddleboards – it also places strain on various parts of your body that are rarely used in a lying-down-on-a-board-extending-your-upper-body kind of way. (Which brings us neatly back to the girl from the Cross?)

On a more serious note, the shoulders and neck really cop it in surfers with nerve impingements, overuse or strain injuries (leading to reduced range of motion) right at the top of the list of complaints, followed closely by lower back pain and stiffness and associated weak abdominal strength. The good news is that there are a variety of things you can do, like exercises for injury prevention and management. Below are my top five Pilates shoulder exercises to help with muscular imbalances, strain and pain around the neck, shoulders and shoulderblades.

Contact me via bookings@solwalkling.com if you’d like to ask any question.

You’ll need: a flexband and a pole/ doorknob/ tree

Starting position: Feet in line with hips, even weight, gently engaging your core, pelvis in neutral, arms by sides.

Nerve Stretch: Drop your left ear to left shoulder and push through the heel of the right hand. After 20 seconds, tilt nose 45 degrees down, hold. Then 45 degrees up. Repeat on other side.

Mid Back Stretch: Bring elbows and palms of hands together in front of your chest. Elbows chest height, shoulderblades flat against back, neck long (nose pointing straight forwards!). INHALE as you raise your arms up. Keep them connected as long as possible, keep shoulders down, shoulderblades set. Reach arms up all the way but keep shoulders down.Then, EXHALE, open elbows to sides and lower arms with elbows facing back

Shoulder internal rotation and adduction: Pole by side, band in one hand, elbow bent 90 degrees. open and close your elbow pulling the band towards you, elbow moving as if on tabletop, upper arm not moving sideways, just rotating and shoulder and shoulderblades still. Then, keep ninety degree angle at elbow, and imagine your rubbing your tummy with palm facing in as you pull the band in. Shoulder and shoulderblade remain still.

Shoulder external rotation and abduction: Switch hands, keeping pole on same side and rotate hand out, then move bent elbow out and up as if elbowing someone standing to your side. REPEAT BOTH with pole on other side.

Shoulder Push Up Standing: Pole behind you with band tied around, take the band in both hands and push hands out in line with shoulders. Don’t allow your shoulders to lift or shoulderblades to move out.

Sol Walkling Shot By Kuva PhotographyIn all exercises work on control and form rather than working on heavy load. Shoulderblades should remain flat where possible. Neck continues the natural long line of the spine – do not flex or extend excessively. Keep your core gently engaged and lifting. Feet grounded and legs active. Keep a feeling of your collarbones spreading out wide.


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  • i thoroughly enjoyed this post, i now have additional daily surf exercises..bless! chris

    • solwalkling

      That’s great, Chris! Let me know if you want any more! Sol x