As the summer surf season in Nicaragua brings bigger swell and bigger waves, it is a perfect time to remember the importance of being consistent with proper warm-ups and mobility exercises before you try to charge the waves with a body that is not adequately primed for fluid and safe movement. Getting a routine that you commit to following before you paddle out will not only set you up to surf better, but reduce the risk of injuries that can end up keeping you out of the water. To increase the longevity of your surfing…make it a choice to be proactive about how you treat and support your body, rather than having to be reactive with rehabbing from injuries because you were too stubborn or impatient to do it the right way. (Coming from an occasionally stubborn and impatient person myself)!
With over 8 years experience as a licensed physical therapist assistant, I know one thing: people are bad at doing what they know they should do! I have learned that majority of people need a simple, succinct, and reasonable routine to follow or they just simply will not be consistent. With that said, here are my top 5 pre-surf mobility moves that you can do easily on the beach in less than 5 minutes while you survey the waves and get mentally prepped for the paddle out. You know what they say, you can lead a horse to water….
#1 The Basic Squat
This go-to exercise is hard to beat. Not only will a squat use the larger muscles in the legs which gets the blood pumping, but it mobilizes the hips, knees, and ankles…which are all necessary for proper mechanics for your surf pop-up, stance, and maneuvers. Stand with your feet at least hip distance apart and ground evenly through your feet. Bend your knees and slightly shift your chest forward and your hips back so your heels stay grounded and you reduce pressure on the knees. Maintain the knees in alignment with the middle of each foot and avoid caving the knees inward. Perform 10-20 reps with a gradual increase in depth as your body warms up, and focus on the muscle activation rather than just repping out movements. With a little increase in body heat, the muscles become more pliable and agreeable to stretching for the rest of our short sequence.
#2 Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana) into Half Splits (Ardha Hanuman)
Now that the legs are slightly warmed up, you can flow easily into a low lunge/half splits combo. This is an excellent way to stretch the hip flexors and hamstrings. To perform, step one leg back, then gently rest the back knee down while keeping your front knee stacked over the ankle. (Fig 1) Protect your low back by drawing your abdominals inward and slightly tuck your tailbone down towards the floor. Hold here for 5-10 seconds and breath into the stretch, then shift back to a half splits position, keeping your spine neutral and body stable. Hold here for another 5-10 seconds while you stretch through the hamstrings with a soft knee and squared hips. (Fig 2) Repeat this combo on the other side.
#3 Downward Facing Dog (Ahdo Muhka Svanasana)
If you have ever done a yoga class, most likely you are very familiar with this pose. This yoga pose is an excellent complement to prepping the body for surfing, as it promotes extension of the spine (good for paddling position), activation of the core and shoulder stabilizer muscles (excellent for both paddling and pop-ups), and a stretch for the hamstrings and calves (reduces cramping in calves and aids mobility for your surf stance). Additionally, it decompresses your spine and promotes overall circulation. To perform, plant your palms on the ground shoulder distance apart with all ten fingers spread wide. Keep your knees bent and press your hips up and back toward the sky. Focus first on lengthening your spine, and then alternate straightening one knee at a time, “walk it out” to increase the hamstring and calf stretch. It is important to avoid rounding the back (defeats the whole purpose), and instead work gradually into the legs becoming straighter.
#4 The 90/90 Pilates Mermaid Stretch (with a twist)
This is an excellent exercise because it not only introduces internal and external rotation in the hip joint (ball and socket), but also thoracic rotation. When there is adequate mobility in the hips and mid back (thoracic spine), then there are reduced forces transmitted to the low back (lumbar spine) where many injuries commonly occur. Your surf maneuvers and turns are only as good as your hip and back mobility.
To perform this stretch, sit down with both knees bent to approximately 90 degrees and hips rotated toward the same direction. (pictured below). It may feel like you are falling toward one side, so use your arms to support you and intentionally sit upright. To begin, sit up tall with a strong core as you inhale, then twist your torso and reach your arm across your body towards the opposite side as you exhale. Perform the same counter rotational movement and do 5 reps in each direction and then repeat the sequence with the legs positioned in the opposite direction. Stay fluid but controlled in your movements, connected to your breathing, and mindful of not hunching your back into a rounded position. Check out this quick video to get a great demo from one of our favorite Prehab Guys.
#5 Broken Wing Pose (or Open Wing Pose)
My personal FAVORITE!! Based in Yin Yoga, this pose is excellent for opening up the front of the shoulder, pecs, and biceps, while also adding a nice thoracic rotation stretch and a slight hip flexor stretch. If we tend to have more of a hunched posture or tightness across the chest, the mechanics of the shoulder while paddling suffer and there are increased stresses placed on the rotator cuff tendons. To perform, lie on your stomach and extend your right arm either straight out to a 90 degree angle (or slightly higher, personal preference) with the palm facing down. Place your left hand on the ground near your left shoulder and roll onto your right side until you feel a stretching sensation in the right side of your chest. To intensify the stretch, you can also bend your left knee and place the foot back behind the right side (slightly tuck your tailbone down to prevent stress on lumbar spine). Hold for 10-15 seconds and repeat on the other side.
While there are so many ways to incorporate yoga for surfers, pilates for surfers, and physical therapy concepts for surfers, having a set routine as a pre-surf warm-up that you actually do is key. Try this surf mobility routine before you go out next time and let me know how you feel! And come to Nicaragua to enjoy the summer surf season where I can guide you personally and then enjoy those warm-water, uncrowded waves together. Nicaragua is a perfect affordable surf travel destination that remains unspoiled by excessive tourism. Check out our totally customizable options of retreats, getaways, group travel, and book your tropical adventure with us today!
-Kate, Co-Founder of Room to Roam
Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant
Certified Yoga and Pilates Instructor