Pilates For Surfers


As a self-proclaimed white-wash surfer (I'll be on the green waves in no time, promise), I'm at the beginning of my surfing journey. And while many of you reading this are more skilled than I am, I am lucky in one regard - the knowledge and training I have through Pilates is helping my body stay as injury free as possible while out there attempting to catch waves.

So, how does Pilates help surfing? To the untrained eye, they couldn't be more different (land/ocean, paddle/stay mostly still etc), but the principles of Pilates only help to build a strong base from which to surf on.

At it's most simple, Pilates is a core-centred workout that focuses on building strength, flexibility AND awareness, and as a surfer there is nothing more important than being aware of what parts of your body are working to get you from lying down, to riding those waves. So, let's break it down into body parts to really understand what's going on from the head to the toes, and how we can tailor our Pilates practice for our surfing.

1) Neck and Head Positioning

Cara-Lee recently did a great Instagram posts on this (here) but basically what we want to think about here is NOT straining through the neck, but LIFTING through the chest and thoracic spine (mid-back). Using pilates moves like Swan (safe back extension) we can safely strengthen and mobilise those back extensors, so you have the range to lift, and the strength to maintain it as you fatigue.

2) Shoulders

Ahhhh the shoulders, either a surfers strongest asset, or biggest cause of grief, which is not surprising considering the amount of work they do and how quickly we can fatigue when we're not using them optimally. We've done a whole blog series on surfing shoulder mobility & strength here but this is something we can easily work with on the Pilates reformer. In a kneeling position (core working to stabilise) we can do a front facing or side facing shoulder series that will get all those little muscles working correctly.

3) Lower Back

Through general life habits, your lower back can either be overactive (used to bending back and loading up) or stiff, both of which can hinder your surfing. If you feel a 'pinching' sensation in your lower back after time on your board, then your abs are getting lazy and not doing their job of supporting you in that extension. If you can't even get a lift through the lower back due to stiffness, then you're going to struggle with your pop-up. So, how do we help these? Essentially ANY exercise in Pilates works on core stability and strength, but we can fine-tune it and make it surf specific by doing work in that prone (face down) position such as pulling straps series and using the core to stabilise and support. For lower back mobility, we love a good mermaid and cat/cow series.

4) Hips

If you're struggling with your pop-up, and you're relatively strong through your upper body, you might want to take a moment and check in with your hip mobility and strength. To effectively and smoothly pop-up, we need to have strength in our hip flexors and glutes as well as the mobility to land in that squat position. Honestly the best moves for this is to actively practice your pop up on land (replace your burpees for pop ups in a warm up!), and also to practice your primitive squat (check out our blog post on that here). On the reformer, we can work your glutes in all sorts of hip positions so the hips strengthen & mobilise at the same time, and we can also add in everyone's favourite hip flexor stretch.

5) Feet & Ankles

Lastly, something that is often felt by surfers is that they feel 'stuck' in their ankles, or like they lack the ability to really go as low as they want to when crouching. Ankle mobility is something that is often overlooked, but so important. A good test of ankle mobility is the knee to wall test (here). On the reformer, we can really challenge your ankle mobility and stability through a wide range of exercises - from specific exercises like supine heel raises, to more whole-body stability work with curtsey lunges.

Want to give pilates a go for your surfing? Book in online here to see our Pilates instructor Kate, or one of our Physio's today, or call us (08) 9448 2994.

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