Surf Specific Exercises

Local Personal Trainer Details Five Exercises for Surf Fitness
By JON COEN | Mar 22, 2019

There was a time, not long ago, that a surfing workout consisted of simply surfing – and then maybe drinking beer.

Even at the highest level of professional surfing, training wasn’t terribly intensive. But things changed in the mid 2000s. To that point, it was just a nonstop party and everyone phased out in their early 30s. Competitive surfers were discovering that they could perform better, avoid injury, and lengthen their careers by improving their diet and fitness.

Suddenly there were trainers and every night didn’t end when the sun came up. Out of nowhere, there were exercise balls at surf contests.

Specialized fitness is huge overall today and many surfers, from young grommets to baby boomers, trying to extend their surfing lives.

There are also more options today than ever before to improve on surf fitness: from traditional gyms, swimming at St. Francis, beach runs and using weights, to the SUP simulator at South End Surf N’ Paddle.

This year, Waterfront spoke to Manahawkin personal trainer Quinn McNicholas of Fitness By Quinn. McNicholas has trained several surfers in the area and has gotten to understand the specifics of what they need to excel, whether that means catching waves on bombing winter storms or simply maintaining their level as they age.

“Today surfers are more fitness oriented. My boyfriend surfs. I’ve been with him for five years. And in that time, I’ve heard a lot more complaints from his friends about their body and pain. They’re actively working to get rid of pain and become more flexible. They’re doing a lot more to tune their body,” she said.

She’s worked with enough to know that most surfers already have low body fat and good body strength, but most need to work on flexibility. Laying on your board with your chest arch, neck strained and lower back compressed takes its toll after some time.

She also sees that many are in what she calls “surf cardio” shape, but when she gives them a jump rope, they get quickly winded.

“I notice that a lot of surfers have tight hip flexors,” said McNicholas right off the bat. “They need to work on opening those, just kneeling with one leg forward and arching the back.”

She also sees a common mistake as surfers doing static stretches before they surf.

“Static stretches signal the body to slow down and rest. It’s what you do for a cool down. Surfers should be doing more swinging movements to activate their muscles and warm up. It gets the joints ready for exercise.”

Locals understand that East Coast surfing won’t keep you in shape. Summer waves are small and those more serious winter swells are inconsistent. You could easily go two to three weeks without getting in the water. That’s not enough to maintain any kind of shape. You have to make the effort to exercise.

You don’t surf to stay fit, you stay fit to surf.

McNicholas feels that staying fit for surfing involves more work out of the water. And while she recommends an elliptical machine, high intensity interval training, and jumping rope, these are five important exercises that are great for waveriders.

She recommends starting with strength training, higher reps and lower weight. Then move on to what McNicholas calls “accessory work.”

Stability Ball Lat Pull


Start with a forearm plank on an inflatable stability or “exercise” ball. Move elbows out from underneath your body with focus on pulling in the lats.

4 sets of 10

Lateral Rotation Slams

Lower body/core/lower back

Start in an athletic stance with feet about shoulder-width apart, holding a medium-sized medicine ball. Bending the knees, stand straight up, raising the ball off the floor, overhead and bringing it down to one side with a slam. Reposition the body with the ball again between the legs. Stand, raise the ball overhead and slam it down on the opposite side.

3 sets of 10

TRX Low Row


With a TRX band in hands and standing in a plank position, pull the TRX into the body keeping the elbows in. Squeeze the shoulder blades at the top of the movement. Repeat.

3 sets of 20

Wall Leg Rotation


Lay on your back with your legs up a wall (the farther from the wall, the more difficult it will be.) Place hands outside the body to stabilize. Slowly bring the legs down to one side, using only the core. Slowly bring the legs to the other side. Go back and forth.

4 sets of 10.

Prone Swimmer

Back/shoulders/glutes/lower back

Lie face down with arms extended overhead. Raise arms and legs off the ground, squeezing the glutes. Pull arms toward your side, mimicking a breast stroke. Relax. Bring arms back up to the top. Repeat.

4 sets of 10.

McNicholas is a certified personal trainer and is available for custom training sessions at her studio or the beach.

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