Surfing is at best a loose, free and flowing movement, but ultimately repetition of any movement and over use of specific muscle-joint actions can lead to strain. Most surfers will have felt the tightness and/or exposed weaknesses in their lower back, shoulders chest and hips. Vinyasa Yoga is the best cross training for surfers as it will train your body to move as a functional unit, more than any static single floor based exercise.
This sequence will dramatically build core strength, keeping your spine healthy and strong and initiating movements from a firm belly. You will notice a huge difference in your strength, balance and coordination if you practice these moves a couple of times a week - 10-30 second holds is enough for most people. Focus on alignment above depth - less is more ie. keep your leg on the ground, not lifted if it compromises your form. In all of these poses, feel the belly engage by pressing it gently towards the spine. The feeling will be a bit like cinching in around the waist. Secondly, it is useful to feel a slight pelvic tuck, which means you are engaging the belly and preventing a sway back. Keep this activity throughout the poses and feel like movements initiate from the belly. Moving in and out of poses should be slow and deliberate as if part of the poses itself, ie. don’t collapse and lose form, keep strong and hugged in. Repeat each side. In any of the poses that are working the shoulders, ensure the joint is packed in but feels buoyant not compressed. No pose should make you feel strained, if you do, back off, don’t go so deep into it or leave it out altogether. Listen to your own body and build strength slowly over time.
1a. Plank and 1b. Plank leg lift
Light up the front of the body as you engage the core in Plank. From hands and knees, spread hands wide under the shoulders, reach the chest forward and hug the shoulders back into their sockets. Tuck the toes under and exhale to lift the knees, press your heels back but pull your thighs forward. Avoid slumping in the shoulders or hips, drop your knees to the ground if you do. If you can keep good alignment, exhale to lift one leg of the ground with even hips and your thigh still pulling forward into the hip.
2. Elbow plank leg lift
From Plank, lower both forearms to the floor, parallel and with wide spread fingers gripping the mat. Either hold here or if you can keep good alignment, exhale to lift one leg off the ground with even hips and your thigh still pulling forward into the hip.
3a. Cat Hover and 3b. Cat hover Leg Lift
From hands and knees, exhale to either feel like you are going to drag the knees to the hands or if you want a stronger movement exhale to lift and hover the knees of the mat. Keep the belly turned on and a slight pelvic tilt.
4. Side elbow plank
Work the obliques and flank muscles as you become a firm rod along your side. From Cat hover roll onto one forearm and fold it in parallel to the top of the mat. Roll onto the edge of your feet, either with your knee down on the mat or for a stronger movement, both knees lifted and either feet stacked (strongest) or the top foot staggered in front of the bottom foot for easier balance. Inhale to lift the top arm and exhale to press the shoulder blades together. Keep the gaze where you feel balanced and the neck is not strained.
5a. Downward dog and 5b. Downward dog leg lift
Open and strengthen the shoulders whilst lengthening the hamstrings in Down Dog. From Side Plank roll back onto both hands and walk the feet in closer until you make an upside down V. Bend the knees and send the hip creases up and back, only straighten the legs if you don’t round the lower back when doing so. Ensure fingers are actively gripping the mat and shoulders are away from your ears. Try pressing the big toes inwards and pulling the heels apart a bit to release around the lower back. For a much stronger movement try lifting one leg, keeping the pelvis even. For an even stronger movement, with one leg lifted, shift the gaze forward and slowly lift the opposite arm so you are balancing on one arm and leg only.
Boat pose will strengthen the hip flexors too, an important part of the core. Come to sit on the bottom and bend the knees with toes touching. Holding behind the thighs lower the back until you feel the belly engage with a straight back. Keep the chest reaching forward as you reach the arms out in front. Either hold here or raise the legs with bent knees or straight legs (strongest).
Chair pose will connect your core and strengthen the legs. From standing, inhale to raise the arms and exhale to bend the knees and lower the bottom and hug in the shoulders. Find a shape in the back that turns the belly on without overarching or losing the arch in the lower back. Feel the inner thighs engage and keep the chest lifting.
8. Warrior II and 8b. Warrior III
The Warrior signifies strength and power, in fact it’s a spiritual Warrior who is battling her own self ignorance (the source of all suffering). An instant pick me up as you open the front of the body and stimulate the spine.
Warrior II will strengthen the inside of the leg and provide stability on the board in turns. Step the feet wide with the front toes pointing straight ahead and the back foot parallel to the back of the mat. Feel like you are gently drawing the feet and inner thighs in towards each other. Inhale to lift the arms parallel above the legs and exhale to bend into the front knee and soften the shoulders. Keep the front knee over the ankle and tracking toward the middle toe.
From here transition into Warrior III by releasing the arms and stepping the back foot in closer and turning the toes under. Inhale to clasp the hands behind the back and lift the back leg a little, exhale as you gently reach the chest forward and continue to lift the back leg. Just go to the point that you feel balanced and strong even if the foot is close to the ground, keep the thigh hugging into the hip and toes pointing downwards.
9a. 1/2 moon and 9b. 1/2 moon leg lift
From Warrior III, slowly lower the back foot and the bottom arm to the ground. Inhale to lift the back leg a little then exhale to continue lifting the back leg. preferably until it is higher than the hip so it is not pulling the lower back downwards. If the leg doesn’t go above the hip, better to do this with a hand against a wall or chair. If you want stronger movement, try going into the balance without the bottom hand on the ground. Remember going in and out of the pose is key to functional movement an will translate to better balance on the board.
10. Reverse plank
Everyone’s favourite, reverse plank! If you didn’t know how tough it can be to lift your own body weight, reverse plank will tell you! From sitting, place hands behind you fingers facing in and gripping the mat. Either bend the knees and draw the feet closer to the bottom or for a much stronger movement, keep the legs extended. Exhale as you lift the body of the matt, expanding the chest and keeping the hips lifting up.
To release the tummy and back after your awesome core work, recline in fish pose if you don’t have any neck issues. From seated with legs crossed recline onto your elbows with palms facing down and close to your side. Keep the weight mostly in your forearms as you lower the head to the mat. Adjust your head position until it is comfortable, if you are more supple and raise the chest high you will come onto the crown of the head, otherwise you’ll be more towards the back of the head. There should not be any strain.
Have you read Yoga For Surfers: Part One? Check it out here!