Molly Picklum performs at Gold Coast, Australia on January 30, 2021.
© Andrew Shield/Red Bull Content Pool

8 Essential Surfer Exercises That Help Increase Endurance

Surfing is a full-body sport that requires training and discipline. Here are eight strength-building exercises to increase your endurance on the water and keep you surfing longer and better.
By Tom Elliott
6 min readPublished on
Having evolved from humble beginnings to huge mainstream popularity, surfing is and probably always will be a highly enjoyable and rewarding pastime. Being alone on your board with nothing around you aside from water, finally finding that perfect wave and getting on top of it will give you the highest natural high.

A Brief History of Surfing

Three princes from Hawaii, where surfing originated, brought their redwood boards to Santa Cruz, California, in July 1885 and rode the waves in the bay of the San Lorenzo River. In 1907, George Freeth of Hawaii went to California to demonstrate surfing techniques. Two years later, surfing began on the East Coast on Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. The culture and sport of surfing spread all over the world. Today, major competitions in the United States are held in Hawaii, California, Virginia, and Florida.
Emily Erickson surfs on her home turn in Waimea Bay on Oahu.

Emily Erickson in Waimea Bay

© Maria Fernanda

The Most Effective Surfer Exercises

Surfing is obviously fun, but it's also very demanding on the body. Being able to enjoy it to the fullest not only requires practice and discipline but also high levels of strength and endurance. Here are the best surfer exercises you can do to improve your fitness and endurance.


Getting up on a surfboard and keeping your balance has more to do with your upper body than you might think. Few things are more annoying for a surfer than spotting a good wave and missing it because they couldn't paddle or get up quickly enough. This is where upper-body training makes all the difference. One of the best exercises for surfers is doing chin-ups.
If you don't already routinely do chin-ups, you should start by using a chin-up bar. Grab the bar with your hands right above your shoulders and let yourself hang. From this starting position, proceed to lift yourself until your chin gets above the bar. Ideally, you should do two sets of six reps each, with a minute's break between them. If you can't do that yet, start with as many and you can and work your way up to it over time.
Chin ups are a great way to build strength for Red Bull Neptune Steps

Chin ups are a great way to build strength for Red Bull Neptune Steps

© Hanne Marie Lenth Solbø


Front squats

A correct squat pattern is also crucial for quickly getting up on that board and staying there. Doing front squats will not only improve your surfing technique but will also do wonders for your posture and endurance.
Each workout should include three sets of 12 squats each. You can start adding squats to your surf workout by using only your own bodyweight. Then, once you've mastered a squat pattern, you can add extra weight to further develop your lower back, ankles, knees, and hip area.
Squats and more squats — no pain, no gain

Squats and more squats — no pain, no gain

© Meagan Ethell


Running exercises

Any endurance-building exercise routine includes lots of cardio, including those for surf fitness. The most straightforward way to increase your physical endurance is to simply go out there and run, as often as you can and for as long as you can. This will improve your lung capacity, keep you at optimum weight, and strengthen your legs, all of these being necessary if you want to be out there catching waves for hours.
Ideally, you should have a set running routine, such as half an hour three times a week. If your time and schedule don't allow for this, you can still get the benefits of running by doing it in short bursts of speed instead of long and moderate runs. Just 10 minutes of intense speed bursts with short periods of rest between them will do wonders for your endurance.
Woman running on the street

Increase your physical endurance with a run

© Alfred Jürgen Westermeyer/Red Bull Content Pool



The pushup is the Swiss Army knife of strength and fitness exercises, as it works on multiple muscle groups at once. Building your upper body and core strength will do you a world of good as you paddle your way to a wave, go for a duck dive, and quickly pop up on the surfboard. Also, doing pushups regularly and correctly will help you stay clear of any shoulder injuries.
Once you get a feel of how a correct pushup is done, you can start by doing as many as you can and gradually increase that number as your fitness goes up. If you feel like making them more challenging, you can elevate your legs or add some weight to your back.
An athlete does a push-up in the gym.

Any pushing will use a combination of chest, shoulders and triceps.

© Courtesy of Ben Longley


Mobility drills

Mobility is a big part of endurance because the more natural your body movements are, the less energy you use while doing them. It's also an element that tends to quickly fade away as we advance in age or transition to a less dynamic lifestyle.
Working on your mobility for just 10 minutes before every workout will keep you agile for many years to come. Make sure to gently stretch and rotate your ankles, hips, spine, neck, and shoulders, but be careful not to overdo it, as you're not fully warmed up yet.
Ryan Sandes is seen during final preparation before leaving for the Great Himalaya Trail FKT attempt in Cape Town, South Africa on February 19, 2018.

Make time for mobility drills

© Kolesky/Nikon/Red Bull Content Pool


Dumbbell drills

Using dumbbells instead of fixed resistance fitness machines is a better method of training for surfers, as they mimic the dynamic nature of surfing. They're also incredibly versatile, as you can find a dumbbell-based exercise for virtually any muscle group.
You can increase your arm and upper-body strength with deadlifts, one-arm swings, and even bench presses. Bending over at a 90-degree angle and doing rowing movements with a dumbbell in each hand will increase your core and back strength. Start by doing five reps per arm and work your way up as you increase your strength. You can also do pushups and squats while holding dumbbells, as well as seemingly endless variations for every part of your body.
Brook Macdonald performs a single arm dumbbell press for Red Bull Fit 2019.

Single arm dumbbell press

© Brad Hanson



As we mentioned before, having a strong core is essential to your endurance and surfing technique. Although from the outside it looks like you're not doing much, planking is extremely hard to do for more than a few seconds and fires up every muscle in your body.
Doing it right is simply a matter of positioning yourself belly-down as you would when doing pushups, but instead of pushing yourself up and down, you simply keep your body perfectly straight while supporting yourself with your forearms. Keep it up for as long as you can and as often as you can, and pretty soon you'll feel the results.
The perfect poise for a plank.


© Dan Sheridan/INPHO



Swimming is a great exercise that works the muscle groups you use paddling on your surfboard and in a similar pattern of movement. Swimming will also improve your cardiovascular abilities as discussed above in the running section but with the added benefit of also refining your breath control and lung capacity.
Whether swimming laps in a pool or out in the open water you can mix up your program to cater for long sessions or intermittent faster sprints to cater for all experiences you'll encounter when surfing.
Kristian Blummenfelt swimming during a training camp in Sierra Nevada, Spain on March 28, 2018.


© Gines Diaz/Red Bull Content Pool

Any physical activity gets more fun as you build up your fitness levels, and surfing is no different. Having a constant fitness routine that focuses on all these exercises will dramatically improve your surfing endurance, and pretty soon you'll be able to ride the waves for hours on end.

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