Ian Walsh
© Zak Noyle / Red Bull Content Pool

10 exercises to get in shape for surfing

Some days those workouts include weight training and box jumps, other days, the focus is on flexibility and breathing technique.
By Danielle Atkin
8 min readPublished on
Big wave surfer Ian Walsh has earned a reputation as one of the hardest-working surfers both on and off the water. For Walsh and his trainer, Samantha Campbell, getting in shape for surfing means replicating the unpredictability of the sea and prepping his body for every possible scenario.
“...we recreate the stresses of what it’s like to be held underwater by a wave. Your heart rate is a lot higher, your limbs are flying all over the place. It feels like you’re trying to hold your breath through a car accident with your eyes closed,” says Walsh.
Ian Walsh at the Volcom Pipe Pro on February 4, 2018 in Oahu, Hawaii

Ian Walsh at the Volcom Pipe Pro on February 4, 2018 in Oahu, Hawaii

© Zak Noyle / Red Bull Content Pool

10 Exercises to Get in Shape for Surfing

With pro surfing, there is no real off-season, so the potential for the next good wave is always there. Below, we will look at 10 exercises that you can use to get yourself in peak shape and boost your level of surf fitness for your next trip to the beach.

Single-leg Squats

Squats are great because they activate several muscles, require no equipment, and can be done anywhere. Surfing requires lots of leg strength and stability, and isolating one leg at a time helps improve balance and keeps one leg from doing more work than the other. Start off by planting one foot firmly on the ground and lifting the other leg lifted slightly in front of you. Place your arms out to the side or in front of you for balance, then lower your body as low as you can into a squat position – hips hinged back and core engaged – without losing your form. Slowly return to your starting position and switch sides. Shoot to complete eight to 10 squats on each side. Work your way up to three sets.
Eli Hanneman surfing Teahupoo Tahiti

Eli Hanneman surfing Teahupoo Tahiti

© Domenic Mosqueira / Red Bull Content Pool


Jump squats

Another twist on the traditional squat, jump squats add a jump or leap at the top of the movement. For this exercise, you’ll want to start with both feet planted on the ground about shoulder-width apart. Keeping your chest up and your knees apart, lower yourself into a squat position – a little like you’re planning to sit in an imaginary chair. Drive yourself upward, leaving the ground with the balls of your feet before landing and catching yourself with bent knees and the balls of your feet. You should find yourself in a position to begin another squat jump. Work your way up to three sets of 15 reps each.

Turkish get-ups

The Turkish get-up (sometimes referred to as TGU) can be performed with or without a kettle ball, and beginners should master the complicated move before adding the extra weight. The exercise starts from a starfish position – splayed out on the ground – and ends standing up straight, all while holding a weight up over your head and following an intricate series of motions. It’s worth watching a few YouTube videos or asking a trainer to walk you through it the first time, but once the routine is mastered, it is a great one to keep in the rotation to build shoulder strength and keep yourself injury-free in the lineup. Just two or three reps on each side added to your routine a few days a week can make a huge impact on your surfing.

Dumbbell push-ups

Using dumbbells for push-ups increases the range of motion and allows for a deeper exercise while simultaneously removing some of the stress from the wrists that is often associated with traditional push-ups. These exercises benefit the entire body, but surfers will particularly appreciate the gains in upper body strength that lend to easier pop-ups and duck dives. Start by placing hexagon-shaped dumbbells slightly wider than your shoulders on the ground. Then, while gripping the dumbbells, bend your elbows and tighten your core while lowering yourself from a high-plank position until your chest is as low as you can go without touching the floor. Keep your back straight and your chin up. Once you’ve mastered dumbbell push-ups, there are several variations you can do to make them harder. Complete three sets of 12 reps.

Overhead walking lunges

Hip movement is paramount for surfers, and lunges are a great way to target the lower body while also improving core strength and balance. Adding a weight plate or dumbbell over the head can turn this amazing lower-body workout into a true full-body exercise. Start with your feet about shoulder-width apart, raise the weight up over your head and step forward into a lunge. Keep the weight balanced and centered over your head as you bend your back knee and lower yourself until your thigh is parallel to the ground. Return to your starting position and repeat. Be sure to keep your front knee over the front foot, never in front of it. Complete 10 reps on one side, then 10 on the other side. Work up to three sets on each side.

Exercise ball jackknife

There’s no doubt that surfing requires a strong core and lots of paddling. An exercise ball jackknife is a great option for building strength and flexibility in a crunching motion that combines the hamstrings and shoulders as well. Start off in a push-up position, with your shins resting behind you on the exercise ball. Keeping your back straight and your neck in a neutral position, pull your knees in towards your chest, allowing the ball to roll underneath your legs. Return your legs back to their starting position by pulling your legs in slowly without sagging your back. Complete three sets of 10 reps.
Eli Hanneman surfing Teahupoo Tahiti

Eli Hanneman surfing Teahupoo Tahiti

© Domenic Mosqueira / Red Bull Content Pool


Swim laps

Strong swimming skills are your best bet for staying safe in the ocean. Once you’ve mastered the freestyle stroke, start working your way up to a ten-minute warmup at a comfortable pace. Once you’re fully acclimated to the water, set your clock for a 30 to 40 freestyle workout. Find a pace that pushes you but will allow you to complete your entire workout. Rest for 30 seconds between laps. Once the fatigue begins setting in, push yourself even harder for the final ten minutes, allowing for longer rests of 45 seconds, if needed.


There’s a lot of crossover in yoga and surfing: upper body strength, hand-eye coordination, balance, flexibility, and patience. The breathing and centering techniques learned in yoga can also improve the mental outlook on the board. Whether you opt for an in person class, an online tutorial, or a series of poses, there’s no denying that yoga and surfing are a perfect pairing.

Holding your breath

It cannot be emphasized enough that breath-holding should NEVER take place alone. These exercises should only be performed with a spotter monitoring you and can be deadly without the right precautions. Most surfers will never need to hold their breath for more than 10 to 15 seconds underwater, but that can feel like a long time when you’re being tossed around below the waves. Deep breathing, box breathing, and breath-hold training (slowing your breathing for a minute, then inhaling and holding your breath until you reach your limit) are various techniques that can be practiced on dry land.

Sit-ups & crunches

Surfers are often known for their incredible core strength. Paddling and popping up both require a tremendous amount of abdominal work, and sit-ups and crunches are great options for targeting those ab muscles – no gym or equipment necessary. Both exercises begin with you lying on the ground, knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet flat on the ground. For a sit-up, exhale and lift your upper body off the ground, bringing your chest close to your thighs before slowly lowering back to the starting position. In the case of a crunch, you start in the same position but only lift your head and shoulders from the ground. Both exercises have their pros and cons, and you should decide which is right for you. Whichever you choose, work up to 20 or 30 reps per set. Complete two to three sets.
Mick Fanning at Red Bull Cape Fear in Tasmania, Australia on May 13, 2019

Mick Fanning at Red Bull Cape Fear in Tasmania, Australia on May 13, 2019

© Andrew Chisholm / Red Bull Content Pool

Diet and Rest

It’s important to remember that no fitness routine is complete without a balanced diet of fresh and healthy food, lots of water, and quality sleep. Surfing requires lots of endurance and focus, so it’s important to choose well-balanced meals that will sustain you throughout your time in the water. Specific sleep needs vary by individual, but those that like to catch the early waves should consider heading to bed early to get a proper amount of sleep. One recommendation is seven hours of sleep every night.
Incorporating some of the workouts in this guide into your routine, in addition to getting lots of time on your board in the water, will ensure you’re training like a pro, so you’re ready whenever the ocean next calls you. “Just doing stuff that helps you catch more waves. You've got to have a level of fitness that you can stay out in the water each day for hours on end,” says three-time world champion and Red Bull surfer Mick Fanning. “You've got to be fit!”