Girl surfing a wave in Costa Rica

Get Fit for Surfing: 10 Exercises That Make Learning to Surf Way Easier

Get Fit for Surfing: 10 Exercises That Make Learning to Surf Way Easier

If you want to paddle for longer and improve your ability to stand up on a surfboard, then getting fit for surfing is the way to go! Below are 10 at-home exercises developed by lifelong surfers and personal trainers to make learning to surf easier.

Getting fit for surfing isn’t about shedding weight or getting rock-hard abs, although those things might happen too.

Getting fit for surfing is all about helping you to maximize your learn to surf experience.

It makes surfing more enjoyable and more fun.

Plus, getting fit for surfing also minimizes your risk of injury (because the last thing you want is to hurt yourself on the first day of a week-long surf trip).

So, if you would like to do everything possible to improve your surfing, a pre-trip surf fitness routine that includes strength, balance and endurance exercises is key.

Click here for a quick introduction to surf fitness or read all about it in this definitive guide.

Group of friends walking along a Costa Rican beach at sunset

A beginner’s guide to surf fitness

Before we launch into the good stuff, let’s take a peek at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding beginner surfers and surf fitness.

As always, the Surf Expedition team is happy to answer any further queries you may have. So feel free to reach out if you have questions.

Are there exercises that can get me fit for surfing?

The best way to build up your surf fitness is to surf.

That being said, there are a bunch of excellent exercises you can do at home that more or less mimic surf movements.

We’ll discuss these in-depth below, but essentially, they’re designed to ready your body for all aspects of surfing.

This includes working your upper body muscles, improving range of motion and ultimately fine-tuning your surf movements.

How fit do I need to be to learn surfing?

Funnily enough, you don’t need to be that fit to learn surfing for the first time.

Our experienced coaches can teach anyone how to master the basics. We also have a great selection of surfboards that cater to surfers of all skill levels and body shapes.

In saying that, having at least some level of fitness will definitely make learning to surf easier. And as anyone who’s gone through the learn to surf process before will tell you, it can be quite hard on the body.

But don’t let that put you off.

As a rule of thumb, if you can complete a popup on land, you should be able to get to your feet on a surfboard.

It’s also worth mentioning that surfing is for all age groups.

It doesn’t matter if you’re 15, 35 or 50+.


With the right waves and the right coaching, learning to surf is possible!

Will being in shape really improve my surfing?

Yes and no.

Like we said before, being in shape can facilitate a faster learning process. This is because you’ll be better prepared to meet the physical demands of surfing.

However, if you’re really serious about standing up on a surfboard and riding your first waves, you can do it no matter how fit you are.

This is because we coach in small batches (3-4:1 student to instructor ratio), which means that you’ll receive a great deal of attention throughout your session.

Plus, based on our experiences running surf retreats, this personalized approach offsets any differences in natural ability or fitness between students.

Can I do a surf workout at home or do I need a gym membership?

That’s the great thing about surf workouts – you don’t actually need all that much to get started in terms of equipment.

A yoga mat is the bare minimum that you’ll need.

From there you can add different types of equipment as you see fit. For example: elastic stretch bands, kettlebells, trainers, foam rollers etc.

Really though, a yoga mat and a list of the strength, balance and endurance exercises we’ve outlined below will do the trick.

So don’t worry about joining a gym before you fly to Costa Rica.

With a little bit of discipline, you can become surf fit from the comfort of your living room.

Which muscles do we focus on when it comes to surf fitness exercises?

Surfing involves using the whole body.

From carrying your board down to the shoreline to paddling, popping up and riding a wave, a combination of both large and small muscle groups is being engaged.

This means that when undertaking surf fitness training, we should try to incorporate exercises that involve whole areas of the body.

Shoulder, chest, upper back and arm exercises will help with paddling.

These same areas plus your core will also assist with the popping up action.

When it comes to actually riding the whitewash or a green wave though, your hips and legs will do most of the heavy lifting.

Of course, there’s always some overlap when it comes to surf-related movements. And a strong core is always beneficial.

Isolating a single muscle, such as the bicep, also has its place.

This is especially true if you’re recovering from a specific injury or you feel an imbalance in one part of your body.

Visit this page for more info about preparing for your first surf trip.

Get fit & push your limits at our surf coaching retreats in Costa Rica

11 key strength, balance and endurance exercises for surfers

Now that we’ve arrived at the nitty-gritty of our “Get Fit for Surfing” guide, it’s time to explore *10 key exercises for surfers.

As you can see, we’ve broken them up into strength, balance and endurance categories.

To get the most out of your pre-surf trip training routine, we recommend blending exercises from all three categories.

When going through these movements, also keep in mind that your focus should be on correct posture and control.

Training for surfing isn’t about pushing your limits or wrecking yourself during every session.

You’re not competing for a spot on the world tour.

Also bear in mind that these exercises should be fun. Otherwise, you’re not going to do them.

Train with a friend. Take before and after pictures to track your progress. Throw on a podcast while working through a session.

Whatever you can do to make training more enjoyable will help you to stick with it.

* These exercises might not be suitable for you. To reduce the risk of injury, consult your doctor before beginning this or any other exercise routine.

A quick note

Most, but not all these exercises are designed to be performed as bodyweight exercises.

This means you don’t need to use any weights.

If you do want to include weights into any of the applicable movements below, you might be wondering how many repetitions and sets are necessary.

For those who don’t know, repetitions (or reps) refer to the number of times that you repeat one exercise. Several reps of a specific exercise in a row is what we call a set.

In order to train for surfing, we recommend that you aim for a rep range of 6-12 reps per set and 3-5 sets per exercise with a rest time of 60-90 seconds between sets.


Woman getting fit for surfing by doing a pushup


The pushup is a classic for a reason.

Not only does it strengthen your arms, shoulders, upper back and chest (key areas for surfers), but it also aligns your spine and stabilizes your core.

By incorporating pushups into your surf workout at home routine, you can popup and duck dive easier as well as prevent shoulder burn after only a handful of waves.

How to:
  1. Get down on all fours
  2. Arms should be beneath your shoulders and knees slightly apart
  3. *Now straighten your arms and your legs
  4. Lower your body by bending your arms in a controlled motion till your chest almost touches the floor (keeping a straight line from heels to head)
  5. Pause and push yourself back up

*If you’re not confident that you can support yourself, you can also perform a simple knee-assisted pushup.


The movement of squatting is a critical part of surfing.

It mimics the pattern of both crouching on your surfboard and turning. Training by doing squats will also increase strength in your legs and activate the muscles around your spine.

This means it works crucial paddling muscles and supports a healthy back, which is an incredibly important part of the body for surfing.

How to:
  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Keep your chest out
  3. Bend at the hips and knees while keeping your back straight and your heels on the ground
  4. Slowly sit back as if you were sitting on a chair until your knees come to a 90-degree angle
  5. Straighten back up to a standing position by pushing through your heels

Flying superman

This exercise will help you paddle faster and for longer periods.

Called the flying superman, it targets the muscles the run down your spine, which means it more or less replicates the position of laying down on a surfboard while paddling.

How to:
  1. Lie face down on a mat with arms outstretched
  2. Activate the muscles in your back as you lift your arms and legs no less than 10 centimeters off the floor
  3. Hold for 3-5 seconds while keeping both arms and legs as straight as possible
  4. Lower back down to the mat in a controlled manner
  5. Repeat

Single foot planks

More than just a passing social media fad, planking is a great way to build strength in your core.

If you want to take planking to the next level, try a single foot plank. It will engage all muscles in the core even more than a standard plank by introducing an element of instability.

How to:
  1. Lie face down on a mat with forearms rested and feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Raise your body off the ground
  3. Make sure your torso is rigid and your core is engaged
  4. Lift one leg up to the height of your shoulders
  5. Hold for 3-5 seconds then bring it down to the mat and alternate legs


Lady getting fit for surfing by doing a yoga pose

Twisting burpees

The explosive action of a burpee is very similar to the action of springing to your feet from a prone position on a surfboard.

Twisting burpees, on the other hand, combine the best part of a pushup and a jump with an added twist that challenges your ability to stay balanced.

How to:
  1. Squat down with your hands on the ground in front of you
  2. Move your weight into your hands then carefully kick both feet backwards so you arrive at a pushup position
  3. Lower down like a pushup and then jump your feet up towards your hands once again
  4. Push through your feet and leap upwards
  5. As you leap, extend your arms into the air and twist 180 degrees so that you’re facing the other way when you land (ready for the next rep)

Dynamic lunges

Whether just getting to their feet, crouching into a bottom turn or even getting barreled, surfers are constantly using a variation of the lunge position.

By doing dynamic lunges, you can foster an improved sense of balance through your hips and legs and enjoy more stability when going from a prone to a standing position – something that’s crucial for beginners.

How to:
  1. Stand upright with your feet together and your hands on your waist
  2. Take a step forward with your right or left foot
  3. Bend at the knees while keeping your back upright to form a 90-degree angle
  4. Shift the weight into your front foot and push off the ground
  5. Come back to a standing position and prepare to alternate legs

Yoga poses

Yoga and surfing are like corn chips and guacamole – they just go together.

This is because yoga improves balance by forcing you to hold different poses and explore your range of motion.

What’s more, yoga is a tried and true way to improve your surf skills, given that many pro surfers (including Kelly Slater) also incorporate some type of yoga in their training routine.

Five of the most killer yoga poses for surfers include:

  1. Downward facing dog
  2. Pigeon pose
  3. Eagle pose
  4. Boat pose
  5. Upward facing dog


Man lacing up his trainers in preparation for a run


It’s not a question of whether surfing will wear you out. It’s more a question of how long it will take until you’re completed zapped.

For this reason, we recommend supplementing your strength and balance training with light cardio. And the easiest way to do this is to pound the pavement.

When it comes to running, you have two options: long-distance and sprinting.

Both will improve lung capacity and help build endurance.

With long-distance running, the appeal is that it can put you in a deeply relaxing state, otherwise known as “runners high”.

Sprint training, on the other hand, can really set fire to your cardiovascular system.

It also helps ready your body for the short and explosive bursts of energy that learning to surf requires.

Mobility drills (CARs)

Mobility is a massive part of endurance.

The more naturally you can move your body both in the water and on the land, the less energy you’ll exert and the longer you can surf.

Mobility drills in particular help restore joint range of motion that’s lost through aging or a sedentary lifestyle.

CARs (controlled articular rotations) is one such mobility routine that’s highly beneficial for beginner surfers.

Essentially, the idea behind CARs is that you try to improve control in the outermost limits of your useable range of motion.

This is achieved by gently pushing or rotating your joints.

By doing so, you can send a message to the brain that you control your range of motion.

For a CARs routine that’s easy to do and takes no more than 10 minutes once mastered, check out this video.


Performing the freestyle stroke in a swimming pool is very much like paddling on a surfboard.

The muscles in the upper and lower back, arms and core will all be engaged in a “pulling” motion.

For landlocked surfers preparing for a trip, the benefits of swimming are obvious.

In fact, we believe it’s the best thing you can do to prepare for a surf trip besides actually surfing. Plus, being in water is known to offer a number of amazing mental and physiological advantages.

Our advice?

Try to work out a swimming routine.

It could be once a week. It could be a few times a week.

By jumping in the pool and punching out a few laps, you’ll be in a vastly better place endurance-wise once you reach our surf resort.


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