Laird’s Top 5 Exercises for Surfing Strength

By Laird Hamilton | Wed Jun 21 2017

There’s nothing better for developing your surfing abilities than to actually go surfing! But when that’s not possible, here are a few exercises for surfing strength you can do to hone your skills.

1. Build Your Legs

Most experienced surfers have good arm strength because they spend so much time paddling. After all, we don’t run down the court—we paddle down it. Then, when you’re riding the wave, it’s only for a short burst of time—maybe 10-30 seconds. Your legs really don’t get pumped. But you need strong legs to surf, especially in more challenging conditions. That means you have to supplement surfing with other kinds of activities. 

Biking’s great, as is any kind of sand training, such as running on the beach or up and down the dunes. Weight lifting always works, and, of course, if you’re doing our XPT Daily Training, you’re getting well-rounded total body conditioning in the gym and out in nature—and if you love to surf you probably also love to be outside. (XPT Daily Trainings feature a lot of outdoor workouts). 

2. Practice Crossover Board Sports

Yes, you can benefit from balance training! After all, if you can do something well on one foot, you’ll be able to do it amazingly well on two. But standing on one foot on a balance board while people throw tennis balls at you won’t make you a better surfer, even if it’s neurologically tricky and hard to master. That’s a misconception people have sometimes. They don’t always realize that balance training will only help your surfing if you’ve already got good board skills. One precedes the other. You need to know how to apply your balance properly, and you can only do that once you know how to ride. 

Fortunately, there are many board sports that enable you to practice riding, and they all have benefits. At its root, surfing is about motion and rhythm. You can do it on land as well as you can in the water. Snowboarding, skateboarding, wakeboarding—they’re all children of surfing. The motions and balance skills you need for other board sports make trying them great exercises to improve surfing.

For me, snowboarding was an instant fit. The first time I tried it, I was in Alaska and got dropped off by a helicopter in deep powder on a knife-edged peak. Luckily, it was just like surfing. However, if you take me to a resort where I’ve got to make it along a catwalk or onto a chairlift, that’s harder. What felt the most natural to me was steep and deep. Likewise, someone who’s a great snowboarder will learn to surf quickly. It’s the exact same stance. They just have to learn paddling and wave timing, and they’re set. 

3. Work on Your Weak Side

I learned to surf both directions when I grew up, so I don’t really prefer one side over the other. Front side and back side both have their advantages, depending on the wave. 

In the same vein, good swimmers learn bilateral breathing and tennis players work on both their forehand and their backhand. Being functionally ambidextrous as an athlete makes you more versatile, more balanced, more able to adapt on the fly to whatever circumstance you face. It also means you’re less vulnerable to fatigue from stressing one side of your body more than the other. 

Make a point of practicing on your weak side until you don’t have one anymore. It’s not just one of the best exercises for surfers, it’s a smart conditioning approach for any athlete. 

4. Swim

What are the best exercises for surfing? When you really think about it, the obvious one is swimming. You can hardly be a great surfer if you’re not a commanding swimmer. A certain level of natural comfort in the water goes a long way when you’re standing on a board. Get yourself a pair of fins and hit the water. 

When I learned to surf, we didn’t have leashes. That made us good swimmers. Aside from making you more comfortable in the water, swimming develops the same back and arm muscles you use for paddling. Swimming also helps you stay mindful of breathing and forces focus on form.

5. Breathing

Breathing is a pillar concept in XPT—so much so that it’s a standout among the best workouts for surfers. XPT's Performance Breathing® program increases endurance and keeps your body’s focus where you need it to be when you’re maintaining balance on your board.

You won’t master breathing overnight. Getting the hang of performance breathing often means retraining your brain to think about breathing differently. Luckily, this is a subject XPT covers extensively, and there are plenty of XPT Performance Breathing® articles and videos to help teach you the right technique. You need to master breathing as a baseline for any performance endeavor you undertake. 

All is possible. Enjoy the ride.


Join Laird for 3 days at the XPT Experience, where he’ll personally coach you to breathe, move and recover the XPT way. We have a variety of locations and months to choose from. Click on the link here for videos of what to expect and what attendees had to say about their journey at the XPT Experience, and why people have started calling it “The Ultimate Fitness Retreat.” For a list of upcoming XPT experiences click here.

Some excerpts above are from Laird Hamilton’s book Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, And, of Course, Surfing.

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