INTERVIEW: Surf Athlete Program The Only Course You Need to Help Improve Your Surfing

Jason Lock

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Updated 27d ago

It may sound obvious, but the best form of exercise to help improve your surfing is actually jumping in the water and shredding for a few hours. But not all of us have the luxury of whipping to the beach every day for a quick session.

And even if you do, you can compliment your game with surf specific workouts that will help you paddle harder, duck-dive deeper, turn better and all manner of goodness that comes with focussing on functional body movements.

Cris Mills developed the Surf Athlete program with one goal in mind – to extend your surfing longevity. The program is a day-by-day, 12 week course where you perform a variety of exercises 4-5 times a week, all handily laid out in a user-friendly app that's easy to navigate. For example, click on week 1, the first exercise, complete it and that's that done. You do the same each day while mixing in your own surf sessions.

Think of Cris and his workouts akin to the Joe Wicks style of the surfing world, only, that it's no quibbles -- this is 100 per cent made for surfers. The training focuses on mobility, stretching and exercises that are specifically tailored to strengthen all parts of the body you use for surfing.

There's also a discount code at the end of the article if you're thinking of signing up – all you got to do to is go HERE and plug in the code at the end of this piece. Then download the app on the app store et al and boom, you're in. Anyway, we tapped up Cris to talk a bit more about just what it is, why mobility is important and who this is for (spoiler; anyone from the 9-5 desk bound worker to experienced surfers looking for a fine tune).

First up, tell us what the Surf Athlete program is?
The Surf Athlete is a training program that builds, restores, and improves the physical and athletic requirements that surfing demands from your body. Basically, it's a fitness program that truly supports your surfing and carries over to your time in the ocean.

Are they all exercises you can do at home, or do you need some equipment?
You can train at home but it does require some basic equipment. For example, surfing requires an enormous output from the upper body for paddling, which is a pulling movement.

We need to replicate and train various pulling movements in order to build endurance and strength through the upper body. You can't really do that with just bodyweight, so there is a requirement for a suspension trainer or olympic rings to grant access to pulling movements.

There's a few other small bits of equipment as well which allow for a much greater variety of exercises, like an exercise ball.

How did you come up with the training regime?
These training protocols are simply a distillation of everything I've found to be relevant and truly beneficial for surfers that have a keen interest on performance, longevity, and durability. It's a well rounded approach to fitness for people that demand impressive things from their body, and surfing has fairly high physical requirements

I've been in the health and fitness field for more than a decade, with experience ranging from gyms, chiropractic clinics, remedial massage therapy, surf coaching trips, and performance work.  Pulling from all these disciplines, the Surf Athlete programs came into being. It's a well rounded approach to fitness for people that demand impressive things from their body, and surfing has fairly high physical requirements.

We’ve done a lot of work together as MSW and Surf Strength Coach, what’s different in this app that we haven’t covered before?
The Surf Athlete 12 Week Program is a step by step process, meaning it starts at point A, and takes people to Z. It's literally all laid out, nearly day-by-day.

Paddle workouts, breath work, stretch routines, cardio and endurance, full-body workouts, it's all there.

No matter your level of surfing skill, or your training history, you can start at the zero point, and systematically and safely build yourself up to high level performance training.  This process is what sets the program apart from what people find in a one-off exercise video.  What do people do with a single video?  Perform that a few times, and then what?  Find some other random exercise video.

There's no coherence or end goal.  Whereas the Surf Athlete program builds people to a point of high level performance work, and gets them comfortable with a method of training that they truly should be implementing if they have an intention for longevity in the surf. 

Say, for instance, I’ve not been surfing for 6 weeks or so due to lockdown… is this a good place to get the fitness levels back up?
If you've been on lockdown and haven't done much, then yes, this is absolutely a place to start.  Not only would you directly train for specific requirements in the surf, such as work-capacity of the upper body for paddling, but you'd begin implementing training methods that hit on all the other aspects of "surf fitness". If you've been on lockdown and haven't done much, then yes, this is absolutely a place to start
Stretch routines to reinforce optimal mobility, breath work is available if you want to build confidence in heavier surf and gain benefit from various breath training methods, workout programs and more.  If someone has the down time and wants to actually support their surfing, this program would give them the tools to do so very effectively. 

What level of surfer is it for, can beginners get involved?
No matter the skill level of the surfer, they can, and should, get involved. Each level or stage of surfing has inherent physical requirements.

Beginners are often lacking basic upper body endurance for paddling. The desk-worker surf dad has lost flexibility over the years and probably gained some weight which dramatically enhances the difficulty of surfing well.

High level surfers are fit, but need to focus on joint health and durability, and keeping levels of fitness up to support their surfing skill. No matter the skill level, the programs would deliver aspects of training that the surfer can and should implement for the remainder of their surfing career or life.

What’s your own personal regime, do you follow these exercises?
My personal regime varies from day-to-day depending on the amount of surfing and other health variables, like sleep, nutrition, stress levels, output, which is another aspect I strongly advocate within the program.

I want people to truly learn how and what to implement based upon their own physiological needs.

Life and surfing is all dynamic flux, so we need to be able to accommodate and adjust. But yes, I implement aspects from the Surf Athlete program nearly everyday. 

Whether it's starting my day with some breath work as taught in the program, or using a Dynamic Flow Routine before a surf, and utilising some strength training protocols as found in the later stages of training, I truly live what I teach.

I just recently ramped up my use of the paddling workouts as we came back to Australia during this Corona issue, so I'm suddenly suiting back up in to a 4/3. My arms aren't used to it!

Wish I could sympathise, but we're in 5/4s over here right now, when we could surf anyway... so what do you think is more important, resistance training or stretching to help with the motions of surfing?
Strength and flexibility is a balance, it's not a one or the other approach, and this is most often neglected or confused by general surfers that lack a background in physiology.

It's also dependent upon individual circumstances.  First, let's look at flexibility.  I don't really like that word, as what we're truly looking for is mobility, which refers to an active and controllable range of motion.

Meaning, I can place my leg and hip here, pick a location, because I can actively control that via muscular contraction.

It's not passive flexibility, which is easily demonstrated by a partner assisted hamstring stretch.  You lay on your back and I lift your foot up until you feel a stretch through your hamstring.  It's passive, meaning you're not doing anything and I'm raising your leg up.

It's not representative of how you can control your body and what mobility you truly have.  We may be able to stretch your hamstring until your shin touches your nose, but you may not actually be able to raise your leg to touch your nose through your own volition and muscular contraction. That's the difference between passive flexibility and mobility. As a surfer, we're after mobility, which is an actual demonstration of strength.

That's the difference between passive flexibility and mobility. As a surfer, we're after mobility, which is an actual demonstration of strength.

Ok, next aspect, the individual circumstances. Take for example a desk worker 45-years-old who's lost all mobility and flexibility.  They're built like a college football player who's gained 40 pounds and hasn't' stretched since high school.  What do they need more of?  Flexibility (mobility), or strength? Mobility obviously.

They'll need to regain the ability to move the body and joints through space, as surfing has a tremendous need for dynamic movement.

On the other side of the spectrum, consider a female surfer. Generally, from a physiological standpoint females are more flexible, so let us presuppose she's really flexible, full on yogi flexible, and lacks control (mobility).

In her efforts for performance and longevity, she'd be better suited for some strength development. She already moves well, but she may lack control and strength, so she actually needs to get stronger to support her surfing. Think of the physical demands of pushing a 30L board underwater repeatedly. That's a legitimate strength requirement.  To further this, good strength training is mobility work.

People have a misconception of strength work only being bodybuilding style of training.  This can't be further from the truth. High quality strength and performance training, which you'll find in my program, supports strength development and mobility. Consider a pull up, if performed perfectly not only does it build tremendous upper body strength that supports an efficient paddle stroke, but it also improves range of motion of the shoulder girdle, which is a necessity for long term pain free surfing.

So it's not a one or the other approach, a combination is required, and a shift from what people consider "strength training" which is severely misconstrued. Stronger legs will absolutely help you surfing, but it will help even more if that strength is supported with mobile hips, knees, and ankles.

There’s a load of people who will say, the best training for surfing is surfing. I mean, over the past few decades, we’ve moved away from skulling beers and just surfing and really moved into surfers as athletes, right? Do you think that’s true?
The saying "the best training for surfing is surfing" has some truth to it.  The sport has incredible demands that can be quite difficult to replicate in a gym setting, so I always tell my clients and athletes to always surf as much as possible.

But the claim also disregards all understanding of performance development.  Take for example a beginner surfer.  Their biggest deficit is lack of paddling capacity, because they have never in their life been exposed to that type of demand from the upper body, unless perhaps they were a boxer.

That beginner surfer could tremendously speed up their learning curve through some smart training protocols to bring up their work capacity, so their upper body isn't the limitation in the surf.

The same thing can be applied to a weekend warrior surfer. If he or she is only surfing once per week, that surfer absolutely needs to work on physical requirements that support their surfing.

The two hours of surfing once every two weeks isn't enough of a demand upon their body to create physical adaptation.

Something else needs to be done outside of the water to support their skill acquisition attempts in the water.

That surf session is their peak output.  There needs to be other outputs outside of the water that match or exceed what their surfing demands, just so they'll be more capable for when they can actually get in the water. Weekend warriors need to train, simply to build up movement aspects that support their time in the water.  If not they'll consistently find themselves unfit, lacking paddling endurance, feeling stiff, and simply not progressing their surfing skill

What surfers are trying to do in the water is build their skill and technique.  Skill can be more easily built if the physical attributes are in place to support that skill. If they're not, then the skill development can't take place. If you have better endurance, more paddling capacity, better spine and hip mobility, and overall you can move more athletically, you'll simply perform better when you get a chance to surf.

High level surfers who surf a lot, yep, surfing is the best training for surfing, because it's where skill is truly developed.

But that high level surfer could work on training protocols in the gym that would make him/her more resilient, more durable, and have a lower propensity for injury.

Weekend warriors need to train, simply to build up movement aspects that support their time in the water.  If not they'll consistently find themselves unfit, lacking paddling endurance, feeling stiff, and simply not progressing their surfing skill.

This is because they don't have the physical attributes in place to support their skill practice in the water.  Their body is the limiting factor.

They don't have time to just surf more because "surf is the best training for surfing", so they need smart training protocols to support their surfing.  What surfing demands of a body is incredible, and it asks things of our bodies that are very different from standard day to day living and activity. 

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Squat.. For Mobility First off, don’t be afraid of moving some weight. No, it won’t make you bulky, but it will help your to control the lower limb and it’s joints, and help you to produce and absorb forces. That’s a good thing. . . I post this because people don’t think of good squatting as a way to reinforce a pop up. It does. In fact, today I was Skyping with a fella from North Carolina, helping him regain his ability to pop up smoothly and effortlessly. . . We used a squat variation, heels elevated on a yoga mat for him, as a preparatory movement along with some other stretches to help increase his “mobility”. His squat cleaned up really nicely and will be an active part of his training from now on. . . If performed well, a squat will help to improve your active range of motion through the hip, knee, and ankle. Full ROM through these joints REALLY helps the process of popping up smoothly. . . You don’t need to be a meathead by any means, but a lot of the fundamental “strength” movements do have their place in well structured training. . . **and no, a heel lift isn’t a “cheat”. For the moment since he’s lacking full ROM through the ankle, a heel lift grants him the capacity to descend into a “squat” rather than a hinge. I want him squatting to get comfortable using those hips and knees as a spring. HAVE QUESTIONS?? ASK THEM! @batiksurf boardies#surfathlete #surfsc #surffit #surffitness #surftraining #mobility #surferlife #magicseaweed #surfline #surfcoach #surflessons

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Is this more a get better at surfing thing, or, a weight loss journey – or both?
[laughs] It's a health journey.  What people need to fundamentally understand is that their health is what ultimately supports their surfing.

Health is a composite of movement, nutrition, sleep, relationships and so on.  Surfing well, and for decades, truly requires a body that operates optimally.  Getting better at surfing is essentially self development, there's nearly always some emotional component to it, as well as physical components.

Is your weight slowing down your surfing and messing with your pop up? You have a health issue. Is your lower back giving you grief in the surf because you never do anything other than sit at a desk and your hips are cemented in place? You have a health issue. Is your weight slowing down your surfing and messing with your pop up?

So yeah, it's a get better at surfing journey, and a weight loss journey.  I'm more interested in giving people tools that they can and should implement for the rest of their lives, or at least as long as they have a continued interest in surfing. 

And if people are struggling, is there a support network on the program?
If anyone has any issue with the program, whether it be technique advice or motivation, they can reach out to me personally. We also have a private facebook group for everyone that is going through the program.

That group has become an invaluable resource and wealth of information and encouragement.

And, MSW users get 25% discount on the Surf Athlete program with the coupon code; MSW. Just sign up HERE.