We’ve all had one of those mornings where we’re up at the crack of dawn, resisted the impulse of hitting snooze, and ventured down to our local break only to be greeted by mirror-like, flat waves devoid of even a hint of a ripple. On days like these, it’s easy to feel deflated, especially when you’ve had your heart set on a surf. These times, however, are the perfect opportunity to redirect that enthusiasm towards an equally vital aspect of surfing: cross training.
More and more lately, I have found myself reaping the benefits of my pilates workouts. While regular workouts undoubtedly build strength, there’s something to be said about pilates and how it targets small firing muscles that translate directly to surfing.
Pilates is a discipline that nurtures both body and mind. With its exercises focused on building core strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, and alignment, pilates ideally complements surfing for those waveless days. Sharing many parallels with yoga, down to poses and the breath-centric approach, pilates goes a step further by incorporating weights with the intention of building core strength – an invaluable asset for surfing. I like to think of it as vinyasa with resistance.
With seasoned pros such as Kelly Slater and Carissa Moore singing its praises, there’s no better time to incorporate pilates into your cross training routine.
Building Core Strength
The first thing I noticed straight after my first pilates class was the way my abs ached. Not in a bad way either, the class had engaged my core from all angles; laughing the next day was a pleasant reminder of how hard the workout had been.
Surfing requires a lot of core muscle strength. You’re constantly using your core for turning and maneuvers – if your muscles aren’t up to par, you can find yourself not getting the results you want in the water, or even worse, getting injured.
Most movements in Pilates engage these core muscles consistently, as its primary focus is on improving stability and mobility.
In surfing, our arms and shoulders are frequently engaged to the max, meeting the demands of paddling out to the line up time after time. However, this can create imbalances in other areas of the body. Pilates addresses these imbalances through its focus on core stability. The resulting improvement in control and form I’ve felt out on the water is second to none.
Finding your Balance
Being an old hand at yoga, I thought I had good balance before my first pilates class, but just minutes into my first class, I was well and truly humbled. As the class progressed, the endurance necessary to maintain poses and fluidly transition between them, left my leg muscles trembling. Pilates’ gradual transitions cultivate a level of control and balance that translates effectively to the demands of surfing.
Pilates employs a diverse range of apparatus, such as the bosu ball, that challenges and enhances balances through an unstable base. It took consistently attending classes before I was able to make it through one without having to step out of a pose to recenter myself.
Using an unstable base, mimics the changeable nature of the waves. The ability to adapt to each wobble and correct your balance without dropping the pose has left a noticeable difference in my surfing, particularly in my cross step.
Reach and Flexibility
Flexibility is a frequently underestimated factor in surfing. Having good flexibility in your hips and hamstrings is vital for your pop up and swiftly getting your feet under you and onto the board. It’s the equal parts blend between stretch and strength that makes a good surfer.
Extended surf sessions frequently lead to muscle tightness which in turn create posture changes and other imbalances that affect the body. Incorporating pre- and post-surf stretches not only helps prepare your muscles, it prevents injury too. Pilates’ diverse array of stretches targets different muscles in the body, which not only improves your flexibility but helps strengthen them at the same time.
I’ve always had tight hamstrings, one of the drawbacks of having disproportionately long legs. I still remember the immense pride I felt, after months of classes, when for the first time I was able to lay my palms flat on the ground whilst doing a standing forward bend.
Each class I attended, I noticed little by little, being able to stretch and reach further. These incremental improvements added up slowly without me even realizing it, and the next time I headed out with my board I was surprised at the noticeable improvement in my pop-up.
The beauty of pilates lies in its accessibility. Whilst reformer classes have grown in popularity, straightforward floor routines can be found on Youtube and practiced in the comfort of your own home. We all have imbalances in our bodies, but pilates serves as a fantastically simple way to bring us to a more aligned state. It’s definitely going to be a mainstay of my cross training routine for years to come.
Written By Emma Bukowski – a swimsuit designer and founder of noseridersurf.com