Back Extensions for Better Paddling

In this Surf Stronger fit tip we demonstrate a simple exercise to build strength and endurance in your back muscles. This exercise is from our Surf Stronger--Core Training video.

The ability to hold your chest off your board (fig. 4) is the basis for good paddling technique. If you can't sustain an arched-back paddle position for the length of your surf session then the shoulders, neck, and lower back will start to ache and fatigue. This will cut your surf session short and decrease the time you can spend in the water developing your surfing skills. Also, if you have been out of the water for a while or don't get to surf as much as you like, this is a great exercise.

1. Begin by lying face down on a stability ball with your hands behind your ears (fig. 1). Use a yoga mat to grip the floor or place your feet against a wall. Knees are slightly bent.
2. With your hands behind your ears, pull your shoulder blades back and down. Begin to inhale and slowly lift your head and then your chest off the ball. Keep extending until you feel your lower back muscles engage. Hold at the top position for one to two seconds and then slowly exhale and lower down to the original starting position.
3. A modified arm position is to have the arms at your sides with the palms facing down and the thumbs rolled away from your hips (shoulders externally rotated). Be sure to engage the shoulder blades by pulling them back and down.

Back extensions to build strength for paddling

Back extensions to build strength for paddling

Do two to four sets of 10-15 repetitions based on your fitness level. At the end of each set, add a few reps of isometric holds at the top of the movement for 5 seconds. This will work on the ability for your back muscles to develop the endurance needed during your surf session.

1. Think about the movement initiating from the middle of the back (right between the shoulder blades). This is where surfers need the mobility but are often tight. It will be very fatiguing to use only the lowest part of your back. Distributing the work along the whole spine allows the mid-back to extend. This will open up your chest and give you the most efficient breathing and paddling position.
2. Keep your hips "fixed" to the ball. Contract your deep abdominal muscles to keep the hips in place and prevent hyperextension of the lower back.

If you feel pinching in your lower back, modify the exercise by not lifting too high. Most likely you need to increase your mid-back (thoracic) mobility. Once you have increased the mobility of your middle back, you might be able to increase the range of motion as needed. See a professional if you have discomfort with this exercise.

For stretches to increase chest, shoulder and back mobility, see our Post Surf Stretching Fit Tip. For some great shoulder strengthening exercises be sure to check out our Exercises for Healthy Shoulders Fit Tip.

For more surf-specific core exercises, be sure to check out our Surf Stronger--Core Training video.

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Disclaimer: Always consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program. The suggestions here are in no way intended to substitute for medical advice.