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What is Surf Training - Part 3

Sport Specific Training and Carryover - Surfing.com

In the beginning of this Surf Training series we established that just surfing will make you a better surfer due to skill acquisition. But like everything in life, having someone to help guide and coach you can make that time spent in the water, or in the gym, more productive and deliver greater results in a shorter period of time.

Now, we’ll define the mechanics behind sport specific training and how it carries over to sport. Remember that the adaptations from just practicing a sport are specific to the stresses they are placed under. That means if you practice playing Ping Pong, you will get better at playing Ping Pong, not surfing. But if you surf, will that carry over to snowboarding? Most likely. I say most likely because there is a carryover from sport to sport largely due to how we train our reflex reactions and movement within our nervous system.

World renowned performance coach Paul Chek does an amazing job of describing two types of equilibrium reactions within our body and how we train our motor patterns with a swiss ball – tilting and righting. Without getting too scientific, it works like this: Tilting is the reflex reaction that wants to help us stabilize when we’re standing on an unstable surface. Righting reflex reactions are when we have a stable surface underneath us. So, if someone plays or practices a sport that is mostly righting dominant then training on a swiss ball where the surface underneath them is moving will have little carryover because it trains the nervous system differently.

So, athletes who compete in sports that have an unstable surface will benefit more from tilting exercises over righting ones. But proper training programs should have a good mixture of both depending on the sport, and more importantly, the needs of the athlete. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been accused of using “surf-specific exercises” on stability equipment as well as getting barreled on an Indo Board, but these types of exercises have little carryover. One thing this may help with is creating muscle memory, also known as neuromuscular facilitation. This is the process by which muscles become familiar with certain motor skills. Essentially, you are creating a pathway from your brain to interact with your muscles to process movements that become semi-automatic, which means you won’t need to concentrate as hard to recreate the desired movement.

The old expression “just like riding a bike” is a good example of motor-neuron training, but please don’t think that mimicking these types of “surf movements” means you are ready to surf a big wave like Banzai Pipeline. Again, there is no substitute for actual surfing, and motor neuron training doesn’t discriminate between good and bad form, it just helps us process movement patterns with little brainpower. The benefit to performing these exercises will be useful when the surfer is fatigued at the end of a session and their strength normally begins to diminish.


So, then what can we do on land to improve our performance in the water? In part 4 of our series, we’ll look more at the act of surfing and what you’re actually doing when you’re in the water and how we can train more specifically to maximize those sessions.

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