Building The Revolution - An interview with Paul Norris of Surf Ready Fitness
If you're a surfer on the west coast, you probably just scored 3 straight weeks of swell, mixed with a few days of unseasonably off-shore winds. Unless your me…
You see, I missed this entire swell because the day before the swell hit, I decided to surf without stretching. I was so amped to be the first one out on a waist-high day that I skipped 5 minutes of stretching which resulted in me pulling my back on an over-rotated frontside reverse. This got me thinking. How important is it to stretch?
I reached out to the one and only Paul Norris of Huntington Beach’s Surf Ready Fitness to get some tips on pre-surf stretches. Not only is Paul the personal trainer for some of Orange County’s top professional surfers but he has a degree in Exercise Science from the University of South Florida. He knows how to get your body into peak surf fitness, so you can perform your best in and out of the water.
Below is what Paul had to say and he provided links to videos, so you can learn the proper way to stretch.
BTR: What inspired you to become a personal trainer and more specifically a surf trainer?
PN: I grew up playing most sports like a lot of kids but also lived on a big lake close to the ocean so I was exposed to surfing, wakeboarding, and all watersports at a young age. Once I got to college, I started to explore other passions of mine and I really got into fitness. So I started working on getting my degree in Exercise Science from the University of South Florida, on top of working as a strength & conditioning coach at Velocity Sports Performance and interning as a performance coach for the Tampa Bay Rays professional baseball team. My passion for training athletes started fairly early and I knew that I wanted to mesh my love for surfing and fitness at some point. Coming into my last semester of college, I was offered two opportunities, become the new head strength coach for the Tampa Bay Rays minor league team OR transfer to the Velocity Sports flagship location in Irvine, I chose the latter. In 2006, I started training a lot of the local surfers around the Huntington/Newport Beach area and it basically just grew from there. Then in 2012, the idea for Surf Ready Fitness was born.
BTR: Let’s talk about why it’s important to stretch before you surf?
PN: Well stretching, in general, is beneficial for a million reasons. Why it’s important to stretch before you surf is because when done right, it can improve performance and also help prevent injury. I always recommend a Dynamic Flexibility Warm-up prior to surfing, this is also known as Active Stretching. An easy explanation of this type of warm-up is actively moving your joints and muscles through a full range of motion. You’re basically prepping your body for sport-specific movements through active stretching which raises your internal temperature, increases blood flow & oxygen throughout the body and makes the muscles more flexible, and improves mobility in the joints. Dynamic stretching helps your brain and body connect for healthy movement patterns that are specific to your sport; a good example of this would be performing pop-ups on land prior to your surf. Surfing is such a dynamic sport that it places a lot of stress on the muscles and joints so it’s even more important that you perform some active stretching prior to your sessions. Below I will explain why I don’t recommend static stretching pre-surf.
BTR: What are the positives of stretching before a surf and what are the negatives if you don’t? Can there be long-lasting or permanent problems if you don’t stretch?
PN: The positives of stretching before you surf include everything I mentioned above but the negatives can be disastrous. As we get older, we develop a decreased range of motion due to loss of the lubricating fluid in our joints and cartilage becomes thinner. At the same time, our flexibility decreases in our muscles due to loss of water in our tissues and spine and we also lose elasticity through muscle tendons and the surrounding tissues.
So obviously stretching is extremely important if we want to continue to surf and perform to the best of our ability. The good news is that flexibility is easily achieved if we spend a couple of minutes a day working on increasing our range of motion.
In regards to long-lasting or permanent problems, if we don’t stretch, we can hurt ourselves while surfing, or worst-case scenario, tear or strain a muscle or ligament. And sometimes if the injury is bad enough, the body will never fully recover, and/or the joint or ligament won’t do what it’s designed to do. As an athlete or someone who enjoys surfing as their sport of choice, there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to do the sport we love.
BTR: With most high-performance activities it’s important to stretch before and after you workout. Would you suggest stretching after surfing too?
PN: Absolutely! Static stretching is imperative to restoring the body because when you exercise, muscles can become tight and overworked. So by utilizing static stretching after exercising, you’re increasing the range of motion in your joints, reducing stiffness in tight muscles, and increasing blood flow which aids in recovery.
Now you may be wondering what the difference is between Active and Static Stretching and why science suggests one over the other when it comes to pre and post-workout. In short, static stretching involves holding a stretch in place for an extended period of time, without movement. This allows the muscle to relax and loosen up, basically shutting the muscle down to increase its range of motion. And the last thing you want to do before exercising is shut your muscles down. Some studies have even shown that athletes who performed a strength training workout, generated less force after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. And other studies have shown that static stretching prior to your workout decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. This is why a dynamic flexibility warm-up (active stretching) is recommended pre-surf and static stretching for your post-surf.
BTR: Sometimes you’re so amped to surf and you don’t want to spend a lot of time stretching. What are the most important 3-5 stretches every surfer should do before he or she paddles out?
PN: I really love this question because I think we’re all guilty of throwing on our wetsuit and paddling straight out, especially when it’s firing. And I’ve realized that I have way better sessions when I take the time to wake up my body by slightly elevating my heart rate and increasing my range of motion by active stretching. I’m a big fan of targeting as many muscles as I can in one movement which allows me to reduce the number of stretches I have to do, and in turn, gives me more time in the water. I wouldn’t recommend that thought process though because I guess I’m still a grom at heart. Do what feels comfortable to you and make sure you’re stretching all of your major muscle groups prior to surfing.
You should aim to stretch each muscle group across all planes of motion and spend more time targeting areas more tight or stiff. With that being said, I typically utilize these four stretches to get me dialed in before I surf.
World's Greatest Stretch - targets: hip flexors, thoracic spine, hamstrings, glutes, adductors, calves and quads. Suggested repetitions: 3 -5 reps on each side.
Inch Worms with push-ups and shoulder taps – targets: hamstrings, chest, shoulders and core. Stretch can be performed without push-ups and/or shoulder taps, I added them to increase difficulty. Suggested repetitions: 5 – 8 reps
Prone Scorpions – targets: lower back and hips. Suggested repetitions: 5 – 10 reps on each side
Lateral Squats – targets: adductors, quads, and glutes. Suggested repetitions: 5 – 10 reps on each side
My recommendation would be to run through these four exercises utilizing the suggested repetitions for 1 – 3 sets depending on how tight or sore you are. Remember, the goal of a pre-surf warm-up is to increase flexibility and range of motion; if you find that your muscles are still really tight then maybe add another set or increase your rep range.
BTR: You have trained Kanoa Igarashi, Michael Dunphy, Courtney Conlogue, and many of the local Orange County rippers. What options do you have right now if anyone wants to train with Surf Ready Fitness during this pandemic?
PN: We offer a lot of different services which include: classes, private training, semi-private training, online coaching, and physical therapy. For people who are looking to just get their feet wet, we have an Intro Offer that includes unlimited classes for one week. Also, if someone is interested in our workouts but doesn’t live in the area or prefers to workout at home, we offer Online Coaching through the SRF Trainer App. It’s a customized workout program designed for each individual’s goals and it’s what I use to keep my pros in shape when they’re traveling. We have something for everyone regardless of age, fitness level, and location!