Should Surfers Lift Heavy?
Written on August 17th 2021, By Ben Jenkins
Written on August 17th 2021, By Ben Jenkins
I’ve spoken about the importance of strength training for surfers a number of times and I would like to think that any surfer who is reading this article places strength training in high regard. But, saying that, I feel like we need to make one thing clear. Building strength requires us to lift heavy things. I see a lot of surfers hitting the gym, performing hundreds of reps of goblet squats and doing push-ups until they throw up calling it strength training. Don’t get me wrong – it’s great to see people in the gym, honing their craft, but lets understand what it takes to build strength and make sure we are getting the adaptations we are seeking.
The strength training umbrella encompasses a whole host of different types of strength. Maximum strength, relative, explosive and endurance are just a few that fall underneath this banner. All ‘strength’, but completely different in nature. When we talk about maximum strength, we are referring to the ability to apply maximal levels of force or strength irrespective of time constraints. Whereas strength endurance refers to the ability to apply force for prolonged periods, without decay. Both important, but very different.
When we are first starting out the strength training journey as a novice, we get a large majority of our gains in strength through neural and skill adaptions. Learning how to perform skills more effectively such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, pull-up will lead to large improvements in the ability to lift more load. I’m sure everyone has completed some form of a beep test when they were at school, where you run between two cones in time with the sound of a ‘beep’. As the test progresses, the time between each beep shortens, requiring you to run faster until it reaches a speed where you cannot keep up, and the test finishes.
The first time you complete this, you have no idea how to do it and you get your score at the end. The next time you do it, you will have more of an idea what to expect and you will more than likely beat your previous score. Not because of an increased aerobic capacity. You are now more familiar with the test.
Strength training in the early phases is no different. Every repetition can be seen as a learning moment. The more moments, the greater the learning capacity. This would mean it is far more beneficial to create more learning moments and opportunities to practice by increasing the number of repetitions in the early phases. As we get more experienced, technique becomes dialled in, loading will start to increase and we can start to adapt our training to fit the needs of our sport, and in the case of this article, surfing.
As far as strength standards are concerned, the higher the level of resistance needed to overcome or resist in a sport, the greater importance of strength required. When we look at surfing, we are constantly fighting against the power of the wave. The surfer who can apply the greater amount of absolute force (this is the maximum amount of force applied, regardless of bodyweight) when turning, will displace a greater volume of water, which is indicative of a more powerful manoeuvre.
It has been recommended numerous times that increasing a surfers maximal force generating capabilities will aid with both injury prevention and performance. That includes both maximal strength and power development in both upper and lower body. In order to to be powerful, we must first be strong. If we cant produce much force, we can’t produce much force quickly.
What this means for the surfing athlete is that once we have progressed through the early phases of training, with the guidance of a qualified coach, we need to start incorporating strategies that will increase levels of maximal strength and power. This involves lifting heavy things!
If you want to surf with speed and power, we need to train like it!
Let’s quickly recap:
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