Riding waves is an exhilarating, high-adrenaline sport. Get it right and the sensation of flowing in harmony with a natural force can be a mindful experience too. Then again, get it wrong and it can feel like you’ve been stuffed headfirst into a washing machine – like most action sports the highs can match the lows in intensity, so it pays to prepare your body to be wipeout-ready.
Luckily, RSNG’s Abi Carver has designed this exclusive, bespoke yoga routine, especially for surfers. Of course, if the closest you get to surfing this summer is the couch variety, doing this whole-body yoga routine will still deliver proven benefits, from improving your posture, to reducing stiffness and even enhancing your focus and concentration. As The Don of big-wave surfing, Laird Hamilton says: ‘All you flexible people should go bang some iron and all you big weightlifters should go do some yoga.’
Why This Yoga Session Works For Surfers
Like all action sports, surfing relies on mastering repetitive movements, to paddle, pop up onto the board and ride the wave – after thousands of these reps it’s no surprise that muscle imbalances and other injury hotspots occur. For surfers, there is a lot that can go wrong. The ankles, knees, hips, lower back, shoulders and neck are all vulnerable to pain and dysfunction if the rider doesn’t commit to a rigorous recovery practice that covers strength and conditioning, joint mobilisation and muscle length restoration.
So, do the following sequence of ten Yoga 15 yoga poses to cover all your bases. Make sure you have a mat that is good quality (and long enough if you’re tall), some comfortable sports clothing (no socks required) and a couple of basic props, if you’re super tight.
‘Child’s Pose is great to start your session and equally to practice after each surf’
1. Child’s Pose
Target area: Lower back.
This pose is a godsend for surfers. It releases pressure at the lower back that builds up due to prolonged spinal extension on the board. It’s a great pose to start your session and equally to practice after each surf.
Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths, in and out through your nose. Breathe deep into your abdomen and into your lower back.
Modifications: If you struggle to reach your hips back to your heels, you can put a bolster under your butt and a cushion under your feet. You can also bring your knees out wide and/ or bring your arms back by your sides, if that is more comfortable.
Target area: Spine.
Alternating between Cat and Cow pose improves mobility along the entire length of the spine. As you move between the poses, notice which segment of the spine – the lumbar, thoracic or cervical – feels most stuck and focus your attention there. Inhale into Cow (pictured above) and exhale into Cat – rounding your back and pressing up into your shoulder blades.
Repeat the movement 4-6 times—moving with your breath.
Target areas: Lats, chest, shoulders and triceps.
Surfing is tough on the shoulders. The repetitive action of paddling typically leads to stiffness and overuse injuries. Puppy pose gives these muscles a really deep stretch and can help to restore reduced shoulder mobility.
Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths.
Variation: Brining your hands together behind your head in Reverse Prayer and resting your elbows on blocks increases the stretch in the triceps.
4. Cow Face Screaming Toe Pose
Target area: Feet, shoulders and triceps.
This pose is pretty uncomfortable all round but incredibly effective. It stretches the feet, chest and triceps and again, helps to improve mobility in the shoulders.
Hold this pose for 3-5 breaths on each side.
Modifications: You can kneel if the pose gets too unbearable for your feet. And if your fingers don’t touch, you can hold a strap (or belt) between your hands.
5. Downward Dog
Target area: Calves, hamstrings and lower back.
Downward Dog is great for stretching the calves and hamstrings and for releasing pressure at the lower back. The key with this pose is to bend your knees as much as you need to in order to maintain a straight spine.
From all fours, walk your hands forward towards the top of the mat, tuck your toes and lift your hips up. Drop your chest back towards your thighs and bend your knees as much as you need to to create a straight line from your wrists to your shoulders to your hips. Check with a friend that your back is as flat as mine is in the picture above.
6. Low Lunge
Target area: Hip flexors.
Low Lunge is a great stretch for the hip flexors. Tight hip flexors often contribute to lower back pain so this pose is fantastic for alleviating and preventing pain in this area.
From Downward Dog, step your right foot in between your hands, drop your left knee and release your back foot. Come up and bring your hands to your hips. Check that your front knee doesn’t come forward over your ankle and relax into the pose. Hold for 3-5 breaths on each side. And then step back to Downward Dog. Walk out your feet.
Pro Tip: You can put a towel under your back knee if kneeling is uncomfortable.
7. Side Lunge
Target areas: Groin, calves, hamstrings and ankles.
Side Lunge opens up the hips, stretches the backs of the legs and improves mobility in the feet and ankles.
From Downward Dog, step your right foot in between your hands again. Turn your back heel down and walk your hands to the back of the mat for Side Lunge. Drop your hips and flex your front foot.
Hold the pose for 3-5 deep breaths.Take a deep breath in. Exhale, walk your hands to the top of your mat and step back to Downward Dog for the other side.
‘Dead Pigeon is one of my favourite poses for athletes because it stretches the external hip rotators and releases lower-back tension’
8. Dead Pigeon
Target areas: Glutes, piriformis and lower back.
Dead Pigeon is one of my favourite poses for athletes. Not only does it stretch the external hip rotators but it also releases tension at the lower back.
Come down onto your back, with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat. Rest your left ankle on your right knee. Thread your hand through the triangle between your legs and hold the back of your right thigh with both hands. Gently pull your leg in towards you. Relax your neck and shoulders.
Hold the pose for 2-5 minutes on each side. Then hug your knees into your chest.
9. Reclining Spinal Twist
Target areas: Lower back, TFL, chest and neck.
Reclining Spinal Twist is another lifesaver for surfers. It releases pressure at the lower back, stretches the outer hips and releases tension in the chest and neck – common pain points for surfers.
Lower your right leg to the mat and squeeze your left knee into your chest. Bring your arms out at 90 degrees like a Cactus. Hook your left foot behind your right inner thigh and gently guide your right knee across your body, down towards the mat, as far as is comfortable. Look to the left and try to keep both shoulders flat on the mat.
Stay in the pose for 2-5 minutes on each side – releasing tension on each exhalation. Hug your knees into your chest.
10. Final Resting Pose
Target areas: Body and mind.
At the end of your practice, give yourself a few minutes to allow the benefits integrate.
Lie flat on your back. Let your feet come as wide as the mat and fall open. Relax your hands, palms facing up and tuck your shoulder blades underneath you.
Close your eyes and remain completely still for 5-10 minutes, allowing your body and mind to completely relax.
WHAT NEXT? Watch the author, Abi Carver, present a full body yoga flexibility session in one of her series of 15-minute yoga videos at yoga15.com. (As the founder of Yoga 15, she designs yoga programs for athletes to optimise performance and support recovery.)
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.