Best exercise for surfing fitness
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The best way to improve your fitness for surfing

If you want to improve your surfing fitness and to surf longer, here is one exercise routine you should implement that will get you paddling for longer.

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The Full Guide

Do you want to improve your surfing fitness? Do you want to surf more and longer? Without the pain?

There is an amazing exercise that will drastically improve your paddle strength and endurance, as well as breathing and we could all be doing it but most surfers ignore it. Too proud to give it a go, write it off as boring or just don’t know where to start. 

And that’s swimming. 

At the end of this guide, there will be a full workout routine and it’s not as boring as just swimming X number of laps. 

Why is swimming good for your surfing

There is no replacement for surfing and if you want to get fitter at it, go surf more. That’s the best and first option for surf fitness. But we all know that doesn’t fit into our schedule or we are already training, improving our fitness and wouldn’t mind adding something to help with surfing.

Swimming is about as close to paddling as you can get to training to improve your fitness for surfing.

It’s a whole-body exercise that trains the big muscle groups (back, chest, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps) as well as training the small muscle groups (shoulders, triceps, biceps and calves). 

There is a reason the term swimmers shoulders exists and it targets the main areas we use to paddle almost as well as paddling. 

Extra benefits of swimming

On top of giving a full-body workout and building muscles, swimming is great for so much more to your health and fitness.

Swimming is a low-impact form of training, great for those with injuries or pain in parts of their bodies. It’s a form of cardio exercise, getting your heart rate up high and helping to burn calories. For pregnant women, it is an amazing exercise to carry right through the full term and has a low impact on your body and baby.

Swimming has also been found to alleviate stress as a peaceful form of exercise and will help to improve your posture by training your core muscles and back while keeping a neutral posture rather than a slouched posture we all seem to use 9-5. 

The final benefit and greatest towards your surfing other than endurance is your breathing. Breathing in swimming is limited and will boost your lung capacity but it will teach you to be calm when holding your breath. 

You’ll quickly learn excess and uncontrolled movements in swimming will burn your oxygen levels and it’ll be the same during a wipeout. Along with routinely knowing your limits in holding your breath, those wipeouts will seem far less serious when you know what you are capable of and how to stay calm. 

The fitness goals you need to chase for surfing

When trying to improve your fitness for surfing, you need to understand what you are working towards, what is the goal and what benefit you want. Is it strength, mobility or endurance?

Typically, for most surfers with no major issues or limitations in their body, the goal is always endurance. 

You don’t need extra power or strength, what most people want is to not tire out so easily and surf for longer. This is always endurance and not strength. Strength is always useful but no point in having all the strength if you can only last an hour of paddling.

Mobility is more difficult, if you have tight muscles you need to work on it, but if you have average mobility and it doesn’t impact your surfing. If you are curious if mobility is holding you back, you can do the drills in this guide here.

So when swimming, going to the gym or any fitness aimed at improving your surfing, you want to aim towards endurance and surfing for longer. 

That doesn’t exclude strength training of any kind but the main benefit the average surfer is chasing is more endurance, less pain and more stamina to keep going. What that blend of endurance and strength will be is purely up to you, where your body is at and what you need to work on. 

You don’t need to be a gym junkie with huge muscles to have good fitness for surfing.

Swimming and the gym

Understanding what you train for is key to any fitness regime. Is it endurance and stamina, strength or aesthetics, tone and muscle size? It can be somewhere in between all of that as well but when you train to improve your surfing, it’s endurance.

This impacts how you train at the gym, if you chose not to swim or if you chose to do a blend of swimming and the gym.

Mixing swimming and the gym

If you do a mix of swimming and the gym, you’ll want to factor in that swimming is your cardio exercise as well as a full-body workout. 

There are two many types of gym regimes to say do exactly this and you’ll need to think about how adding swimming will best fit in with your current exercise and recovery time.

Generally, there are two options, swim on days you don’t hit the gym or add that into your current regime. 

If you swim on a separate day, allow for the recovery time of muscles between lifting weights and swimming. Your body will tell you what that is depending on your regime. Just get started, listen to your body and adjust the timing to suit. 

If you add swimming to your gym sessions, you need to consider what goals you are working for. Is all of your gym time towards endurance or are you doing swimming for endurance and weights for strength etc?

This changes when you will want to swim and the following set of goals will help you decide when to add in the swimming/cardio exercise.

  • If your goal is purely surfing endurance, do swimming before weight training
  • If your goal is to get stronger and add some surfing endurance, do weights first then swimming
  • If your goal is to burn fat and get stronger and add in some endurance, do swimming after weights
  • If your goals are just general fitness, do what works for you and feels the best.

Only going to the gym

Swimming isn’t for everyone and it isn’t the most fun exercise we can do, not everyone is going to rush out to swim laps and push through it or fall in love with it.

If you only go to the gym to improve your surfing fitness, you want to be aware of how you train. The benefits of swimming are endurance and a full-body workout. You’ll want to shift your sessions to focus on endurance.

Be aware of what you train and how, leaning more towards compound exercises that train, strength, balance and coordination through multiple muscles working at once, over isolation exercises.

Isolation exercises will be good for improving those areas that are pain points or weak links but these will only train specific muscles and not the system as a whole. Paddling is a compound exercise and uses a majority of your upper body and core.

Typically a general fitness regime focused towards endurance will be beneficial for surfing.  

Getting started with swimming

If you are going to get started with swimming, learn the strokes properly. Join an adult swimming class or club and get some pointers.

Most people will think I don’t need that but it will save a lot of time and stress, prevent swallowing water or getting up your nose and make the time you spend swimming more effective. If you are ineffective with your stroke, your breathing will struggle, and you’ll tire easier and not get the same benefits. Swimming seems easy but to achieve efficient swimming and technique it is somewhat of a fluid art form.

Swimming Routine for Paddle Endurance

This is a recommended routine, adjust it to suit your goals and where your body is at. You may need to go for longer or you may need to cut the reps down to account for your fitness level.

Again adjust this routine to factor in your goals but this will be aimed towards improving your endurance. 

How often you do this is up to your goals but I would recommend three to five times a week if you want to drastically improve your paddle and surfing fitness, so you can surf for longer.

On top of training endurance, these routines also utilise aspects of HIIT training and will burn calories.

Beginners Routine

This routine is all about getting started and used to it without throwing you in the deep end. You’ll want to start here if you are unsure and upgrade when this feels easy and you want to keep improving.

  1. 8 x 25m laps freestyle warm-up with a 60-second rest after. This is to warm up your body, just set a comfortable pace and focus on technique and breathing.
  2. 4 x 50m laps alternating between freestyle and backstroke every 50m or two laps of 25m with a 15-20-second rest between alternating strokes
  3. 8 x 25m laps freestyle at an even sprint that doesn’t impact form with a 10-15 second break between laps.
  4. 60 seconds rest
  5. 8 x 25m laps freestyle medium pace with a 10-15 second break between laps.
  6. 4 x 50m laps freestyle medium pace with a 20-second rest every 50m.
  7. 8 x 25m laps alternating between a freestyle sprint and calm and easy backstroke, with a 10-second rest between laps. 
  8. Finish - Rehydrate after every swim, you’ve just swum 1200 metres.

Recommended Routine

  1. 8 x 25m laps freestyle warm-up with a 60-second rest after. This is to warm up your body, just set a comfortable pace and focus on technique and breathing.
  2. 8 x 25m laps freestyle at an even sprint that doesn’t impact form with a 10-15 second break between laps.
  3. 60 seconds rest
  4. 5 x 100m laps at a good pace with a 30-second rest between each 100m.
  5. 60 seconds rest
  6. 4 x 50m laps freestyle medium pace with a 20-second rest every 50m.
  7. 12 x 25m laps alternating between a freestyle sprint and calm and easy backstroke, with a 10-second rest between laps. 
  8. 4 x 25m alternating between freestyle and stroke of choice to cool down. Set an easy pace and good form.
  9. Finish - Rehydrate after every swim, you’ve just swum 1500 metres.


Swimming is amazing for your overall fitness, breathing, stress, and learning to relax underwater and will drastically improve your paddle and surfing fitness, allowing you to surf longer.

Swimming is a whole-body exercise that will strengthen, tone and build endurance for all your big and small muscle groups.

If you are doing any regime to improve your surfing fitness, the goal is generally always endurance to keep you in the water longer.

If you have injuries, pain or limitations, you may need to see a professional and introduce mobility or strength training as a focus to remove that issue.

If you are just swimming for fitness, aim for 3 to 5 times a week to rapidly build endurance but listen to your body and when it needs to rest.

The same applies if you already have a gym routine, just consider your goals, what you want out of your time in the gym and if that's a mix of endurance and strength or a single focus, and that will dictate the order of if you do swimming before or after weights.

If all you are doing is going to the gym, remember to train using compound exercises that will utilise multiple muscles and don’t focus purely on isolation exercises. Paddling is a compound exercise and we need to train close to that.

If you are starting with swimming, go to an adult swimming class, group or club and get some pointers on technique, it will make the whole process easier, more efficient and more fun.

Next Week

Have you considered swimming before to help your surfing? Or have you written it off as too boring or too hard?

Has this given you the kick up the bum you needed to get into it and an easy routine to follow?

I’d love to know, you can reach out anytime, message me in the app or send an email to anytime.

Next week I am going to dive into coming back after an injury or a long time off surfing.

Written by
Luke Hardacre
surf coaching