by Cris Mills, SurfStrengthCoach.com
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SURFING POP UP – EXERCISE FOUNDATIONS
This is the process, and physiologically sound, no internet surf fitness fluff right here. This is how to improve your surfing pop up.
FOUNDATIONS FIRST, THEN SKILL
Pushing strength and power, core integration, a bend pattern (hip pull), flexibility, and skill improvement. These are the foundations to improving your pop up. Notice the skill is last. Where do most people start trying to improve their pop up? They start by performing the skill repeatedly, without first making sure the foundations are adequate. This is what a lot of “functional” training attempts to do, unfortunately. It neglects the difference between skills and foundations. Improve the SKILL, by working on the foundations (flexibility, pushing strength and power, core integration, bend pattern [hip pull]).
“That differentiation needs to make sense between skill and foundations.”
The movement of a pop up is a skill, a movement pattern your body / brain connection has wired in. Like how you can slide the key into the ignition in your car without really having to focus on the movement. It’s hardwired. The quickest way to change a hardwired movement is to make sure the foundational patterns of that movement are adequate or improved, and then you begin to work on the skill (actual pop up drills, or preferably, surfing).
To really improve your pop up, if you’re having difficulty, isn’t to start practicing pop-ups onto a foam roller or unstable surface… yet. As with any legitimate athletic or performance training:
“you find what’s limiting you, improve that foundation, and then let that carryover to skill improvement.”
Only when ALL the foundations, and basic strength or flexibility requirements are met, then you can start challenging the actual skill. That’s where some of the “functional” surf fitness exercises come into play, but most people just need to improve the foundations. And if you’ve got the foundations nailed, as a surfer and athlete, you’d be better off spending your training time improving some other skill or movement aspect, or surfing… not working on some overly technical and circusy pop-up movement.
FOR THE MORE MATURE SURFER or DESK JOCKEY, CHECK YOUR FLEXIBILITY
Most of the older crew, or those spend a lot of time sitting, it’s generally a lack of flexibility that’s giving you issues (there’s always exceptions to the human body). A simple test is the deep squat position. Can you deep squat? What that movement is showing is if you have adequate lower body joint mobility. If you don’t, it’s quite unlikely you have the joint mobility to get into a pop up position cleanly and quickly.
There are orthopaedic conditions, past surgeries, or injuries that make a deep squat position difficult or even problematic. Work with a qualified practitioner to find your limitations and capabilities. The video below goes over deep squat positions, various stretches, and drills, to help improve pop up requirements. For a full Flexibility Program, check out my program Stretches for Surfers
POP UP FLEXIBILITY – HOW TO GET IT
…and more on Skill Improvement vs. Foundations
WHAT IF YOU’VE GOT THE FLEXIBILITY, BUT LACK THE STRENGTH?
If flexibility isn’t the issue, then we start looking to upper body pushing strength / power, the bend pattern (when you pull your hips and knees under your body, it’s a bend pattern), and also core integration. All this work can be done along with flexibility work if needed. For the Ladies, the upper body pushing strength is generally the issue. Everyone should be able to do perfect, clean, core controlled pushups.
POP UP EXERCISES: STRENGTH & CORE FOUNDATIONS
Increase the basic movement and control of the pushup, with a properly integrated core and alignment. That pushup can then be progressed for endurance, strength, unstable surfaces, power, speed, whatever your body and pop up needs, but the foundation is that good ole’ perfect pushup.
The core and hip flexion work needs to be done with Quality movement. Again, that word is Quality. The majority of these pop up drills are reinforcing “stability” and control of the spine and pelvis. Pay attention to keeping proper alignment, and regress the exercises if necessary. Most people start a few steps ahead of where they ought to. Quality, not quantity folks.
Reinforce the basic strength qualities. Get a bit stronger. Develop more core control, and hip flexibility. Improve upon the pop up’s fundamental movement properties. This will carry over into your skill practice.
HOW TO PRACTICE: POP UP SKILL PRACTICE
There’s no need to get overly technical, or ridiculously “functional” with this. Get in the water, and focus on quality pop ups. Really focus on the movements and consider the process. Where are you getting hung up? What are the feet position? Is your pressing portion too slow? Make changes where needed.
Out of Water Practice
Some solid ground work is a good idea if you’re having troubles. The goal is to be precise with these movements, not to fatigue the body.
“Think of trying to teach your brain this motor pattern, so you want the pattern to be perfect, and precise. “
If you practice pop ups well into fatigue, your form is probably falling off, and you’re getting a bit sloppy. Maybe 4 – 8 reps. A good rest period (around 90 seconds), as the nervous system and power output takes a bit longer to recover. 3-5 sets. You could spread the sets out of a training session, or couple them with another quality movement. Pull-ups and pop ups could be a good sequence.
I’ve worked with guys that had all the fundamental flexibility, strength, and power, but they had taught their body to perform that 1 leg at a time pop up. Where you kind of drag one leg up at a time, and get up from that half kneeling stance. It’s completely inefficient. All these guys had to do was retrain the movement pattern, and focus on quality solid ground pop ups for a bit. Carry that over to really focusing on quality pop ups in the water.
Bosu Ball Pop Ups
The pop up onto a Bosu ball is a good movement, that most people should get to. That’s about as far as I take the pop up practice, in terms of “functional” and sport applicable.
There’s plenty of varieties of pop up exercises, just be smart about your training and find movements that actually do have a sport carryover.
As with any skill, it takes time to develop. It will. Put in some quality movement practice and training and you will be well on your way to answering the question: How To Improve Your Surfing Pop Up.
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