Fitness For Surfers Of Advancing But Still Plenty Left Years.


Fitness for surfers is not an easy topic to write about. There’s a f*ck tonne of different levels and factors to consider. In any case, whether we like it or not surfing requires a level of fitness. The members of the AS Broom Cupboard Intelligence Committee are by no means as fit as we would like to be, devilishly good looking and beyond charming yes, but looks and glowing personalities only get you so far and we wanted to provide something that could actually be used to help us ALL get less fat.

Enter Matt Sutherland, a waterman, HM Coastguard CRO, SLS GB qualified surf Lifeguard, triathlon athlete, winner of countless ‘my dad’s harder than your dad’ battles and Lieutenant Colonel of The AS Squadron, Polzeath chapter. Matt’s own workouts will likely kill most of us and our audience so we asked him to share what he does with some universal tips for those of us who want to start getting back in to shape for better surfing. Matt is a legend, listen to Matt:

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As a bit of a lifelong exercise bore I thought it could be useful to introduce a bit of knowledge gained over many years of running, gyming, cycling and most importantly surfing. This is intended to lend a hand to those who love surfing but feel it’s a heck of a struggle doing the bits around it. So here is a bit of info and tips to try and help.

So many fitness for surfers programmes are too ambitious, too boring or just completely ineffective. Too many need a tonne of kit; think of that disused rowing machine gathering dust… So what we need is some realistic things to do that require little or no kit, some excitement and some rewards. As we are all completely different, a “one size fits all” programme is unlikely to work so jump into these suggestions wherever it feels comfortable.

First of all, what do you want to achieve? Yes we all want to surf like Kelly but maybe that’s a bit ambitious. Maybe a bit more paddling endurance? A bit more muscle tone? Often we want to lose weight but that is THE most abused and exploited fitness goal of the entire industry so lets ignore it partly because BMI is utterly daft; I am technically “overweight” due to too much time doing weights but can still run a sub 40 minute 10K and happily fit into 30″ trousers. See, it’s silly.

So here is a list of exercises and their relevance to surfing fitness;


An obvious one you may think but this is fitness for surfers! Sadly this is not one to be relied on partly because only surfing puts a lot of pressure on your back but also because even if you live right by the sea as Mrs S and I do, the surf is good about 15% of the time. Try to rely purely on surfing and you’ll soon look like Shawn Briley but not be able to surf as well. However it’s obviously great for paddle fitness and efficiency; that surfed out feeling is marvelous but all too rare. (Read How To Get Back In The Water)

The surf is just too inconsistent to be part of a true exercise programme but just surf when you can; pretty obvious one really! A surf can be very intensive exercise and require the next day off or it can be fairly easy but even a low paddle surf is good for you in many ways.


One of those things often tied in closely with fitness for surfers. And yes flexibility is good and core strength is even better but it’s not much of a calorie burner and does require a fair time commitment.

I admit I've been to a number of yoga classes ranging from super relaxing to pretty hardcore. I can see the benefits but just couldn't get stuck into it. However if you do have a local class running, try and do a weekly session and make it a more hardcore class like Ashtanga. The flexibility is handy but the main benefit is core strength which you really need in surfing. It's also good to use some of the stretches pre and post surfing.


Okay so many hate running. It hurts, it’s often miserable but it does allow a very good bit of measurable exercise to be squeezed into not much time – a 20 minute run does wonders. 30 is even better but don’t overdo it or you’ll hurt yourself and put yourself off. To me, running the coast paths around here is a real joy; it’s very hilly so hard work but it fits a lot into not much time and can be done anywhere; really good on surf holidays when the surf doesn’t turn up

Okay so running is easy to do anywhere, even on holiday but it's also hard on your body and immune system. After winning a triathlon I got a bit overexcited and trained too hard triggering a year of a complete immune system shutdown. Now doing so requires a fairly rare set of stupidness and stubbornness but it can be done. But whatever you do, don't run hard on two consecutive days - rest a day at least. Drink plenty of water before and after. Lightly stretch warmed up limbs before and after. Make sure your shoes are totally comfortable. Accept aches but not strains in your achilles or calves; they need sorting.
I'd suggest running at least twice a week starting off with little distances of 2km or less and building up to 5km then more if you like it. You can run in any weather, any time (headtorch running is fun) with minimal kit. Benefits to surfing - better cardiovascular fitness, you'll tone up nicely and be able to justify that beer more. It's also a great way to explore new places - I love running around Hossegor, Rodiles, Biarritz, etc and if you really get into it, mountain running is a true joy. If you have a dodgy set of knees, either stick to off road running (better for you core, easier on the knees) or cycle. I've left cycling out because the kit is so expensive and it takes too long but an hours hard cycle is very good for you.


I used to slog my guts off at the gym mainly to gain weight which, once I’d worked out how to do it properly, I did very rapidly. In fact too much in the end and I was struggling to catch waves or run well. However that was “bulking” which I doubt many of us want to do – we want toning with a bit of strength thrown in. 

My own workout is actually at home using various bits of kit. It takes very little time (35 mins at the most) and uses minimal kit. Click the below for a guide, it’s mostly bodyweight stuff with some weights thrown in.

Try and workout twice a week. Weights are particularly good for us older lot and can be done at almost any age but take it easy. Muscle strains aren't good.
My workout is done at home - I've put the reps I do in brackets. For some these may be a bit much, but it’s good to set a line to target. Start low and see how you get on. The key is to exercise the biggest muscle groups first down to the smallest. Rest for around a minute between sets.
Warm up - I do a few minutes on a punchbag (ex competing kickboxer) but skipping or just squat jumps are fine.
Legs - One legged squats holding two 15kgs dumbells. Now this isn't easy so try no weights first then build up. (I do 20ish). Lunges - again with 2x 15kgs dumbells and making sure the knee doesn't pass the foot or you'll hurt yourself. (I do around 18).
Chest - Ten regular press ups, ten clapping press ups (just do ten regular to start with) then rest then "deep" press up - a hand on a chair, feet slightly elevated on a sofa and I do 45 - this is really hard so start with 20 normal press ups and build up. Then I do 20 press ups off bars (that look like plastic steam irons) for a final "burn."
Back - Okay this is silly but I do 25 pull ups off a bar hanging from a door frame. That's hard. So try a few if possible. You can do pull down rows at the gym at a lighter weight to build up. Then I do 20 (each side) bent over rows with a 15kg weight; keep your back straight. This does your lats which are vital for paddling.
Shoulders - 20ish shoulder presses - grab two weights in a standing positions and lift upwards (I do 18ish.) Then what I call "flying" presses; two light weighs lifted from by your side to the horizontal position.
Triceps - another silly one I use to torture kickboxing students with that are sometimes called Chinese press ups. Don't try them; instead do dips off a chair. Then tricep presses with one weight - look these up and don't wallop yourself on the head! (I do 15ish with a 15kg weight).
Biceps - just bicep curl with a weight that feel comfortable (2x15ks for me) - I then immediately do another dozen with a lighter pair of weights but it hurts.
Abs - no doing 500 situps a day won't get you a sixpack, it's just make your abs strong. You need low fat for a washboard. But strong abs are very handy for the surfing pop up so don't ignore them - I do 80-100 crunches. This is a bit much so try 30ish. I then do 50 twisting situps with my feet supported by a manky old sofa.
Drink plenty of water and do a cool down stretch of every major muscle group.


Really good fitness for surfers with a few years of battle but it can be dead boring. I have to be able to do 400m in 7m30s for Lifeguarding and boy is it tough but it is doable. And when us Sutherland’s had a year in London (!) our apartment block had a pool. Regular swims meant paddling fitness was maintained surprisingly well. So really try and swim regularly and seize on any weaknesses and try and swat them down. It’s probably the best workout overall BUT it isn’t a great toner.

You may already be an epic swimmer or not into it at all but you MUST be able to swim at least 100m if you surf or a snapped leash becomes a major disaster. Try and do crawl as much as possible and start with sets of 5 lengths (25m pool) and build up slowly to a km to make it a proper workout. Don't be afraid to get some coaching - I recently did and it was very handy. Also try and swim safely in the sea; I do the odd mile in the Summer and it's a true joy. Stick close to the shoreline at all times and avoid any areas with boats! A good swimmer is a good paddler


Again often diets are just silly. (Read The Best Things To Keep Down Your Sleeve) No beer (meh), eat lettuce only and make yourself utterly miserable. No no and no again. However don’t go on a diet, you need to change your diet. But keep it sensible, avoid processed food like the plague, keep light on fat but don’t fret about it and watch the salt. Five pints of beer a night clearly won’t help but no need to completely stop drinking.

I'm not expert at all but a weekly veg box is good for making you eat good food. Cut down your meat intake, up your pulses and fruit and veg, don't over treat yourself for being "good" and really try to avoid nasty snacks. Don't drink too much but also keep it at a sensible level.


A big thank you to Matt Sutherland for giving his time and sharing his wealth of knowledge. The guy is a machine! However, the clear message is that fitness for surfers with a few extra eye-bags doesn’t need to be daunting, it is about small steps up, doing a bit more each time.

To help (a bit) we created this 2 a day plan with rewards (We rarely do anything unless there’s a treat!). We’ve already stuck ours to the Broom Cupboard fridge in the hope that our inner Dave says: ‘Yeah put down that massive bar of cheese fatty and do some press-ups’. Maybe we should have called this whole thing ‘Fitness For Surfers Who Know This Sh*t Is Bad For Them But Need A Kick Up The Arse To Get Motivated’…

…Maybe not, but we do hope this inspires a bit of motivation to get more active. Go steady Squadron!



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