Five Exercises to Increase Surfers’ Paddling Strength and Endurance

May 3, 2016 7:07 pm / Category: Sports Performance , Triathlon

How well did your shoulders hold up to the El Niño this winter? Building strength through your shoulders and upper back to improve paddling endurance is your key to paddling out in bigger surf, catching bigger waves, and being able to stay out for longer surf sessions.

paddlingfingersStrengthening the rotator cuff, scapular stabilizers and upper back are all key components to improve paddling strength. The rotator cuff muscles are extremely important for stabilizing the shoulder joint, which is the most mobile joint in the body. Specifically, strengthening the external rotators of the rotator cuff act to counterbalance the more dominant internal rotators (pecs & lats), minimize muscle imbalances when paddling, and promote good shoulder mechanics. Enhancing strength and endurance of the scapular stabilizers will also help you maintain good shoulder mechanics to prevent injury during extended periods of paddling.

Exercises for paddling endurance should focus on high reps and low weight, while exercises for paddling power should focus on increased weight with lower reps to maximize overall strength. As you build strength, it’s important to maintain shoulder mobility and flexibility by stretching and foam rolling before and after every session to minimize any joint stiffness throughout the shoulder and upper back, as well as to minimize muscle fatigue and soreness. Check out my previous surfing blog for the Best Foam Rolling Exercises for Surfers’ Shoulders.

Five Exercises to Target Muscles for Paddling

While the best way to gain paddling strength is actually getting out in the water, these five exercises can help compliment the work you do in the water, on dry land:

Exercise 1: Scaps Clocks

Scap Clocks

Scap Clocks

Promotes endurance of the upper back and shoulder

  • Start with the right arm. Pull tension in the band to 1 → 3 → 5 o’clock. Repeat with left arm, pull band to 11 → 9 → 7 o’clock. Make sure to keep your shoulders down and back; standing against the wall is a good cue for upright posture.
  • Perform 10-15 reps on each side.


Exercise 2: Alternating Rows with cables or bands

Alternating Rows

Alternating Rows

Promotes stabilization and endurance of the shoulder blade while paddling

  • Keeping your elbow at your side, pull the band back while squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  • Perform 2 sets of 20, increase resistance if you’re not fatigued by the end of the set


Exercise 3: Alternating Lat Pull-Downs with cables or bands


Alternating Lat Pull-Downs

Builds paddling endurance through lats for a strong pull through the water

  • Stand in a partial squat to activate your core. Pull the band down towards your hip, keeping your elbow straight. Let the tension out of the band slowly to return to starting position. Alternate arms.
  • Perform 2-3 sets of 20 on each side alternating strokes


Exercise 4: Prone external rotation/internal rotation on swiss ball


Prone External/Internal Rotation

Promotes rotator cuff strengthening while paddling

  • Lay prone on the swiss ball, keeping your back straight and chin tucked. Start with the shoulder abducted and externally rotated in the ‘90/90 position’ (as shown in photo.) Internally rotate your shoulder to simulate paddling while keeping your shoulder and elbow aligned.
  • Perform 2-3 sets of 10, add light weight (1-3 lbs. dumbells) as strength improves


Exercise 5: Simulated paddling on swiss ball with band

Simulated Paddling

Simulated Paddling

  • Keep chin tucked and shoulders back and keeping your elbow straight while pulling. Slowly let tension out of band to return to overhead position, alternate arms.
  • Perform 2-3 sets of 20 on each side alternating strokes

Training to build muscle strength to help you paddle longer and faster will improve your overall surfing endurance. The best way to practice paddling is getting out in the water; these specific paddling exercises are to help compliment the work you do in the waves. See you in the water!


StaffHeadshot-Ashley2Ashley Heller, MPT is the newest member of the Rausch PT team. She received her Masters of Physical Therapy degree at California State University, Long Beach and is passionate about working with patients with shoulder, knee and ankle injuries. With background in orthopedic-related injuries and post-operative rehabilitation, Ashley believes that the combination of manual therapy and personalized therapeutic exercise program is vital to recovery. As a physical therapist, it’s Ashley’s goal to help her patients better understand their injuries and the plan for their road to recovery.

Click to learn more about Ashley and our other physical therapists »