ATLETA Fitness

Training for Improved Snow and Surf Sport Performance

For many of us, a weekend wave or a weekend trip down to the slopes is a great way to escape the worries of the working week. As we duck under the refreshing water, we wash away all of the week’s worries and cares. With every powder turn we throw away a little bit more stress, and live more in the moment.

Optimized-Powder TurnWe are human though, and as humans we are always looking to improve ourselves, progress our skills and get better at anything and everything we do. Snow and surf sports specific training is a great way to improve the relevant strength and fitness elements associated with these sporting pursuits. How do we actually train to improve relevant fitness components, and what are these? Lets look at an application of sports specific training principles to surf and snow sports.

Sports Specific Training:

If athletes are fitter, they can train harder, compete for longer and create an advantage through hard work and determination. Similarly, if we as weekend warriors can improve our base and specific levels of fitness and strength, we can improve our ability to learn and progress in our sport. This is where sports science and strength and conditioning comes into play, helping develop us from weekend warriors into weekend shredders.

Movement Demands of Snow and Surf Sports:

As with any sport, having a firm base level of general fitness and strength is the best starting point from which to build a strong sports specific capacity. For regular surfers and shredders, being fit and healthy will improve your overall performance (not to mention how good you feel in the process!) However, thinking about and employing sports specific training demands into your weekly workouts will help take your performance to that next level.

Movement Demands:

Optimized-CutbackSurfing and snow sports involve large, full-body movements repeated at regular intervals. Training sessions and competitions can be long and arduous, and hence a large base fitness level is required to facilitate performance and recovery. Athletes therefore require high levels of gross motor co-ordination and kinetic chain power translation.

Effectively, athletes need to be able to produce power from awkward positions, guide this power from their lower body through their trunk and upper limbs and apply this power in the correct amounts with correct timing. This requires athletes to be akin to a ‘supple leopard’ – strong, mobile, stable and flexible.

Strength, Fitness and Technique Demands:

Important components of strength and fitness for surf and snow sports include lower body strength, lower body power, core stability, joint freedom and range of motion (ROM), kinetic chain power translation (lower limb through core to upper limb – rotational power) and dynamic balance ability.

If you want to gain a better understanding of your own technique, and analyse your movements, video recordings of yourself performing in your sport are the best tool to work with. This allows you an external view of what your performance looks like, and can help you internalise and better understand certain movement patterns.

Components of Training:

The three major training components you need to know here are progressive overload, trainability/reversibility and specificity.

Progressive Overload DiagramProgressive overload is the process through which we allow our body to adapt to new loads and demands. By periodising and timing our sessions correctly, we can ensure that our recovery post-training rebuilds our body and hyper-compensates, leaving us with an improved level of strength or fitness. Similarly, trainability and reversibility tell us that the body will react to a stimulus we provide it with. Training will result in adaptation, and poor training will result in mal-adaptation. Ensuring correct technique will help the body develop in the correct way. Alternatively, reversibility demonstrates that effectively, if you don’t train (or you stop training) then any gains made can (and will) be lost quite quickly.

Specificity is how it sounds – we have to train in a way that is specific to our performance needs. There is no point training on a bike 5 times a week if you want to improve paddling fitness; you need to paddle to improve your paddling. Cross training can be a fun way to change up your training on odd occasions (ie go for a bike ride occasionally), but should not be the staple base of your training.

Strength and Conditioning Program Design:

These components of training are all applied when designing and implementing a periodised strength and conditioning program. Most importantly, however, strength and conditioning for athletes is about preventing injury. ‘Pre-hab’ exercises are used to strengthen problem, weakened or injury prone areas of the athlete.

In sports such as surfing and snow sports, large kinetic chain, full body movements construct the base for improved performance, from which more specific movements can be built. These movements involve shifting large masses over big distances, utilising a large array of associated musculature. Pre-hab exercises are usually done first, however, as these are the most important exercises for the athlete’s long term performance.

Large strength and power movements are commonly programmed to occur after a strong warm-up and pre-hab has been completed. These exercises are done early on during a training day, as they are highly fatiguing and also construct the movement and strength base upon which the training program builds. Exercises such as squats, deadlifts, hang power cleans, power snatch, bench press, chin-ups, prone-rows and variations thereof are what we usually utilise as the large kinetic chain exercises off of which to build performance. These movements all stimulate full body power and strength production, and are a great muscular and neurological workout.Power Clean

Sports Specific Exercises:

Following this, we program sports specific exercises. Each sport requires different exercises, as each sport places different demands on performers. A few gym based exercise for each sport. Note: it is important that prior to completing these exercises you have gained tuition and guidance from a training professional, so as to avoid injury and poor technique.


Exercises using a Swiss ball with a body-board on top can help develop specific paddling strength, among other things. Using cable resistance and resistance bands in a paddling motion while lying on the board and Swiss ball apparatus can develop paddling strength, power or speed depending on the reps and resistance used. For dynamic surfing balance, standing on top of a bosu ball (with a spotter for safety) and balancing in different positions is a great way to get used to the feeling of bucking foam-balls and trying to manoeuvre around tricky sections.

Skiing:Optimized-Ski Cliff Drop

Exercises using plyometric loading (see blog here for more information on plyometric training) to practice landing can be specific for skiers looking to take on the park, or drop off a few small rocks. Depth jumps, where one stands on a box, drops and jumps as high as they can not only develops landing strength, but also explosive lower limb power. Resistance bands can be used to stimulate glute activation and knee stabilisation, by placing skiers into a downhill riding positon and attaching resistance to the appropriate points on the lower limb. This can make for an isometric (static) hold, or even could be used for concentric external hip rotation (gluteus Max activation, pulling your knee outward against resistance).


Using plyometric exercises to fatigue jumping ability, we can get boarders used to performing explosive jumps under high fatigue conditions. A series of plyometric box jumps repeated with little rest will stimulate lower body power production under fatigue conditions. Snowboarding also places large stresses on the shoulders, chest, arms and wrists. Rotator cuff exercises using resistance bands or cable machines can improve scapula action and shoulder stability, for when a rider comes down hard off a jump. Using larger diameter barbells, or things such as ‘Fat Gripz‘, we can improve forearm and wrist strength while performing exercises such as deadlifts or chin-ups.

Mick Fanning Thundercloud

Mick Fanning looking strong at Cloudbreak, taken from the movie ‘Thundercloud’

Strength and conditioning works best when it is sports specific and tailored to performance outcomes. Sports specific training is useful for anyone interested in improving their ability at their sport, hobby or passion, as it can improve strength, performance and enjoyment as you progress to higher levels of enjoyment and ability. If you’re interested in snow and sports specific training, Contact the ATLETA team today and we can help get you started. I am a passionate surfer and snow-boarder, with a large array of experience training for specific sporting outcomes (particularly in surf and snow athletes), and it is my desire to work more closely with anyone looking to improve their on snow or surfing strength and performance.

Written by Johann Ruys

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