Paddle Better – train to paddle like a pro and reap the rewards

Surfing is a sport which entails intermittent exercise bouts of activity that vary in intensity and duration. These bouts require high muscular and cardio-respiratory endurance and the capacity to produce considerable anaerobic power, particularly in the upper-body. Paddling takes up over 50% of your total surfing sessions, so it’s probably a good thing to work on the muscle groups and the “engine” that are recruited during surfing.

From a training perspective, for types of surfing breaks, it can be suggested that surfers expecting to surf at a point break should work on longer durations of continuous paddling, whereas for a beach break scenario, they should work on short maximal sprint paddle bouts and repeated long-sprint paddling for waves. Consequently, one method of training does not necessarily suit specific locations because of the many variables that can occur (weather, swells, other environmental factors); therefore, a crossover of training styles is recommended. 

There is the old school thought of just surf and you’ll get better at paddling and develop surf fitness. Sure, that is a fair thought, does have merit and would work well for those who have access to the beach on a regular basis. However, those same people often have loads of shoulder and back issues too from the amount of time spent paddling; putting the shoulder girdle, spine and hips under great continuous stress and not doing any other form of training preforming opposite movement patterns, mobility & stability work. A key work here is Overuse, and overuse often leads to poor performance and injury.  

So how can we paddle better and stay paddle fit if we don’t have consistent access to surf breaks and improve our performance?

It has been reported in surfing literature that there is an “association between relative upper-body pull-up strength and sprint paddling ability” and that “short-term exposure to maximal strength training elicits improvements in paddling performance measures”.  When you think about the sport, that initial burst sprint paddle is key to accelerating you and the board forwards and paddle quickly to ‘catch’ the wave.  

Therefore, there should be a strong focus on developing relative upper-body pulling strength for surfers to help them paddle into the wave sooner. There should be focus on the shoulder girdle/ rotator cuffs as they are utilized loads for paddling and are exposed to overuse issues.  

Here are my top 5 recommendations:  


Great for developing upper-body strength though the back and shoulders – all requirements for paddling power.

Just 5 weeks of implementing this kind of training 2 – 3 times a week will help. Reps between 4 – 12 x 2- 3 sets. 1min between sets 


Great for the pectoral development – to aid in that popup and paddle power drive  

Just 5 weeks of implementing this kind of training 2 – 3 times a week will help. Reps between 4 – 12 x 2- 3 sets. 1min between sets 

Push up clap/power push up: 

Great for developing fast twitch fibers (the ability to move yourself faster) which is needed for the initial acceleration propulsive phase when paddling and popping up. 

Just 5 weeks of implementing this kind of training 2 – 3 times a week will help. Reps of 6 x 3 – 4 sets. Each rep is done at 100% effort. 1-2min between sets 

Water Training: 

The outcome from being in the water on your board and sprint paddling will improve your aerobic capacity, glycolytic function and repeated paddling ability. 

Sprint Interval Training: Maximal sprint paddling consists of 10s all out paddling with 20-30s breaks between each rep and 2mins rest between sets. 

High Intensity Interval Training: For this method of training a set marker is needed to paddle between. To calculate this marker distance, paddle 400m and / (divide) by your time in seconds. This will give you your average speed in m, then X (multiply) by 120% to work at a higher threshold – this gives more m to paddle and the rate we want for HIIT. 
HIIT = paddle bursts of 120% maximal aerobic speed based over a set distance for 30s of paddling, interspaced with 30s rest periods between reps and 2mins rest between sets. 

Just 5 weeks of implementing this kind of training 2 – 3 times a week will help. Reps ranges for SIT 3 x 5 – 6 x 8. HIIT 2 x 5 – 3 x 6. Each rep is done with 100% effort. 2min between sets. 

Shoulder circuit:  

Great one for shoulder mobility and stability. Working the muscles groups in the opposite directions. 

Just 5 weeks of implementing this kind of training 2 – 3 times a week will help. Reps of 8 – 12, with 2 – 3 set will certainly help with the functional range. 


Coyne, J., Tran, T., T, Secomb, J., L, Lundgren, L., Farley, O., R L, Newton, R., U, & Sheppard, J., M. (2016). Maximal Strength Training Improves Surfboard Sprint & Endurance Paddling Performance in Competitive & Recreational Surfers. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001483 

Farley, O. R. L., Secomb, J. L., Parsonage, J., Lundgren, L., Abbiss, C., & Sheppard, J. M. (2016). Five weeks of sprint and high intensity interval training improves paddling performance in adolescent surfers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(9), 2446-2452 

Sheppard JM, Mcnamara P, Osborne M, Andrews M, Oliveira Borges T, Walshe P, and Chapman D. Association between anthropometry and upper-body strength qualities with sprint paddling performance in competitive wave surfers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26: 3345–3348, 2012.