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I am 37 and in good shape. I do gym, weights lifting. One month ago, I started learning surfing and, unfortunately, I need 3 full days to recover from a surf lesson, especially if the ocean is a bit wilder.

I am wondering if that’s normal in the beginning and if it improves over time. Or, it could be an issue with body tension — I had this issue in the past.

If I take a lesson after only 2 days, my body is still a bit tired, and not very responding/slow. In such conditions, it’s impossible for me to catch the waves.

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  • It depends on the day… sometimes 1 meter, sometimes they srr over my head.. so 2 meters maybe. I’m a beginner, so I hope I’m saying it right. Oct 10 at 21:21
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    You've got a range of answers, which is good in itself, but perhaps we could refine them a little as we've made different assumptions. A few thoughts: How long are the lessons? Where do you feel tired/slow? Specific muscles used for specific things, or all over?
    – Chris H
    Oct 11 at 9:47
  • This might be more of a question for fitness.stackexchange.com
    – Philipp
    Oct 11 at 13:04
  • @Philipp I reckon it falls in the overlap between the sites, and has got some attention here so we're probably fine
    – Chris H
    Oct 11 at 15:46
  • Surfing stresses your core far more than standard workouts. Something like pilates might be of help.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 11 at 23:02
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I'll assume what you do in the gym is pretty much an all-over workout aimed at general strength. This can be very helpful, but may miss some useful muscles. You may benefit a bit from some endurance cardio in gaps between the surfing, but I suspect a couple of things:

  • Surfing is still new to you, and only doing it twice a week it will take some time for the unfamiliar movements to become routine. New uses of the same muscles do take some getting used to, resulting in stiffness.

  • You might find stretching after a surf session is helpful. This might include finding some new stretches. If you're like me, finishing a gym session or even a run with some stretches is routine, but after getting out of a kayak or off a bike it doesn't seem to happen. Even after an unusually hard swim I should stretch but don't.

  • If it's a long session (like a half-day lesson), you could end up really depleted and need a bit of refeeding. In that case you should get some carbs (and protein) in you at the first opportunity. This is especially something to look at if you're used to shorter bouts of exercise, and if you're feeling sluggish all over. In particular if your diet is light on carbs to start with, it could take a couple of days to build back up. A portion of starchy food after a surf session would be an easy thing to try. If your normal diet is very light on carbs (but you're not going keto) your glycogen stores may be low to start with. Modifying the meal or two before the session might help (e.g. more bread at lunch, oats at breakfast), and/or a cereal bar or banana close to the session or in a break on the beach.

  • Similarly it's quite easy to end up dehydrated after a day on the water, and again that should be dealt with promptly.

If you make a note of specific areas of your body that suffer the most, you can try training (when not surfing) and/or stretching (after a surf session) those areas

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  • Hi, thanks for your answer. I didn't want to put too much emphasis on the gym workout. I just wanted to say I'm in shape somehow, and I haven't spent my days on the couch in the last ten years. I dont’t feel too much pain, I just feel the body tired and low energy. I do mobility exercises and I try to eat proteins, veggies and carbs. (Although I try to not eat too much pasta/rice/bread. Do you think 3 days are abnormal, or not? Because I see people surfing every day for 1 week before to collapse (even beginners). Oct 10 at 21:28
  • I have a doubt. Maybe I could try to eat more carbs? Or maybe I just need to be more patient and wait for my body to adapt. Oct 10 at 21:32
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    @patrickdiviacco it might be worth actually working out the total calories you’re eating. You might be under-fueling yourself. MyFitnessPal is a good app for keeping track of how many calories you need versus how many you eat.
    – Darren
    Oct 11 at 2:00
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    I took the gym workout as 2 things: evidence of a decent activity level, and an opportunity to deal with any issues. Estimating calories from something like surfing is really hard, but if you're exercising reasonably hard for longer than you're used to, you're probably burning more carbs than you can readily handle. Getting glycogen-depleted really takes it out of you. That normally takes around 2 hours of exercise with no replenishment, and the only way to replace glycogen is carbs. If your diet is light on carbs, you may well take a couple of days to replace what you've used.
    – Chris H
    Oct 11 at 7:59
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    I think glycogen depletion should take longer than 2 hours (maybe 4) for a beginner surfer. You don't use enough large muscles to do it in 2 and as a beginner additionally the ones that you do need, you probably can't mobilize for any serious amount of time. But it's certainly possible they are lacking carbs in general and if they have a calorie deficit then their glycogen storage will be mostly empty even at the start of the exertion.
    – Nobody
    Oct 12 at 8:51
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Gym workouts are perfect for show off - they concentrate on the most spectacular muscles, but are neglecting the stabilization muscles, that are crucial for outdoor activities - like running on mountain trails, climbing or surfing.

Taking into account that you're now targeting muscles that you've likely neglected in your life, 3 days regeneration time is excellent.

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    That implies a very narrow definition of gym workouts. Look round a fitness gym rather than one where the bodybuilders go and you'll see loads of people working their core muscles and the ones that don't show,, or working on overall strength. You'll even see some training for specific outdoor activities
    – Chris H
    Oct 10 at 19:53
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    My understanding of what @Danubian Sailor is that for the stabilization muscles, gyms and weight lifting are associated with the muscles important to moving the body versus the ones useful for stabilizing - It's not very common for people to picture the one-legged deadlift when you're talking about deadlifting. Oct 10 at 22:26
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    @AlexanderThe1st fair enough - but picturing a deadlift at all in response to "gym workout with weights" is already an error. Example: I only had time for a quick session this morning, but that involved shoulder (rotator cuff etc.), back, and abductor & adductor muscles of the hip as well as a variety of dumbbell exercises on and off the bench. These last require a bit more stabilisation effort than a barbell, especially one in a frame. I'll make up for the short session at home, with more core work and dumbbell stuff
    – Chris H
    Oct 11 at 9:45
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I’d say three days is at the extreme end of recovery time, but as others have said, you might be using new, untrained muscles.

My opinion, and speaking as a climber who has never surfed: you shouldn’t expect gym exercises (weights - high intensity, low volume) to improve your performance when surfing. I expect - much like climbing - it is mostly down to stamina. Sure, I need to be able to pull up on my arms sometimes, and training with weights, press ups and pull ups helps there, but the majority of it is just being able to sustain 20m of climbing non-stop without getting pumped or running out of breath. So in short: cardio, cardio, cardio. Running, cycling, maybe things like HIIT or body-pump - these are the ways of a Jedi. Weight training is the best way to having a beautiful, toned and sculpted body, but nothing else. As they said on an alpine climbing course I attended once: “don’t be that guy”.

Other answers have suggested ensuring you eat some protein and carbs, but you should also look at the number of calories you’re consuming as you could be under-fuelling your body. Use an app like MyFitnessPal to keep track of how man calories you need versus how many you consume.

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    @DanubianSailor I would suggest you were climbing too hard a grade to begin with if that was the case.
    – Darren
    Oct 10 at 19:52
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    Hi, I didn't want to put too much emphasis on the gym workout. I just wanted to say I'm in shape somehow, and I haven't spent my days on the couch in the last ten years. But so, answering the question, is 3 days abnormal, or ok? Oct 10 at 21:26
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    @DanubianSailor offtopic, but climbing definitely does not require "immense" hands strength. When I started climbing, I only could manage a couple pull-ups, that's not immense by any standard. And it's quite possible to climb without being able to do a single pull-up at all. The real issue is technique, or lack thereof, which makes beginners pull themselves up with their hands where a more experience climber uses mostly feet.
    – IMil
    Oct 11 at 23:56
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    @IMiL pull-ups mostly test arm strength rather than grip/hand; climbing can easily go further and be about finger strength even if all you do with your arms is take a lot of your weight static while placing a foot. The exception would be someone who does a lot of bicep curls but never pull ups. They'd still develop some grip strength but out of proportion
    – Chris H
    Oct 12 at 6:13
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    @ChrisH that's true, but again, any gym has beginner routes which require no more hand/finger strength than climbing up a vertical ladder
    – IMil
    Oct 12 at 7:55
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The best thing you can do in order to learn to surf without actually surfing, is to swim.

Front crawl helps a lot for surfing. You could work on your technique first, then on endurance, and then on speed.

You'll be more relaxed while preparing for a wave, you'll have more power when catching it, and you won't be completely exhausted afterwards.

That being said, surfing is hard. I tried pretty much every existing boardsport, and surfing is by far the hardest and most exhausting of all. It's great fun, but it's dangerous too: you always want to have some stamina left in order to come back safely to shore.

If you need 3 days to recover, so be it. Working on your front crawl will probably help.

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It's probably normal. I teach surf preparation cardio workouts (paddling on a lake) and beginners are usually wrecked at the end of the lesson and it doesn't matter at all whether they do strengh training.

Before your next trip, do some surf-paddling first. That's the best preparation for surfing. Front crawl (as mentioned in the other answer) works if you happen to be good at it or want to train swimming anyway, but paddling training is much more focused on surfing and provides additional benefits over swimming.

Just take your surf board into a lake or river and do a cardio paddle workout on it with some high intensity intervals.

Basics: Press legs together, keeps legs over center of board, lift up shoulders, lift up feet if possible (and lift knees too if possible). Nose of board right at the water line. Neither the board nor your body wobbles or turns side to side while paddling.

Good exercises which I use in my training, ordered from basic to more advanced:

  • sit up on board, don't press your knees against it, you just loosely sit on it
  • while sitting up on the board, lift your hands to shoulder height and turn from side to side while keeping your arms in front of you
  • while sitting up, board flat, turn with just your feet as fast as possible
  • while sitting up, nose of board around 45 degrees up, turn with just your hand. One hand grips the side of the board, the other pushes water away from the board in a circle. Most beginners splash the water back - but you are neither supposed to splash, nor to go back. Your hand moves in as large of a circle as possible and not so explosively that you splash, that would be useless
  • while sitting up, nose up, do turns with hand and feet
  • paddle, single narrow push-up on knees, paddle
  • paddle, sit up, lay down, paddle
  • sit up, then start sprinting, quickly laying down in the right position on the board
  • get off the board, lay arms over the board and grab your feet on the other side of the board. Very relaxing between hard exercises
  • alternate for 10-20 strokes each: 1) good position, shoulders up as far as possible, move to the front of the board a bit so its nose is just at the water line. Really work your shoulders here. 2) bad position, shoulders down, you need to move back a bit so the board's nose doesn't dive below the water line. Yes, using intentionally bad form in the recovery phase is good here.
  • paddle, 360 turn, paddle
  • sprint, 180 turn, sprint
  • alternate paddling techniques for 20 strokes each: front crawl style with elbows high and surf style with extended arms swinging forwards. Front crawl style is more suited to sprints, the other for distance.
  • focus on grabbing a packet of water at the front and then pushing it as far back as possible with each stroke. Don't splash.
  • sprint interval with focus on left/right hand movement, if you feel your hand slipping through the water too much with not enough resistance, do an S with each hand during the pull.
  • pair up with someone else. Partner A closes eyes and paddles, partner B helps them to stay on a straight course by giving left/right instructions. Then switch. You can extend that with more possible instructions like left/right commands not aimed at going straight or blind 180 turns.
  • turtle rolls, i.e. roll sideways into the water, turning your board on top of you. Stay down for a couple of seconds. Then roll up again.
  • duck dives, i.e. sprint, make the board dive into the water and then follow the board. Only possible with boards that are likely too small for beginners. Best to watch some videos.
  • sprint, then duck dive or turtle roll, sprint. Repeat with some active recovery in between
  • many combinations of sprint, duck dive, turtle roll, 180 turn, 360 turn.
  • paddle with both hands synchronously for 10-20 strokes
  • do zigs and zags while lying down, i.e. change your direction abruptly by 30 to 45 degrees.
  • sit up on the board and put your legs in front of you on the board. More difficult: Cross legged, or without using hands to keep balance.
  • find a comfortable position on the board where you aren't straining your shoulders too much. Start paddling and every 5 to 10 strokes move forward 1-2 cm. Repeat until you fall of the board. This will make you lift your shoulders high to stay on the board as long as possible.

(this list kind of went on and on and still doesn't include every exercise I like to do. I didn't realize before that I use this many different exercises)

And of course don't forget normal interval/endurance training.

If you do this a couple of times per week for a couple of months before your surf trip, you will be able to surf all day, every day.

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  • Truly excellent tips. Thanks. Oct 13 at 11:00
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My experience was that muscle soreness feels quite debilitating early in the day, but is relieved by repeating the exercise and you forget about it after a half hour. Go ahead and take another lesson the next day. You will need to start a bit slow in the morning, but will pick up quickly. If it is a multiday lesson (as opposed to a new one day lesson with a different instructor) the instructor should be in tune with this. My instructors would go around the group and ask how people were feeling first thing in the morning, then tailor the class a bit based on the responses. The third day of a three day class I would often be feeling "a bit worn".

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Different muscles

How much work do you do in the gym to focus on twisting? When you're working with weights, your movements are almost always linear. I've only played with surfboards, but I know you're looking at serious amounts of twisting movement in your core and hips. This is almost impossible to do with a regular weights workout.

Instead of your gym and weights, look up bodyweight exercises based around gymnastics and yoga. You'll discover muscles you never knew you had! And in a more controlled way than overdoing it in one intense session past your limits, which tends to result in injury.

Flexibility

Can you do a full butt-to-heels squat? If not, you're going to have problems right from the start, before you get onto anything else. As a sport requiring a lot of dynamic movement, you're going to need to be very flexible. If you're 37 and you've mostly focused on general fitness and maybe a bit of strength, you've probably skimped on stretching. This is going to bite you now. The good news is that stretching isn't magic and you can always get more flexible, but you do need to work at it.

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It is absolutely normal to take that long to recover at first! Don't lose hope :) It gets much better. After a few months you'll be able to go back to back days surfing and just feel tired without too much soreness.

It is a pretty good workout though - even on a surf trip where you are surfing multiple times a day for days in a row, its not unusual for a hardened surfer to need a "lay|rest day"

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