Training For That Heavy Paddle Out!

Surfer looking out to sea in mist

Have you ever found yourself standing at the edge of the water, looking out at the waves and wishing you'd worked out more and got your fitness up?!

Surfing is unique among the boardsports in that in order to even begin your session you have to make it out back beyond the waves and whitewater. That is if you are beyond beginner level and want to catch the green unbroken waves.

Now, unless you are lucky to live somewhere where your local beach has a reeling pointbreak and you can paddle dry-haired around the shoulder, you will more often than not have to navigate your way over, under and through a good number of broken waves to reach the sanctuary of the line up out past where the waves are breaking.

There is nothing worse than being amped for a session, watching the beautiful waves from the headland as you get changed but then charging in and realising very quickly that what would have been an easy paddle for you back in the day is now going to be a 10 or 15 minute slog through the sets....and that's if you even can make it out back still!

With kitesurfing, snowboarding, windsurfing and paddleboarding (on flat water at least) you have none of this. You simply stand up and get riding. But with surfing, its a hurdle you have to overcome.

So What Can You Do About It?

If you are surfing regularly then this paddle ability becomes second nature and as you progress you will be able to handle bigger and longer paddle outs and your body will be used to it. But what if you haven't been on your board for 2, 3 or even 6 months or more?

This is where your fitness training comes in. And rather than just jogging more you can be very specific with your style of training to mimic what a paddle out does to your body.

Surfer duck-diving a wave

I should also note in here that becoming adept at duck-diving (getting yourself and your board underneath an oncoming wave with minimal fuss) will assist you massively, so this should be high up on your list of things to look at and improve if you need to.

Nothing gets you out back quicker than being able to get under a wave smoothly and efficiently - unless perhaps you are using a jet-ski!

After that initial burst of effort in paddling out, surfing typically comprises of short, intense bouts of work combined with a lot of sitting around. Your heart rate will rise sharply, peak for a minute or two perhaps and then recover. You want your training to mimic this.

So How Do You Train Like This?

You want to be incorporating HIIT style sessions into your training. HIIT is a bit of a buzzword at the moment and stands for High Intensity Interval Training. It simply means a period of hard work followed by a period of rest and repeated numerous times. See the similarity?

This style of training perfectly mimics the stop-go effort of surfing and will prepare the body for when you are next on your board.

On top of that HIIT training also:

  • Boosts your metabolic rate for 12 or so hours after the session so you will continue to burn calories at a greater rate than after longer, slower forms of training.

  • Improves your endurance levels despite being a shorter workout and that's because you are constantly operating near your VO2 max levels - that is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can take in and use. By working at this admittedly uncomfortable level your VO2 max will increase over time and your body will get more efficient at using the oxygen it gets. Hence you will feel fitter.

  • Can be done in a short amount of time. A fifteen minute HIIT session can give you the benefits of a much longer workout. In fact this study showed that one thirty minute HIIT session a week improved cardiometabolic health by the same extent as one 2.5 hour steady state training session over a 12-week period.

An Example

There are many, many ways of programming a HIIT session but so you get an idea I will outline a general all-body one below (that also needs no equipment):

30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest of each exercise in order:

Air Squats

Press Ups

Sit Ups

Jumping Lunges


Rest 2 minutes once you have completed all five exercises.

Repeat for three rounds.

You will be working flat out for 30 seconds, then get 30 seconds recovery. This is done for 5 minutes in total as you work your way down the list of exercises.

Then you get a proper 2 minutes of rest time to get your breath back and lower the heart rate before repeating the whole thing twice more.

It will only take you 19 minutes in total (including rest) but you will definitely know you have worked out!

And This Will Translate To Surfing?


If you train in a manner such as this 3-4 times a week for 4-6 weeks before you next get in the water you will not fail to notice an improvement in your paddling ability.

  • As you are paddling out you will be familiar with taking short snatches of air and the air you do take in will be used more efficiently and go further.

  • You will be used to pushing yourself mentally through that uncomfortable feeling when you are at breaking point and that might be the difference between making it over that last wave or taking it on the head and having it push you further back towards shore.

  • Your muscles will last longer before tiring so it doesn't matter if there's 3 waves in the set or 5 you will be able to punch through them and keep going.

  • A lot of bodyweight movements such as burpees, press ups and back extensions will help your paddling position so you will feel more comfortable simply being on the board with your chest lifted.

  • With a stronger paddling position and stronger arms, back and lats in general from the workouts each paddle stroke you do take will be stronger and get your further cutting down the number of strokes you do need to reach the line up.

You can tailor your sessions further by including exercises that specifically work the surfing muscles. Rear deltoid raises, back extensions and pallof presses are just a few ideas of ones you can include to really work the surf specific muscles.

And of course, my absolute favourite....Pull Ups. Pull ups work your deltoids and lats so well (big paddling muscles) and if you work on increasing the number of pull ups you can do, you will undoubtedly see an improvement in your paddling. Check out my Facebook and Instagram pages for a video on how to perform a proper pull up and how to work towards getting your first one if you can't yet do one!


I hope this post has helped explain why HIIT training will go a long way to ensuring the next time you find yourself standing at the waters edge you are not looking out in trepidation at the thought of paddling out but are already visualising how its going to feel when you drop smoothly into one of those beauties and execute a perfectly placed bottom turn.

If you would like to know more about training specifically for surfing or are interested in boardsport fitness in general take a look around the rest of my website and the FAQ page.

#paddleout #HIIT #intervaltraining #surfing