For many of us, this year’s holiday is a staycation – personally I’m delighted to be hunkering down and soaking up the sun in the UK as I write this! And this is surely behind the rise in popularity of water sports, especially paddle boarding and surfing. Naturally that led me to look at the benefits of these activities on our legs, and my conclusion is that this really is the year you should slip into a wetsuit, grab a board and sprint into the sea or a river.
Surfing and stand up paddling (SUP) are both great ways to add a healthy dose of cardio into your life – here’s why:
1. CARDIOVASCULAR, SYSTOLIC & DIASTOLIC, AND HEART HEALTH
Paddling out against waves on a surfboard is no easy feat, it requires a great deal of physical fitness. Consistent paddling gets the cardiovascular muscle pumping hard whilst using the muscles in your shoulders, back, arms and buttocks. It’s a proper work out! When you train your body to the point of being out of breath over time this lowers your blood pressure and resting heart rate, which decreases your risk of heart attacks, stroke and other diseases while keeping you fit and healthy.
2. SHOULDER & BACK STRENGTH
Functional movements such as the single shoulder dislocate movement that is carried out whilst paddling through waves, strengthens the arms and the shoulders. It’s a repetitive movement that contributes to the overall tone and strength of the deltoid, pectoral, and rotator cuff. The supine position used whilst lying face down on the board subtly engages the lumbar muscles which works to strengthen the back as a whole. Having a strong back leads to better stability, flexibility and endurance – essential for surfing.
3. LEG & CORE STRENGTH
Leg strength is big benefit of surfing – think of an hour’s session as the equivalent of a session of squat jumps/burpees. You are constantly changing levels from chest pressed to the floor, to fully extended while in a standing squat. This contributes greatly to leg strengthening exercises, and can match any ‘leg day’ you had planned for the gym. Abdominal muscles are used to stabilise you in a solid position while lying, sitting and standing on the board. Your balance comes entirely from your core, and this part of your body is being worked during all stages of a surf session.
SUP also engages core muscles and builds abdominal strength and lean muscle tone, while at the same time strengthening arms, legs, back, and shoulders. It also enhances mobility: balancing on a SUP board activates the small muscles in the foot and lower leg in a way that mimics physical therapy exercises used to treat plantar fasciitis and other ailments. The dynamics of standing on a board with an element of instability from the water utilises muscles critical for balance and joint support in a way that no other recreational activity does.
4. OUTDOORS IN NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
Remember that feeling when you were a child of the wind in your hair as you flew high on the swings, running through puddles in your wellies, and rolling in fallen autumn leaves in the park with your family. Breathing in fresh clean air helps to combat stress, low mood and fatigue. For paddle-boarders, you get the ‘runner’s high; without the need for intense exertion. Win win!
5. CALORIE BURNER
On average an 180-pound person surfing for 30- 60 minutes is thought to be able to burn as many as 130 to 260 calories, but it depends on the intensity of the session. But regardless of the actual number of calories burnt the benefits of getting out there, massively outweigh the alternative of sitting on your bum!
6. TONE OVERALL BODY
Regular surfing keeps your physique trim because it’s a constant resistance training exercise as you use your own body weight. Paddling strength is hard to replicate in a gym or at home, so the best way to tone up your arms, bum, legs, and back muscles is to paddle whenever possible! All the pros train on flat water days by just paddling without waves. Start by doing 20 minutes paddling in one direction and back.
Fans of SUP say it’s so enjoyable that you can end up working out for hours before you realise you have been exerting yourself at all. Best of all, it is a low impact workout that provides a great alternative to injury-prone runners.
7. COOL WATER GOOD FOR BODY/ BOOST IMMUNE SYSTEM
Regular submergence in cold water has an incredible benefit on the body. It promotes a feeling of invigoration due to the release of stress hormones. Cold water pressure is hugely anti-inflammatory and can ease tension, headaches and pain. Cold water is rumoured to heighten your body pre-disposed metabolic rate, as the temperature of the water forces the body to heat up at a much faster rate than normal, switching on the fire and burning calories.
8. VITAMIN D DOSE
The vitamin D you get from being out in the sun is essential for strong bones, as it regulates the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. Being deficient in vitamin D can lead to low energy, low mood and fatigue. Being out in the fresh air and the natural sunlight regulates your circadian rhythm and releases happy hormones.
9. IMPROVED SLEEP QUALITY
Being outside increases melatonin which, along with your circadian rhythm, helps you maintain a healthy sleep pattern, so you will fall asleep faster and get a more restful sleep. Physical exercise also helps you sleep due to physical exhaustion, helping you fall asleep faster, for longer, and gets you into a deeper sleep as your body needs to repair the muscles worked from the day before. Being outside, being colder than usual, and facing the elements and being tumbled by waves requires energy, this will make you feel an energised version of depleted by the evening.
10. IMPROVED BALANCE
The most appraised benefit of surfing is the quality of your overall body balance. Without balance and agility you would not be able to remain standing on the surf board. Enhanced balance is a functional movement that is vital for everyday functions like bike riding, skateboarding, yoga and standing on a particularly fast and wobbly tube!
11. INCREASED FLEXIBILITY
Better levels of flexibility help to prevent of injuries both while exercising and in normal life. When you surf, you are situated mostly in a straddle position, this transposes into frog pose in ashtanga yoga, which widely opens the hip ball and socket, increasing movement and freedom around the joint. The motion used by your shoulders (over head then down by your side) is what is called ‘shoulder dislocates’ in sports such as gymnastics and Crossfit. This motion helps to lubricate the joint and allow for an easier range of movement if practised over time. New surfers often say that their initial overhead paddle strokes are stiffer compared to after being on the water for 20 minutes.
12. ENCOURAGES TO FUEL BODY WITH CORRECT NUTRITION
Surfing makes you really hungry! Being in the water is calorie burner, especially for long periods of time. Your body has to adapt differently to what it’s used to on land, it has to balance itself constantly to stop you toppling over, it has to maintain your head a level above water for obvious reasons, and be constantly on the look out for threats (big waves, scary sea creatures, other surfers, the location of your board) while keeping your body at a constant core temperature that the water will be trying to adapt. All this inner computing requires energy. Energy comes from our food. You’re more than likely to need the correct amount to fuel your sport. What a great excuse to eat properly with plenty of protein, protein-rich vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli and beans to nourish the fibres of your muscles and give you enough gusto to get through a session.
13. SKIN & HAIR HEALTH
Salt water is a natural exfoliant – it detoxifies the skin and salt also acts as an exfoliant to the scalp and hair, effectively naturally cleansing from root to tip.