Surf Fit 50. A Program for Aging Surfers

Surf Fit 50 is a program that started out of necessity. Its main purpose is to educate and empower aging surfers to improve their overall health and fitness, to allow them to be able  to surf   well into their golden years. As an aging surfer, as well as a Physical Therapist and Strength and Conditioning Specialist, it became more apparent how time had taken its toll on my own body and my surfing.

Back in 2001, I had self published a book called a Surfers Guide for Flexibility and Conditioning. It was just a basic program that surfers could perform to help with flexibility as well as basic strengthening exercises. That was almost 20 years ago and to be honest my surf training at that time was pretty minimal, unless I had sustained an injury. However, over the past 15-20 years, my injuries have added up to include but not limited to: two herniated lumbar discs, a left shoulder reconstruction, a right meniscus knee surgery, right foot surgery and a few concussions. I also was made very aware, that my body does not recover half as fast as it once did.

Today, there has been significant advancements in the fields of injury rehabilitation, conditioning and fitness. Surf training programs seem to be everywhere. It seems as though everyone has jumped on the surf fitness bandwagon with apps, programs, books, equipment, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing but sometimes it is difficult to filter through all that information.

One thing that I have noticed is that there is not a lot of information on training the aging surfer such as myself. There needs to be differences in training as we age even though we don’t want to admit it. Let’s face it —staying in shape especially surf shape is much more difficult as we age.

Lets take a quick look at what happens to our bodies as we age:

Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging. After age 30, we begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% muscle strength per decade. Most people will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes.

Even worse, as we age we tend to lose power almost twice as fast as we lose strength! Our muscles take much longer to respond to brain signals starting in our 50s, and we begin to lose the muscle fibers that are responsible for making us move swiftly such as in surfing.

You know how stiff you feel first thing in the morning? Well, we also have bone and joint changes as we age. Joint movement becomes stiffer and less flexible because the amount of lubricating fluid inside our joints decreases and the cartilage becomes thinner. Ligaments also tend to shorten and lose some flexibility, making our joints feel stiff.

Does this sound somewhat familiar? You have an amazing surf session and you are out in the water a little longer than usual. You convince yourself you will finally go in “after one more wave”. But that turns into another 30-45 minutes. Your arms feel like jello and when you lift your board it feels like it weighs 100 pounds. Later that night or even the next day, our bodies start to talk to us. Maybe it’s your neck that hurts or your shoulders. It could be your low back or a number of other places. Tissue recovery takes more time and more effort to support that recovery. We need to focus more on recovery after 50 years of age.

But here’s the good news, it’s not to late and you're not to old to start improving your overall health and fitness. It is not that difficult it just takes a little time, education and effort.

The Solution:

On one of my first days of physical therapy school over 30 plus years ago my professor described four things needed for proper quality of movement. They were:

Mobility, Stability, Controlled Mobility and Skill

What does that mean for you as a surfer?

Simply put you have to be long, strong and move correctly to be a better surfer. 

Surfing is a very powerful and coordinated sport. Mechanically, it is very super stressful on our entire body. As we age it becomes very difficult to improve or even maintain our bodies quality of movement.

Surfing reduces the effect of all kinds of stress, and often surfers take life much more calmly than others. This is extremely useful for the psyche of any person, because the very high level of stress in our world is incredibly harmful to our mental health.

Surf workout program is very energy intensive and requires effort for all muscle groups. Therefore, the approach to training should be well thought out and properly built. 

The training philosophy that I employ is functional/foundational movement training. What this means pretty simply is that there are approximately 7 functional/foundational movements that the body performs.

They are:

  • 1. Pushing
  • 2. Pulling
  • 3. Hinging
  • 4. Squatting
  • 5. Lunging
  • 6. Rotating
  • 7. Walking/Running

If we look at surfing, it encompasses most if not all of these movement patterns.

Functional training focuses more on movements not just muscles. Muscles do not work in isolation, they need to work together to perform quality movements. Functional training is goal specific such as improvement in surfing technique but it also encompasses a few common components such as training in multiple planes and multiple joint actions. Programs should include strengthening the core, improving flexibility, balance and coordinated movements to mention a few.

So, make sure when you start looking at surf training programs they are designed by a reputable expert who has some sort of medical/conditioning training background. I always say if the exercise looks stupid then it probably is not worth doing. There is a reason why the pull up, push up, squat and lunge are still around and it’s because they work.

Improving muscle balance, strength, power and endurance is essential to continue surfing and reducing injuries into your 60s and beyond.

If you are interested, you can check out my website and or You Tube Channel at  Surf Fit 50   or   I am not looking to sell you any program, it is just an informational site that is designed to help the older surfer continue  to surf   longer and stronger.

Dr. Rick McAvoy, PT, DPT, CSCS - Surf Fit 50
Dr. Rick McAvoy, PT, DPT, CSCS - Surf Fit 50

Rick is a physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach who specializes in aquatic training and sports performance. Rick is passionate about year round surfing and has been surfing the Maine Coast for the past 25 years. He started Surf Fit 50 as a labor of love to share his knowledge with fellow aging surfers so that they can keep surfing well into their 80’s and beyond.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the Surf Fit 50 program cater to the unique needs of aging surfers, and what kind of exercises does it include?
Surf Fit 50 is designed to address the needs of aging surfers by focusing on flexibility, core strength, and balance, which are crucial for surfing. The program includes exercises like yoga, Pilates, and functional strength training, tailored to maintain surf fitness and reduce injury risk.

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