fbpx Skip to content

Help Your Clients Ride the Watersports Wave

Getting out on the water is hard to resist. Paddling across a peaceful ocean inlet . . . , riding a wave until it crashes to shore . . . We crave those moments when open water calms the mind and gets the heart racing.

All this helps explain America’s watersports boom. Check out the growth in just three popular watersports from 2012 to 2014:

  • standup paddling: up 30.5%
  • kayak fishing: up 20.1%
  • surfing: up 8.7%

Standup paddling was the third-fastest-growing outdoor activity in the past 3 years, while varieties of kayaking accounted for three of the top 10 (Outdoor Foundation 2015b). These stats should energize personal trainers looking for ways to keep their work fresh and find new business opportunities.

Read on for tips on exercises specific to four watersports: surfing, wakeboarding, standup paddling and kayaking. Any or all of them can help you catch the watersports wave.

After all, two-thirds of the world is covered by water. Get out there and enjoy it!


Those surfing videos you’ve seen illustrate the physical challenges: a long paddle out to the waves, a short paddling sprint to catch a breaking wave, and a short time standing up while riding the wave. Trainers will want to help surfing clients with each of these phases.


Surfers spend about half of their time paddling, so they need exercises that enhance paddling ability. Try these:

Prone BOSU® Balance Trainer “Paddling” With Rubber Resistance

Prone BOSU 1
Prone BOSU 2

The client lies face-down on two upside-down BOSU balls to emulate an unstable surfboard (upper body on front BOSU ball, toes on back BOSU ball; use an exercise mat as a cushion). The client pulls on rubber tubing for resistance, much like paddling through water.

  • Client finds balance point on BOSU balls.
  • Client holds tubing handles while you hold middle of tubing in front of client at ground level (or anchor resistance with dumbbell); client’s arms go in front of body, with elbows slightly bent.
  • Client produces paddling movements with tubing.

Endurance Paddling

This exercise trains for continuous paddling:

  • Use medium tension on tubing.
  • Paddle for 30 seconds; rest for 30 seconds.
  • Do 5 sets.
  • Cadence: 20–30 strokes per 30 seconds.
  • Rest for 2–3 minutes after 5 sets.

Sprint Paddling

This exercise should move the arms as fast as possible:

  • Use very high tension on tubing (and have client move body backward to increase tension).
  • Paddle for 10 seconds; rest for 30 seconds.
  • Do 5 sets.
  • Cadence: 15–20 strokes per 10 seconds.

Standing BOSU Ball Balance With Rubber Tubing

Standing BOSU 1

The best part of surfing is riding the wave. To get the hang of it, clients can practice standing on an unstable surface while their balance is challenged.

  • Client stands in surfing position on upside-down BOSU ball with knees slightly bent, trunk flexed and arms outstretched to help balance.
  • Client holds middle of resistance tube with one hand; you hold handles.
  • To challenge balance, enhance muscle contraction and increase core stability, you pull on tube while client works to stay balanced and avoid falling off BOSU ball.
  • You move rubber tube up and down, side to side, and forward and backward—in no set pattern—to simulate balance challenges of surfing.

  • Set 1:

    Client holds tubing with right hand while you are to right of him, moving tubing for 20–30 seconds and resting for 30 seconds.

  • Set 2:

    Client holds tubing in right hand while you are behind her, moving tubing for 20–30 seconds and resting for 30 seconds.

  • Set 3:

    Client holds tubing in left hand while you are in front of him, moving tubing for 30 seconds and resting for 30 seconds.

  • Set 4:

    Client holds tubing in left hand while you are to left of her, at approximately 45-degree angle (not directly to the left), moving tubing for 20–30 seconds and resting for 30 seconds.

Be sure to ask if your client is a “goofy foot” (left-foot-back) surfer. If so, reverse your position and the client’s position.


Riding the wake behind a speeding motorboat and performing acrobatic airborne stunts engage pretty much every muscle in the body. Thus, wakeboarders need help with improving their aerobic fitness and building their tolerance for anaerobic work.

Cardiovascular and Strength Training

Any whole-body aerobic activity that elevates heart rate to a moderate (40%–59% VO2max) or high (60%–85% VO2max) intensity should suffice for wakeboarders. Strength training should focus on 8-repetition-maximum sets with multijoint movements that target all major muscle groups.

Movement-Specific Training

This is where the fun begins because you can really get creative in designing challenging exercises to simulate wakeboarding even if you’re miles from the water.

Partner Exercise

Partner 1

  • Use pair of Gliding™ discs and high-tension resistance tubing (or two medium resistance tubes). Tubes should not stretch more than twice their original length—be extra-careful not to overstretch them.
  • Position discs under toes of Partner A, leaving heels off. Strap resistance tube around Partner B’s waist, with Partner A holding tube handles.
  • Partner B walks, jogs, sprints and changes direction while pulling Partner A, creating challenge of staying on discs as stimulus changes.
  • Partners switch places and repeat.

TRX® Suspension Trainer™ and BOSU Ball

Suspension 1

  • Stand on center of BOSU ball holding TRX equipment without slack and with elbows slightly flexed.
  • Jump-squat on BOSU ball to create effect of jumping over speedboat’s wake.
  • Jump laterally and behind BOSU ball, holding TRX equipment as if it were handle of towrope.
  • Alternate jump turns on BOSU ball, rotating body 90 degrees to left and right, as if doing turns and stunts on wakeboard.
  • Perform twists and jumps for 60 seconds; rest for 30 seconds.
  • Do 6 sets.

Standup Paddle Boarding (SUP)

With the popularity of SUP surging, trainers should have some exercises ready in case any of their clients have joined the craze. SUP is principally a matter of balance and paddling strength, so that’s what you train for.

When the paddle is being pulled, SUP technique involves straight elbows, a small-range-of-motion shoulder flexion, strong trunk flexion and slightly bent knees. Most of the force during the pull is generated by the rectus abdominis contracting to produce trunk flexion, while the shoulders assist with flexion.

Standup Paddle 1


Core endurance is important for SUP performance because the person is always vertical. Therefore, trainers should suggest vertical core exercises on stable and unstable surfaces.

Vertical Trunk/Shoulder Flexion With Rubber Tubing—Stable Surface

  • Trainer holds rubber resistance as high as possible (or resistance is anchored high).
  • Client holds rubber resistance with staggered hands, as if holding an SUP paddle—one hand up, one down.
  • Client produces large-range-of-motion trunk flexion and small-range-of-motion shoulder flexion.

Continuous Paddling—Stable Surface

  • Paddle 5 strokes on right, followed by 5 strokes on left, to emulate number of strokes taken to glide straight on water.
  • Client changes hand position on each side: paddle on right—left hand up, paddle on left—right hand up.

Continuous Paddling—As if Cruising on Flat Water

  • Use high tension on tubing.
  • Paddle for 60 seconds; rest for 30 seconds.
  • Do 5–7 sets.
  • Cadence: 40–50 strokes per minute.

Continous Paddling 1

Continous Paddling 2

Continuous Paddling—Unstable Surface

  • Exercise movement is same as above.
  • Client stands on upside-down BOSU ball.
  • Tension on rubber resistance is medium to high.


Thirteen million people participated in some form of kayaking in 2014, making it one of the most popular flatwater sports (Outdoor Foundation 2015a). The main challenges for clients are building upper-body strength for paddling and maintaining the strength of the lower back to avoid back pain.

Cardiovascular Training

Kayak paddlers need high levels of aerobic power and anaerobic capacity. Concentrate on exercise that comes close to peak aerobic capacity. The exercises below were designed for competitive kayakers; the intensity can be dialed back for recreational paddlers.


Start with an aerobic exercise that can train clients for a 1,000-meter sprint-kayaking competition.

High-Intensity Interval Training

  • To closely match duration of 1,000-meter sprint, use 2-minute high-intensity work intervals followed by 2 minutes of low-intensity recovery.
  • Warm up for 8–10 minutes.
  • For work intervals, do 2 minutes of running, swimming or cycling to achieve exercise intensity of 85% of heart rate maximum.
  • Follow with 2 minutes of active recovery.
  • Do 5 sets for 20-minute workout.

Strength Training

Choose a resistance that will allow your client to do 8–12 repetitions.


  • Choose shoulder exercises that balance anterior, medial and posterior deltoids.
  • Perform dumbbell front raise, lateral raise and reverse fly.
  • Include chest press and bent-over row, to strengthen the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi, which are integral in kayak paddling.
  • Complete 2–4 sets, at 8-RM, 2–3 times per week.

Core Training

Sports training for kayaking can reduce mobility of the lumbar spine. This can create weak links in the chain of biokinematics connections and cause lower-back pain (Wojcik et al. 2011).

Exercises for Lumbar Flexion, Rotation and Lateral Flexion

  • Sit on BOSU ball, with resistance tubing facing tubing anchor point.
  • Use medium resistance.
  • With both tube handles in one hand, pull side to side in spinal rotation movement.
  • Maintain 50- to 75-degree tilt backward at hip to hold isometric contraction in rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis.
  • For lateral flexion, turn away from anchor point, still seated on BOSU with upper body angled backward about 50–75 degrees.
  • Perform lateral flexion with tube handles in hand, as if putting on brakes in kayak.
  • Paddle for 60 seconds; rest for 30 seconds.
  • Do 6 sets.

Exercise Lumbar 1

Movement-Specific Training

BOSU Ball and Resistance Tubing

  • Client sits on BOSU ball facing anchor point, pulling away from anchored resistance tubing.
  • Feet may be on floor or elevated for additional challenge.
  • Simulate paddling movement with tube.
  • Paddle for 60 seconds; rest for 30 seconds.
  • Do 6 sets.

This exercise can also be performed with the TRX® RIP™ Trainer tethered in place. Paddle against the tether using the bar.

Tempo Training

Competitive kayakers get their paddles in and out of the water quickly, with the paddle spending more time in the water than out. They want power when the paddle is in the water and a quick return when out of the water (McDonnell Hume
Nolte 2013; Gomes et al. 2015).

Partner Exercise

  • Partner A sits on BOSU ball, with feet on ground or elevated for more challenge.
  • Partner B holds medium-tension resistance tubing at midway point while Partner A holds handles.
  • Partner A paddles the resistance tubing, while Partner B varies resistance throughout paddle’s range of motion.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.