There is no shortage of people (men, in particular) whose exercise routines consist mainly of working the parts of the body seen in the mirror, i.e. the chest, shoulders and arms (AKA the 'glamour muscles). Whilst these are important areas that should be trained and developed, it is absolutely essential to incorporate balance in your training - if you train your front then you need to be training your back equally, if not more.
The unfortunate reality is that the back is often neglected and underdeveloped which often results in poor posture and back pain. Rounded shoulders is one of the most common unnatural postures and strengthening the back can help to fix it and restore a healthy functional upright posture. Yoga is one of the best things you can do for posture correction and you should check out our last blog post: 6 Yoga Poses Every Surfer Needs to be Doing.
Paddling will make up the majority (if not all) of a surfers upper body exercise. Most people think that paddling uses their shoulders and arms - this is certainly true, however, it is often overlooked how involved the back muscles are. A lot of people don't use or feel their back when they paddle and this may be as a result of poor paddling technique or perhaps the back is so weak that other muscles are taking over to do its work - usually, its both.
Not using your back when you paddle is not only ineffective but it can result in an injury. It's time to strengthen your back to paddle and surf better!
The best exercise for your back: the Pull-Up
While there are a number of exercises that are great for training your back, e.g. deadlifts and rows, and you should definitely be doing these exercises - very few exercises work the entire upper body, especially the back, as well as the pull-up does.
A pull-up bar is an inexpensive and worthwhile investment - simply place one in a doorway of your home and utilise it as often as you can. Alternatively find a park, a tree or anything you can hang on to and start doing pull-ups and you’re guaranteed to get stronger and feel better.
If you can’t perform a pull-up then it’s time to set yourself the goal of being able to do one. Here are four exercises that will help you on your journey to performing your first pull-up.
If you’re fortunate enough to have one of these at your gym or home then the assisted pull-up is a fantastic exercise for training your body to do a pull-up as it’s effectively the same exercise only some of your own weight is alleviated to effectively make the exercise easier. Start at a weight where you can comfortably perform several reps and, over time, increase the number of repetitions whilst gradually reducing the weight until you no longer require the assistance.
Alternatively you can use a resistance band to effectively accomplish the same thing.
We are stronger in the negative portion of the exercise and we can utilise this to our advantage by performing negative pull-ups to increase our pull-up strength. A negative pull-up is where you start from the top position and return to the start position slowly and in control.
Time how long it takes you to do one rep and progress by increasing the amount of time or by simply performing more reps.
This common piece of gym equipment is tremendous for your back and if your gym doesn’t have one then it’s probably time to find a new gym. Perform these slowly and controlled and progress by increasing the weight and/or reps.
Hanging from a bar
Simply hanging from a bar is a great exercise and will increase your grip strength and scapular stability which has tremendous carry over to improving your pull-ups and can even significantly improve your shoulder mobility.
Do both dead hangs (let your shoulders rise above your ears) and active hangs (pulling your shoulders down and away from your ears) to get the most benefit.