How to maintain your body in top condition whilst away on a surf trip.
Every surfer knows that nothing quite throws a spanner in the works on a surf trip like the onset of surfers shoulder (swimmers shoulder). On a recent surf trip to Morocco, I noticed that every other person seemed to be suffering from varying degrees of discomfort in this area; with the other half suffering from Moroc belly!
Don’t let niggling pain in and around your shoulder girdle or back ruin a paradisiacal trip away to your dream waves. These tips below for body maintenance for surf trips, should help to keep common surf trip gripes at bay.
Release trigger points with a ball
A self-massage ball should be in every surfer’s travel kit and are readily available from all major sports shops. If you haven’t got a myofascial ball to hand then a tennis ball will do just fine. Good for releasing knots (trigger points) in the back and shoulders. Rolling a ball around your shoulder blades, mid and upper back and neck can also help stop adhesions forming in the fascia around your major muscles. This will help you to maintain mobility in this area for paddling and pop-ups.
For myofascial release very slowly traction the ball around your shoulder blades, a hotbed for trigger points, using a wall to help you maintain pressure. Slowness is the key when it comes to releasing connective tissues, so take your time to notice what’s going on back there. When you encounter a spot where the fibres feel more bundled together then hold still and apply pressure for around 30 seconds, or until you feel the sensation ease off.
Other good areas to apply this technique to are:
- Just underneath the armpit on the posterior side, where the tendons of the Latissimus Dorsi insert (known as the swimmer’s muscle).
- The upper medial edge of the shoulder blade where you’ll find the insertion of the Levator Scapulae. This muscle is responsible for elevating the scapula and also for a lot of cases of neck pain and headaches. Follow this muscle up to its origin just off centre on the base of the skull. From here you can roll the ball along the skull line massaging a lot of the posterior neck muscles along the way.
- Either side of your spine where your Erector Spinae muscle group is found, helping to release your overworked backline. A cylindrical foam roller may be better at this job if you can get hold of one.
- Rub a ball transversely (sideways) across your shoulders to help release tight Deltoids. And when a bit more pressure is applied; to friction the tendons of the Rotator Cuff muscle group that lie underneath your superior shoulder muscles.
Heat therapy for post-surf DOMS
Gentle relief for chronic pain, heat therapy can help to ease the symptoms of muscle spasms, relaxing tight muscles and easing aches and pain. This is said to be a result of increased circulation, providing fresh nutrients to your tissues and helping to flush out toxins. Whereas an acute injury in a highly inflamed state or a wound would require ice therapy, heat therapy is a great way to passively release fatigued overused muscles.
Consider these following techniques, depending on what you have available to you:
- A long soak in a hot bath, preferably with some muscle relaxants such as Epsom salts added to the water. Epsom salts contain sulphate; which is said to help flush toxins and absorb nutrients. And magnesium, which is touted to improve muscle and nerve function and reduce inflammation.
- A steam room or sauna. Just make sure you double hydrate afterwards!
- Apply Tiger balm or another heat rub, massaging it over the affected area until a soothing heat like sensation forms. Such creams use a natural spicy formula to simulate the sensation of heat, creating a change in the way your nerve receptors feel pain and in turn helping to relieve muscular aches and pains.
Release tight tissues with stretches for surfing
- We all know that Yoga and Surfing are best friends. So get along to a yoga class as often as possible to feel the benefits afterwards out on the water. Strong flows and Power yoga classes can be excellent for building your strength, core and balance pre-surf trip. But whilst on your trip, the likelihood is that you’ve probably done enough of this if you’re putting in some power hours out in the water. Instead, look for slow and deep release classes such as Yin Yoga or a Hatha flow class. Also, classes that focus on mobility work in which you take your joints safely through their full ROM can be very beneficial. Tai Chi or Qigong may be worth giving a go too if you can find a class.
If you can’t find a yoga class to get to, then try these simple stretches for general body maintenance whilst surfing:
- Seated neck and shoulder stretch – Sit with one hand reaching behind you to the floor. Bring the other arm behind you and take hold of the extended arm. Tilt your head to one side to feel the stretch in the side of the neck and across the top of the shoulders. Experiment with how much your chin is tucked into your chest or towards your shoulder. This moves the stretch between different neck muscles. Once you’ve found the sweet spot hold for 10-15 breaths and then repeat with the other arm.
- Spinal twist for releasing the thoracic spine and QL muscles – Lying on your back bend both knees and drop them to the right, bringing your arms out to a T or extend the left arm overhead. Look toward the left bringing your spine into a full rotation. Experiment with bringing your knees closer or further away from your torso and whether you want your knees grounded and your shoulder lifted or visa versa. Hold for 2-5 minutes each side.
- Chest opener – lying on your back, roll up a pillow or cushion so that your shoulder blades are elevated but your buttocks and back of your head are still on the floor. You can hold your arms out in a T shape with straight or bent elbows depending on what is comfier for you. This will encourage a gentle opening across your chest. Stay here for 5 minutes meditating on the waves which you’ve caught that day.
Get a maintenance massage after a few days of surfing
The best way to free up adhesions forming in your tissues is with a massage. A sports massage or deep tissue massage will work on any problem areas that have already started forming. Just make sure you can rest afterwards and rehydrate with plenty of water. Or for general maintenance and a more therapeutic bit of downtime, go for a Swedish or Hot stone massage. This will help keep all the nutrients flowing to your muscles and tendons.
Have a rest day from the surf
Never underestimate the power of a rest day! Yes, I know the temptation is to get out there and battle through any aches and pains in the name of a high wave count, but you’re really not going to do your body any favours with this approach. Your body is going to love you if you just give it a little break. Make sure you give yourself at least one full day a week to get in some extra Z’s, replenish your body with as much nutritious food as possible and read a good book or watch a surf movie or two.
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Emma from Ocean Flow Fitness is a Qualified Sports Masseur, a 700 hr Certified Yoga Teacher and a passionate surf traveller. All methods mentioned in this post are her tried and tested methods for body maintenance for surf trips.