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Professional Surfers Train Like This To Get Insane Agility, Strength & Reflexes

Ever wondered what it takes to build the cat-like reflexes of an aerial surfing wizard like Josh Kerr or Italo Ferreira? Here’s how they train.

Forget everything you know about surfing: it’s not all smoking dubious substances and cruisin’ Santa Barbara boulevards. Neither is it all about chasing waves the size of mountains.

We recently had a chat with Air Wizard and retired World Tour professional surfer Josh Kerr to discover a new (or at least, recently renewed) aspect of professional surfing—aerial competitions.

Last week Josh organised the first event of the Red Bull Airborne 2019 series, a competition which was won by Italo Ferreira (whose training shots you’ll see further down).

In light of this, we caught up with Josh to discuss the crazy levels of agility, strength and mental dexterity it takes to fling yourself off the top of a wave the size of a bus, and land as nonchalantly as you like.

While this might not be a requirement of the average gym-goer’s workout, the athletic principles involved carry over into numerous disciplines.

Plus: when you catch a wayward drink at the bar, your newfound bae won’t care how you built your quick reflexes (and glistening triceps), they’ll just be in awe of them.

So forget your ‘bench, deadlift, squat’ routine; if you want to train like a professional surfer, here’s what you need to do.

Light Up Your Fast Twitch Fibres

 

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A post shared by Italo Ferreira (@italoferreira) on

According to Josh, “With air training, it’s really about keeping everything really fast twitch.” This means, in the gym, “It’s definitely more about explosive quick and rotations and keeping the legs loose.”

What does this involve, exactly? Josh recommends you ease yourself in with some explosive burpees, before moving on to “burpee rotations” where you explode and do a 360 or 180-degree rotation, trying to land really comfortable and solid.”

Once you have this down pat, “Try the same exercise on a more unstable or soft platform—to keep the brain awareness to your lower half of the body strong.”

If you do this correctly, all those nerve endings will end up stabilising your landing without (you) even having to think about it.

Aim For Variety

 

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A post shared by Italo Ferreira (@italoferreira) on

In surfing, “Every section (of a wave) is a little different, so your awareness of your landing is your highest priority—because that’s how you stay away from getting injured.”

As Josh told us, “If you’re not confident in how you’re going to land,” you are far more likely to get injured. Which is why, “Learning how to bail out correctly—without getting tangled up with your board—is one of your best assets.”

This means training with a variety of exercises, on a wide range of surfaces, and getting used to dealing with unexpected circumstances is a crucial part of a professional surfer’s training routine.

While this can take the form of other board sports like snowboarding and skateboarding (which was how Josh ‘cross-trained’ himself when he was younger), you can also try trampolining or skateboarding off a ramp into a foam pit, something which a lot of the younger guys are really getting into.

Train For Strength

 

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A post shared by Italo Ferreira (@italoferreira) on

Training for strength is another useful tool in the surfer’s arsenal. This can involve squats, weight training, lighter resistance-based training or even body weight training like pull-ups.

But Make Sure You Stay Balanced

 

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A post shared by Italo Ferreira (@italoferreira) on

While training for strength can reduce your chance of injury and make your airs even more explosive, if you do it wrong, Josh warns, “You might lose other assets that are of benefit to surfing,” and imbalance your body.

For this reason, Josh is a big fan of mobility-based strength training, as opposed to “straight building” like CrossFit, “Which doesn’t relate too well to surfing as in doing it you can lose flexibility, mobility and potentially also that fast-twitch motion in your muscles.”

“If you do bulk it can definitely stiffen you up and change your surfing—and that’s not always for the better.”

Keep Flexible

 

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A post shared by Josh Kerr (@josh_kerr84) on

According to Josh, for air guys, ankles and knees are the most at risk limbs, which means you must keep them strong and flexible. To do this, Josh keeps track of his progress (and limberness) using assessments like the Dorsi Flex Test, “Where you see how far you can get your knee to a wall with your toes far away.”

He also recommends you look after your hips—”You need your hips strong but also loose, mobile and mechanically sound.” This means you should train like a gymnast—”Able to do the splits but also still able to do double backflips.”

Be Proactive About Reducing Injuries

 

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A post shared by Reef Heazlewood (@reefheazlewood) on

As the above Instagram clip from Redbull’s latest air comp runner up (and Hurley’s most recent signing) Reef Heazlewood shows, prevention from injury is always better than cure… This means, above all, strengthening the stabilising muscles around your knees, hips and ankles.

Train Your Mind

 

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A post shared by Josh Kerr (@josh_kerr84) on

However much you prepare yourself physically, Josh revealed that: “Sometimes you’re hitting sections even though you’re not going to make it,” to see how far you can get through your air before you bail out.

While this helps you get comfortable, it comes at a risk. And when you decide to go for it and land it, in the heat of competition or to nail a cool clip, you need a whole lotta confidence.

“It’s when you have that doubt in your mind, and you still go for it anyway (that you can get injured).”

While talent and timing play a huge role in this, your self-belief is also boosted by knowing you’ve done the training, as you can see from the latest Red Bull Airborne comp, which—Josh points out—was won by Italo Ferreira, who has been doing a crazy amount of training this past year.

“When you’re fit and strong it builds your confidence to another level. All those attributes are really coming together for him right now.”

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