SURFSHOT, SAN DIEGO'S SURFING MAGAZINE
By Dr. Paul Frediani
The following is an overview of the mechanics of the shoulder joint during the paddling portion of a surfing session. It includes a pre- and post-stretching and strengthen
program, which will help maintain healthy and pain free shoulders. This article is not a prescription for rehabilitation, nor is it a diagnosis of injuries, but rather exercises that can help prevent overuse injuries by increasing strength, stability and flexibility for shoulders.
It's simple: the stronger your shoulders are, the more waves you will catch.
The overhead shoulder flexion motion used for paddling can create the same pain and overuse injuries as seen in athletes participating in other sports requiring repetitive overhead motion such as swimming, volleyball, tennis, baseball, etc. Depending on a surfer's skill and the type break they are surfing, roughly 48% of a surfer's time is done paddling, 48% waiting and 4% percent surfing. During a surfing session, a surfer can repeat the overhead motion thousands of times.
An exercise program that keeps the rotators strong and the shoulder girdle stable and flexible is good preventative medicine. There are numerous exercises to choose from. I will focus on exercises that surfers can do readily at the beach with the use of a beach towel and bungee. The exercises chosen are quick and to the point. I realize however, that it is idealistic to think that most surfers spend much time preparing for a surf session. The ocean is a fluid and ever changing environment, surfers aren't liable to give up one second of good surfing time! So a pre-surf stretch must be direct and effective.
The paddling portion of a stroke can be broken down into three sections, the catch and entry, the power stroke, and the release and recovery. Lying prone on a surfboard in proper paddling position requires the surfer to have slight extension of the torso. The erectors, rhomboids, traps and levalors are stabilizers in this position. Feet and legs are together. In the catch and entry portion of a stroke, the shoulder is in flexion and the hand enters the water slightly externally rotated in a 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock angle (left hand, right hand). As the hand begins its power stroke, the arm adducts toward the midline with the hand coming under the surfboard, the elbow slightly bent. The hand then extends pass the hips as the elbow lifts out of the water. This stroke looks somewhat like a backwards "S" on the right side and a standard "S" on the left. Another version is the same in entry but the arm does not make an "S" stroke, but instead extends directly parallel to the torso, making a much deeper stroke.
In the release portion of the stroke, the hand is internally rotated and comes out of the water at hip level. In recovery, the arm can be either a direct abduction from the hip in a wide arcing motion to overhead position or internally rotated with arm bent as shoulder goes into flexion. This method would resemble a butterfly stroke.
Both techniques depend on the flexibility of the individuals' shoulders and whether a surfer is riding a short board or long board. A short board is narrower and allows a limited amount of torso rotation -somewhat like a swimmer. It also allows a use of a kicking motion to get into a wave. On the other hand, the longboard, being wider, gives the surfer no body rotation and can affect the stroke in surfers whose arm length will not allow an "S" stroke under the board. While many surfers believe that swimming is the best exercise for surfing -and indeed one should be a strong swimmer if they intend to surf -paddling on a surfboard requires using muscles in a different manner. In swimming, the swimmer generates much power from shoulder to opposite hip-body rotation. Surfers do not have the same ability to rotate because they are prone on a surfboard. This makes paddling a more upper back and shoulder intensive movement.
The primary movers during the power stroke are latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major and minor; the secondary movers are the triceps. The release and recovery portion heavily engage the lateral and posterior deltoids.
The rotators cuffs and suprasinatus stabilize the head of the humerus in the g/h joint and assist the deltoids in the recovery portion of the stroke. The infraspinatus and teres minor are external rotators, stabilizing the humerus in the gjh joint and they are also active in the release and recovery portion of the stroke. The subscapularis is an internal rotator that stabilizes the humerus in the g/h
joint and experiences heavy recruitment during the power portion of the stroke.
Get a copy of Paul Frediani's Surf Flex book! Send us your surf health question
to firstname.lastname@example.org and Paul will answer them. Selected questions will win a copy of this great book!