(This post originally appeared on The Inertia).
One of my favorite aspects of surfing is that it is secretly one of the best avenues of cardiovascular exercise, without the impact on your knees, hips, and back like running. What other low-impact sport allows you to keep your heart rate up in the 65%-85% (or higher) target HR zone for hours on end with a HUGE grin on your face? For me personally, there is no way that I could run/bike/swim for long periods of time and with the same stoke factor. Of course that is debatable for many people.
Interestingly enough, there is paucity of research at this time that examines what happens physiologically to our bodies when surfing. Newer literature has been published on injury type and causes of surf injury, but only a few have studied physiology of surfing looking at components such as heart rate, thermoregulation, VO2 max, etc.
An introductory study was carried out by Terrie Williams, M.S, PhD at UCSC with her exercise physiology class in 2007, resulting in finding some paradoxical effects of exercise and surfing. Other researchers such as Oliver Farley, who is working on his PhD in the science of surfing in Australia, have examined physiological profiles of competitive surfers.
Last summer, Surfer's Edge Physical Therapy and Wellness decided to take a look at heart rate response while surfing a long-board in 70 degree water on a 2 foot day.
While no scientific studies were completed, the general data showed that when paddling or surfing, heart rates ranged from 65-85% max predicted heart rate (using the Karvonen formula) on a small and warm day. What are the implications for surfing in colder conditions, larger waves, when your adrenaline has kicked in? Generally, you could expect that your heart rates stay higher, for longer periods of time.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 days/week, OR, 25 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 days/week, and 2 days of strengthening. That said, I am sure that surfing would qualify (and then some) for the first 2 of these guidelines.
Additionally, you could argue that if you are exercising at max heart rate/intensity for longer periods of time, it would be well balanced to get lighter exercise on alternate days to prevent over-use of your left ventricle (more on this in another post).
Surf cardio is a great exercise. PERIOD. If you are having a day where you aren’t feeling motivated and finding it hard to put on your wetsuit, try to consider the exercise benefits alone of paddling out, even if the wind is onshore, or the waves are small, or _______ (whatever excuse that comes to mind).
If you are injured or having trouble getting back in the water, check out my 10 Tips to Finding Inner Peace While Recovering from an Injury.
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