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Simple Exercises to Improve Hip Strength and Mobility—So You Can Surf Better!

We often think about upper body strength and mobility when it comes to surfing, but sometimes we forget how important lower body flexibility and power is when it comes to the fundamentals of wave riding. Everything from popping up on a board to pumping down the line and linking together maneuvers requires precise coordination of the lower body, which is only possible if all of your muscles and joints are firing together.

One area that a lot of surfers struggle with is hip strength and mobility. I know I definitely do! This has been a bit challenge for me as I have gotten older, but I want to keep my body in tune so I can keep surfing, so I have been exploring a variety of ways to keep my hips flexible. I found an interesting Instagram post that shows five useful exercises for hips, all of which both strengthen and loosen up the hip joints, enabling us to surf better. These exercises range from single leg lunge extensions to various stretches, and even include a couple of variations to spice things up a bit. Unfortunately, my hips are so weak and tight that I can’t even begin to do any of these exercises!

My goal is to get to the point where I can do all of these exercises every day and keep my body tuned up for surfing, but to get there, I need to do some baseline hip mobility work—simple, easy exercises that get me started down the road to hip health. To that end, I reached out to Hawaiian South Shore’s resident yoga expert, Kilty Inafuku of www.kiltyyoga.com (Instagram: @kiltyyoga).

Kilty teaches yoga classes on North Shore, is president of Hawaii Yoga Institute (a non-profit organization that provides yoga teacher trainings), and leads yoga/adventure retreats around the world (with her next retreat being in Peru in 2024). She is also a lifelong surfer, a keen foiler, one of the fastest female mountain bikers in Hawaii, and a frothing powder chaser who will be in Japan for the months of January and February chasing the world class snow on Hokkaido. In other words, Kilty knows exactly what we need to do in order to thrive when it comes to adventure sports like surfing.

Kilty got me started on a series of basic hip openers that will help me develop flexibility and strength in my hips, so that I can eventually progress to the more advanced exercises in the Instagram post above.

Malasana Yoga Pose

The first one she suggested is Malasana, which is essentially a low squat that uses gravity to stretch the hips. Stand feet shoulder width apart and turn the toes 45 degrees outward , so that the heels are pointing somewhat toward each other. Bring your hands together at your chest and squat down, bringing the elbows to the insides of the inner legs. Once you are down low, simply relax into the pose, possibly swaying gently from side to side. Hold this for 30 seconds, allowing the gravity pulling downward on your butt to open your hips.

The happy baby pose is another easy one that is helpful for getting the hips tuned up. To do this pose, lie on your back on a yoga mat or soft carpet. Bring the legs up above you and pull down on the outsides of your feet with your hands. Eventually, you should be able to pull the feet straight down toward the upper body, but as you start, you might find that you aren’t quite flexible enough to do so completely. Listen to your body and do what you can, holding the pose for 30 seconds.

supine pigeon yoga pose for surfers

A lot of people who have hip issues also have knee problems. For those of us whose knees hurt, the pigeon pose (which is a popular yoga pose that helps with hip flexibility) can be painful and even dangerous. Fortunately, there is a variation called the supine pigeon that is a lot easier on the knees. In fact, it is just easier in general, as it uses gravity to stretch out your hips rather than your own strength. Start by lying on your back and bend the left knee to right side, so that your lower leg points to the right and the left ankle is crossed in front of your body. Then raise the right leg and bend the knee the opposite direction, so that your lower right leg crosses to the left, stacking it on top of the left lower leg. If you can’t cross them all the way, go as far as you can without pain. Once you are in the position, simply let gravity pull down on your legs, opening your hips and increasing your flexibility. This is a largely passive stretch, and you can hold it for 30 seconds to a minute before switching sides.

In addition to flexibility, we also need strength in our hips. To get started on that journey, the crescent lunge is a great yoga pose to incorporate into your daily practice. Stand with your feet together, then step back with your left foot extended behind you, with your toes on the ground. As you step back, your right (front) knee will naturally bend. Sink into that knee until your front leg forms a 90-degree angle and your back foot is extended far behind you. Reach up and slightly back with your arms, accentuating the stretch and holding it for 10 to 15 seconds. Then step forward until your feet are once again together. Re-center yourself, then step back with the opposite leg and repeat the pose on the other side.

By incorporating these stretches and strengthening exercises into your daily routine, you can slowly begin to improve your hip health, strength, and mobility. Don’t be frustrated if the progress is slower than you anticipated. Remember, you are probably working to undo years’ worth of bad habits and posture, not to mention overtightening from surfing. Even if you don’t feel like you are improving quickly, your body is certainly loosening up and adapting. Soon, you’ll be able to do all of these exercises with ease, as well as the more advanced exercises in the video above!

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