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Maximal Strength Training Improves Surfboard Sprint and Endurance Paddling Performance in Competitive and Recreational Surfers

Coyne, Joseph O.C.1,2; Tran, Tai T.1,2; Secomb, Josh L.1,2; Lundgren, Lina E.1,2; Farley, Oliver R.L.1,2; Newton, Robert U.2; Sheppard, Jeremy M.2,3

Author Information
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: January 2017 - Volume 31 - Issue 1 - p 244-253
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001483
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Competitive surfing is an international professional water sport that requires diverse physical abilities to execute powerful wave-riding maneuvers. Competitive surfing success is determined by judging criteria that evaluates the surfer's ability to catch and ride the best waves in a series of heats normally lasting 20–30 minutes. The surfers are judged on their execution of innovative and athletic maneuvers in the most critical parts of the wave (i.e., closest to where the wave is breaking), and their 2 most highest scoring waves are given a points total out of 20 (i.e., 10 maximum each wave). Because of the extreme nature of waves ridden in competitive surfing, an exceptionally high physical level of sprint and endurance paddling may be required to both negotiate and catch these waves. Because of these factors, paddling efforts seem to effect a competitive outcome despite not being judged (28).

Time motion analysis of both competitive and recreational surfing reveals that paddling dominates the activity characteristics of competitive surfing heats with around half of the competitive heat spent paddling (15,24–26,28). Meanwhile, actual time spent wave riding is surprisingly low comprising between 3.8 and 8% of a competitive heat (15,24–26,28). The majority of paddling efforts (∼60% in Mendez-Villanueva's research (25) and ∼80% in Farley's research (15)) of the paddling bouts are for less than 20 seconds. It should be noted that different factors (e.g., type of waves such as reef, sand, point, and beach-break and weather and tide conditions) could affect competitive surfing activity profiles considerably including the amount of time waiting for waves to arrive and competitive tactics, such as judging which waves to catch to maximize their heat scores. However, the large amount of relatively short, repeated bouts of paddling is common, and it suggests that surfing can normally be considered a sport requiring a high number of repeated, short-duration, intermittent paddle efforts (15,24–26,28).

Sprint paddling seems to be an important aspect of surfing competitions. High paddling velocity enables surfers to gain a positional advantage over other competitors during multiple 20- to 30-minute heats over a competition and ensures fast entry speed into waves, enhancing the opportunity for the execution of a greater amount of maneuvers that will increase the judges' score (23,25,27,29). This has been reinforced by a number of studies demonstrating that sprint paddling speed and power are significant and reliable discriminators between both competitive and recreational surfers and between competitive surfers of different ranks (3,11,14,27).

Bearing in mind the repeated effort characteristics of competitive surfing and prolonged nature of recreational surfing activity, it is not uncommon for even recreational surfers to spend 3 or more hours in the water during a session in good environmental conditions (15,24,25); endurance paddling ability is also very likely to be a highly relevant physical quality when assessing paddling ability (11,27). In paddling actions (surfboard, paddleboard, and swimming) the athletes “pull” and then “push” their body over and through the water surface. This means that their distal segment (e.g., hand) is fixed. By definition, this makes it a closed–kinetic chain (CKC) activity (12,21) or at the very least a quasi-CKC activity when accounting for fluid movement around the hand. Evaluating endurance paddling ability in the water (i.e., 400-m time trial) has been proven to effectively discriminate between competitive surfers (d = 0.9) and competitive and recreational surfers (d = 1.34) (8,11,30), whereas lab-based stationary paddle ergometers (i.e., open kinetic chain) used in earlier investigations could not (23,24,27). This supports the concept that paddling endurance in surfers may be better assessed with a water-based paddling time trial rather than in a lab-based setting because of contextual validity and the nature of the kinetic chain (e.g., open vs. closed) assessed in the test (11,30).

As surfing paddle speed (in both sprint and endurance) seems to be important for competitive outcome, there is a strong rationale to establish adequate levels of strength before developing other power and speed qualities (5–7). This is especially relevant considering the lack of formalized strength training generally found in surfing (World Surf League competitors en masse possess a very low strength training age [e.g., <1–2 years], if any at all) and a threshold level of strength required for success in most activities. This seems to give a sound rationale to examine the performance benefits of researching the effects of strength training as a priority as this is absent from the current strength and conditioning practices of surfers.

To the authors' knowledge, only 2 studies to date have examined any potential relationship between upper-body (UB) strength and surfboard paddling speed. Sheppard et al. (29) found very high correlations between relative UB strength (1 repetition maximum [1RM] pull-up) and paddle speed over 5–15 m (r = 0.88–0.94) and high correlations with peak velocity (r = 0.66) in competitive surfers. In this study, UB relative 1RM pull-up strength was also found to be superior when comparing a faster paddling group with a slower paddling group (d = 1.88) (29). Likewise, Coyne et al. (11) found a significant moderate correlation (r = 0.41–0.43) between relative 1RM pull-up strength and sprint paddling ability (5, 10, 15 m and Pvel) in a group of both competitive and recreational surfers. However, when competitive surfers were examined independent of recreational surfers in the study by Coyne et al. (11), a significant correlation between relative 1RM pull-up strength and sprint paddling ability did not exist. This is dissimilar to the findings by Sheppard et al. (29), although it should be noted that Sheppard et al. (29) found differences in competitive surfers between faster and slower paddlers with relative 1RM pull-up strength of 1.27 and 1.15, respectively. Because the current average relative 1RM pull-up strength for competitive surfers in the study by Coyne et al. (11) was 1.24, this may indicate that once a certain level of relative pull-up strength is reached (e.g., above 1.2), improvements in paddling speed may not be necessarily associated with pull-up strength. Another noteworthy observation from the study by Coyne et al. (11) was that relative 1RM dip strength (which had not been examined in the previous research) in competitive surfers was very highly correlated with sprint paddling ability (p < 0.01). In their research, Coyne et al. (11) did not find a significant correlation with 1RM pull-up or dip strength and endurance paddling (400 m) ability. This may be because of the fact that as with the initiation of any movement (13), surfers must overcome a higher resistance to begin with to accelerate their body and surfboard on the water. Therefore, it is logical considering the associations between acceleration and both UB and lower-body strength, that correlations between UB strength and paddling speed decrease as distance increases (2,29). It is also logical to acknowledge that there is a consistently high correlation between UB muscular strength and power and freestyle swimming performance (16,34), bearing in mind the considerable biomechanical similarities between freestyle swimming and surfboard paddling (32).

However, despite the apparent strong correlation between strength and sprint paddling performance, this still does not indicate cause and effect. As yet, it remains to be investigated whether improving strength qualities in the UB will in turn improve surfboard paddling speed. As such, the purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of 5-week UB maximal strength training on surfboard sprint and endurance paddling. A secondary purpose of this study was to analyze how initial UB strength levels influenced maximal strength training effects on surfboard paddling ability. The impact that increases in UB maximal strength has on surfboard paddling speed and endurance can be used as a theoretical basis for the development of training interventions by strength and conditioning coaches (Table 1).

Table 1.
Table 1.:
Five-week upper-body maximal strength training schedule.


Experimental Approach to the Problem

A repeated-measures parallel control study design was used to assess the impact of 5 weeks of short-term maximal strength training on paddling performance. Postintervention, anthropometric, paddling, and strength variables were compared between the intervention (TRAIN) and control (CONT) groups and within the TRAIN group.


Seventeen competitive and recreational male surfers (29.7 ± 7.7 years, age range: 18 to 48 years, 177.4 ± 7.4 cm, 76.7 ± 9.9 kg) were matched in the following order of importance for paddling performance: mass, arm span, age, strength, and competitive surfing ability to the greatest extent possible and placed in a control (CONT) or training group (TRAIN). The TRAIN group possessed 4 competitive surfers out of 11 subjects (36%), whereas CONT possessed 2 competitive surfers out of 6 subjects (33%). Subjects were excluded if they had a recent history of UB orthopedic disorders or were unable to complete the tests as prescribed. Informed consent forms were signed by all subjects as per ECU Human Ethics Committee compliance. Approval for this investigation was granted by the Human Ethics Committee at Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia), and procedures conformed to the Code of Ethics of the World Medical Association (Declaration of Helsinki).



The testing procedures involved 5 distinct sections that were completed in the following order by all subjects: (a) Anthropometry, (b) Sprint Paddle, (c) 1RM Pull-Up, (d) 1RM Dip, and (e) Endurance Paddle Test. The anthropometric variables assessed were height, mass, and the sum of 7 skinfolds (Sum7). Sum7 was determined after the measurement of the triceps, sub-scapulae, biceps, supraspinale, abdominal, quadriceps, and calf skinfold using a Harpenden skinfold caliper (Baty International, West Sussex, England, United Kingdom). All the tests were conducted by a practitioner certified by the International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry, whose Typical Error of Measurement was 2.4% for skinfold measurements and 0.3% for all other measures.

Subjects performed a warm-up consisting of 2 sets of specific callisthenic and dynamic stretching exercises emphasizing UB and trunk activity, lasting 10 minutes in total. After the warm-up, subjects commenced the sprint paddle testing in a procedure that has been validated with surfboarding paddling in a pool and proven to have high measures of reliability (intraclass correlation [ICC] 0.82–0.99, typical error [TE] 0.01–0.11, typical error as CV [%CV] 0.52–2.99) for all 4 measures (9,30). Subjects performed a paddling-specific warm-up involving 200 m of low-intensity paddling followed by 4 × 15-m sprint paddling efforts at 60, 70, 80, and 90% volitional effort on approximately 2-minute intervals. The subjects then rested for 2 minutes before completing 2 maximal-effort sprint paddling time trials (i.e., 2 × 15 m) with a purpose-built horizontal position transducer (I-REX, Southport, Australia) attached to the back of each subject's boardshorts (see Figure 1). The position transducer noted the time stamps for every 0.02 m of displacement, which determined sprint times at 5, 10, and 15-m splits. The best of the 2 trials determined the subjects' final result, and all sprint paddle efforts were commenced from a stationary, prone-lying, floating position.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.:
Horizontal position transducer (attached to boardshorts) and computer set up for data collection.

After the sprint paddle test, athletes commenced the pull-up testing procedure. To ensure reliability of testing results, both the 1RM pull-up and 1RM dip testing procedures were performed using the same anthropometric, tempo, and range of motion standards as in the study by Coyne et al. (10). This involved 5 repetitions with bodyweight followed by 4, 3, 2, and 1 repetitions with an increasingly greater external load. The external load was increased by suspending certified plate weights from a standard lifting belt worn around the waist for every decrease in repetitions. After these repetitions, the athletes performed only single repetitions with additional external load attached to their waists with 2–3 minutes of rest provided between repetitions. External load was increased by 1.25–10 kg between sets depending on the strength level of the subject, speed of concentric movement, and relative body mass. This testing procedure was then repeated in the exact same manner for the 1RM dip test. The subject's results were determined by adding the subject's body weight to the external load lifted (absolute load 1RM) and then dividing that total load by bodyweight (relative 1RM). The heaviest successful weight lifted within the anthropometric, range of motion, and tempo standards outlined by Coyne et al. (10) were recorded as the subject's 1RM. When assessed in this manner, the relative pull-up (ICC 0.96, TE 0.03, and %CV 2.22) and relative dip (ICC 0.97, TE 0.04, and %CV 2.41) seem to be highly reliable (10).

The last test was the endurance paddle test. This was performed over a 20-m up-and-back course in the same pool, using 2 pool lane widths, so that nonstop paddling of 400 m could be accomplished. The paddling test was conducted with small buoy markers at both ends of the 20-m distance. This meant subjects paddled 20 m and completed a 180° turn at each end around the buoy, until 400 m was completed, 10 laps up and back (see Figure 2). This 400-m timed endurance paddle test seems to be highly reliable (ICC 0.99, TE 9.21, %CV 2.01) (8).

Figure 2.
Figure 2.:
Outline of 400-m timed endurance paddle test.

It should be noted that both pre- and postsprint and endurance paddle testing were performed in the same outdoor 25-m swimming pool. This allowed for a simple outline of distances for the subjects and control for the potential effect of ocean conditions such as tides and currents. Each subject performed the paddling tests on their own surfboard and wore the same surfing boardshorts pre- and postintervention to control for factors, such as buoyancy and drag. Subjects were also asked to refrain from resistance training 48 hours before both tests.

Training Intervention

Subjects allocated to the TRAIN group underwent a 5-week period of 3 UB strength training sessions per week, which were conducted with at least 1-day rest in between each session (i.e., nonconsecutive days). In these sessions, subjects performed a general warm-up consisting of 5 minutes light skipping and a dynamic flexibility warm-up (which is similar to warm-up procedures before competitive surfing heats). After 2- to 3-minutes rest, 2 submaximal preparatory warm-up sets (2–4 reps) were performed for pull-ups and dips. Subjects then executed the training protocol outlined in Table 1 alternating between day 1 and day 2 for 18 exercise sessions.

This 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 repetition loading scheme used a training load that was appropriate for each repetition and speed of execution (tempo). The tempo prescription is written in a 4-digit sequence with the first number representing the eccentric contraction period, the second number the pause before beginning the concentric contraction, the third number the concentric contraction period, and the last number the pause before beginning the eccentric contraction. The alternation of the pull-up and dip between days was designed to overcome any preferential learning effects between the 2 strength exercises. It should be noted that this loading scheme was not an actual RM for each set (i.e., not true to failure training). For each repetition, it was a load that could be lifted with excellent technique at the correct tempo and was close to the maximum training weight for the subject at that particular time. The external loading scheme for the pull-ups and dips required the subjects to add a small load (choice of 1.25 or 2.5 kg) to each working set's weight from day 1 to day 1 sessions and day 2 to day 2 sessions. For instance, if the subject completed 15-, 20-, 25-, 30-, and 35-kg external loads for 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 repetitions, respectively, on the previous day 1, they would then attempt 16.25, 21.25, 26.25, 31.25, and 36.25 kg on the next day 1. If the athletes could not complete all 15 repetitions successfully, they stayed at this load until they could. This scheme allowed the subjects to progressively overload the resistance used and become accustomed to near-maximal loads. It also conformed to the well-established criterion for improving relative strength with low repetitions (i.e., 1–6 repetitions) and multiple sets (3–10 sets) (35). Three-minute recovery was provided in the alternation between the pull-ups and dips. It should be noted that the pull-up and dip were chosen as the most relevant strength tests and primary training intervention exercises because of previous research on strength and surfing and the joint angles and CKC nature relating to surfboard paddling (11,29).

Subjects were also instructed to undertake normal surfing activity levels and normal total activity levels with this being monitored using activity logbooks. This was so both total activity level volume (minutes) and surfing activity level volume (minutes) could be compared between groups. At the onset of the study, subjects were also asked to provide a recall of total surf volume (minutes) leading up to the study for the previous fortnight to identify if there may be any interference effect on initial testing results.

After the 5-week training period, the subjects were retested in the anthropometric, UB strength, and paddling tests as outlined previously. Differences between Paddling, Strength, and Anthropometric data between the TRAIN and CONT groups and within the TRAIN group were then assessed.

Statistical Analyses

Because of the number of subjects and the involvement of high-level athletes who perform a tremendous volume of paddling in surfing, reference change of likelihood data using Hopkin's methods (18,20) was calculated to give meaningful information on the practical effect of the strength training intervention. The precision of change in the measurements was based on the typical error of measurement from published reliability studies and the smallest worthwhile change expressed as likelihoods. These likelihoods were classified as “unlikely,” “possibly,” and “likely” with the probabilities being <25, 26–74, and >75%, respectively (20). The probabilities that the differences in variables tested were substantial and worthwhile were calculated using 0.2× between-subject SD and expressed in absolute units, using practical inferences (19). Cohen's effect sizes (d) were also calculated to reflect the magnitude of any changes observed between pre- and postintervention within and between groups. The Cohen's d values were considered with 0.2, 0.5, and 0.8 values demonstrating small, moderate, and large effect sizes, respectively (4).

These statistical procedures were also repeated for further analysis to investigate the effect of subject's initial strength levels on the UB maximal strength intervention group's paddling performance. The UB maximal strength intervention group was separated into stronger (>1.2 relative pull-up) and weaker (<1.2 relative pull-up) groups. For all means-based testing, minimum statistical significance was considered to be achieved when p ≤ 0.05, with a 95% confidence interval.


The results of the UB maximal strength training intervention are displayed below. Stronger and weaker subject's results from the UB maximal strength training intervention group are also presented. There were no significant differences between total activity volume (minutes) or total surfing volume (minutes) between the groups.


TRAIN subjects demonstrated an increase in body mass and reduction in Sum7 with moderate and large effect sizes, respectively. Within the TRAIN group, WEAK subjects demonstrated a greater body mass increase compared with the stronger group. Conversely, STRONG subjects had a greater reduction in Sum7 skinfolds.

Paddling Performance

The TRAIN group increased their speed over 5, 10, and 15 m, whereas the control group got slower. The odds that these were substantially true differences were 87, 74, and 87% over 5, 10, and 15 m, respectively, between the groups with a moderate effect size for the 5 and 10 m and a small effect size for the 15-m sprint paddle (Figure 3). The TRAIN group also displayed a faster endurance paddling performance compared with the control group. The 89% likelihood of difference in the 400-m endurance paddle with a moderate effect size between the groups indicates a practically meaningful difference in this instance (Figure 4). Within the TRAIN group, WEAK subjects increased sprint paddling speed, whereas STRONG subjects actually exhibited slower performances with a large effect size for all distances (Figure 5). WEAK subjects also improved endurance paddling performances greater in comparison with the STRONG group with a 92% chance of practically meaningful differences and moderate effect size (Figure 6).

Figure 3.
Figure 3.:
Change in sprint paddling performance between the training and control groups over 5 weeks. UB = upper body.
Figure 4.
Figure 4.:
Change in endurance paddling performance between the training and control groups over 5 weeks. UB = upper body.
Figure 5.
Figure 5.:
Change in sprint paddle performance between the STRONG and WEAK groups within an upper-body maximal strength intervention group over 5 weeks.
Figure 6.
Figure 6.:
Change in endurance paddle performance between the STRONG and WEAK groups within an upper-body maximal strength intervention group over 5 weeks.

Upper-Body Maximal Strength

The improvement in relative 1RM pull-up demonstrated by the TRAIN group compared with the CONT group was determined to have a 59% chance of practically meaningful difference with a small effect size. There was an 88% chance that the increase in 1RM dip strength by the TRAIN subjects was a practically meaningful difference (Table 2). There was no difference between the WEAK and STRONG subjects within the TRAIN group in terms of the change in relative 1RM pull-up performance over the 5 weeks. There was a slight improvement by WEAK in relative 1RM dip performance that was determined to have a 55% chance that the difference was meaningful with a small effect size (Table 3).

Table 2.
Table 2.:
Between-group comparisons of the TRAIN and the CONT groups over a 5-week training period.*†
Table 3.
Table 3.:
Between-group comparisons between the STRONG and WEAK groups in the TRAIN group over a 5-week training period.*†


The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of a short-term, 5-week, maximal strength training intervention on UB maximal strength levels, anthropometric variables, and surfboard paddling ability. Because of the high volume of both sprint and endurance surfboard paddling that occurs naturally within surfing activity and an apparent lack of formalized maximal strength training by surfers, an UB maximal strength training intervention seemed to offer the greatest opportunity to improve surfboard paddling ability.

Upper-body maximal strength training seemed to significantly decrease body fat as measured by Sum7 and to a much lesser extent increase body mass. Bearing in mind the high negative correlation with Sum7 and paddling speed (especially endurance bouts) from Coyne's research (8), these anthropometric changes are of noteworthy potential for surfing athletes. To analyze where surfing performance may be improved in an athlete's profile, it may be worthwhile to compare a surfing athlete's body mass and Sum7 with norms for elite surfers (e.g., World Surf League). This may be especially important if the athlete's Sum7 is above those norms. Upper-body maximal strength training (potentially alongside a nutritional intervention) may be an effective and efficient way of reducing body fat levels to optimal levels for performance.

On the other hand, considering the high negative correlation between mass and paddling speed in both sprint and endurance efforts in competitive surfers in Coyne's previous research (8), there may need to be monitoring of athletes' mass (especially if the athlete is already very lean) when undertaking UB maximal strength training. This is to make sure they do not broach a “threshold” weight for fat-free mass above which performance may be hampered. This may be less of a concern in situations where strength training is not a novel stimulus for athletes (e.g., experienced trainees) or the athlete is undertaking high levels of endurance training concurrently (33).

Relative UB maximal strength performance measures in the pull-up and dip seem to have increased after the 5-week training period. There seemed to be a greater improvement in relative dip strength (d = −1.32, 88% likelihood of substantial true difference) compared with relative pull-up strength (d = −0.42, 59% likelihood of substantial true difference) in the TRAIN group compared with the CONT group.

Regardless of these differences, these improvements in strength seem to be valuable for surfing athletes. Considering the previous research correlating greater relative pull-up strength to sprint paddling speed (8,29), the improvements in pull-up strength garnered from the intervention can be seen as desirable. Furthermore, the improvements in relative dip strength from the training may be even more valuable for competitive surfers considering the high significant correlations with relative dip strength and sprint paddling ability over 5, 10, and 15 m (p < 0.01) found with competitive surfers in previous studies (8).

It should be noted the a 5-week strength training period is a very short intervention in terms of a strength stimulus compared with the majority of the research on strength training. This brief study time will significantly decrease the probability of finding worthwhile change in any type of maximal strength results. However, because of the nature of competitive surfing and the travelling demands placed on surfing athletes, it is very rare that a competitive surfer will have a greater than a 5-week period at any one time at any one place to concentrate on improving a physical quality. It is encouraging for the surfing population that there seems to be positive adaptations in maximal relative strength in a period of time that will fit into a competitive surfer's schedule.

The main hypothesis of the study proposed that the TRAIN group would improve surfboard paddling ability to a greater extent than the CONT group, particularly in sprint paddle performance. The paddling kinematics assessed demonstrated likely substantial true differences between the TRAIN and CONT groups with moderate to large effect sizes. When discussing these results, it must be remembered that CONT were still exposed to regular bouts of paddling during the study period as part of their normal week-to-week surfing activity.

Interestingly, although the TRAIN group seemed to improve in all aspects of paddling ability, it was the endurance paddle performance measure (400 m) that seemed to improve the most with the strength training stimulus when compared with CONT. Although initially surprising, this is in line with previous research on the positive effects of strength training on endurance activity and performance (17,31). The increase in strength may have increased the subject's paddling stroke economy, which theoretically would enable them to operate at lower levels of cardiorespiratory function at the same paddling speed, i.e., enhanced economy (17,31). Another possible reason for the greater development in endurance paddling ability may be the effect that maximal strength training had on the fat mass of the subjects. The most significant effect of the strength training intervention when comparing the TRAIN and CONT groups seemed to be a reduction in the training groups' fat mass (d = 1.23, 100% likelihood of substantial true difference). As a lower fat mass was significantly correlated (p < 0.01) with 400-m endurance paddle performance in both competitive surfers and the whole cohort in previous research (8), this reduction in fat mass may be an unexpected cause of improvement in the endurance paddling performance measures.

When splitting the STRONG and WEAK groups, there were many interesting observations. The first was that from pre- to postintervention, WEAK subjects seemed to gain more body mass but had a lower reduction in fat mass (e.g., Sum7) than STRONG subjects. The STRONG group did not seem to gain any body mass but had a greater reduction in fat mass than WEAK. This may indicate maximal strength training had a more hypertrophic effect on the WEAK group. Again, this corresponds with the notion that weaker or inexperienced athletes are much more likely to accumulate fat-free mass in the initial stages of maximal strength training as it is a novel stimulus.

The effects of maximal strength training on paddling velocity seemed to be profoundly influenced by the initial strength levels of the subjects. When comparing the STRONG and WEAK groups, the WEAK group seemed to have much greater improvements in both sprint and endurance paddling performance. WEAK group's improvements compared with the STRONG group had large effect sizes and a high likelihood that these differences were true and substantial for all paddling measures. Of interest is a comparison of the STRONG group with the CONT group. The STRONG group's sprint paddling measures in the follow-up testing were very similar to those of the CONT group. However, the STRONG group did display “possibly” greater improvement in the 400-m endurance paddle with a moderate effect size compared with the CONT group.

These results support the contention that there may be a certain level of relative maximal strength (i.e., 1.2 relative 1RM pull-up) that once achieved, any further gains in relative maximal strength may not produce appreciable performance gains in surfboard paddling performance, especially sprint paddling. If so, it may be warranted for athletes who possess the necessary quantities of relative maximal strength to focus their available training time on more specific methods (e.g., resisted sprint paddling) and in developing other physical or mental qualities that may influence performance.

It should be noted that this diagnosis and training intervention is solely based on a 5-week maximal strength training intervention and the experiences of the authors. More investigation may be warranted to establish if a longer bout of maximal strength training changes the initial strength level used for diagnosis and training intervention. Strength and conditioning coaches should also be aware that as maximal strength improves, the rate at which performance improves decreases and any further improvements may be brought about through other training methods (1). Nonetheless, improving maximal strength beyond a “threshold” level may result in performance enhancements that are not a direct result of strength training. For example, maximal strength training may aid in soft tissue resiliency (22), which may allow an athlete to complete the necessary volume of training that is required for further performance enhancement without injury.

The outcome of this study was that short-term exposure to maximal strength training elicits improvements in paddling performance measures. However, the magnitude of performance increases seems dependent on initial strength levels with differential responses between the strong and weaker athletes over the course of a short maximal strength-training program.

Practical Applications

This study seemed to reveal a “threshold” level of maximal strength that if possessed, there seem to be little transfer to paddling performance with improvements in maximal strength. As such, thorough investigations into the point this maximal strength “threshold” is reached for other sports would be important to determine for strength and conditioning practitioners working in those sports. Although a longer maximal strength training period may have produced more significant paddling improvements, the nature of professional surfing means that strength and conditioning practitioners are unlikely to have any more than 5 weeks in an uninterrupted block to work with a surfing athlete. Therefore, for these athletes who have attained “threshold” strength, explorations of the effects other forms of training (e.g., UB ballistic or plyometric training) have on paddling performance could be warranted. Other studies comparing surfboard paddle training and maximal strength training could also be undertaken.

In regard to assessing the effect surfboard paddling training could have on paddling performance, further diagnostics based on the existing paddling tests could be developed to aid the strength and conditioning coach. These could include investigating whether average velocity in 15-m sprint compared with average velocity in the 400-m endurance paddle is a valid discriminator between athletes or is correlated with performance. Research into how this paddling ratio could be used to guide paddling training interventions for athletes, e.g., whether they perform sprint or endurance paddling training to enhance performance, could also be warranted.


This research was completed as part of collaboration between Surfing Australia and Edith Cowan University. Without the work of Surfing Australia staff including Dr. Jeremy Sheppard and the staff at Coyne Sports Injury Clinic, this study would not have been able to be completed.

There are no people involved in the study where professional relationships will benefit from the results of the study. As mentioned, there was no funding received for this study. Lastly, the results of the present study do not constitute endorsement of any product by the authors or by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.


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surfing; paddle; testing; transfer

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