For the past 9 weeks I’ve been following my Training for Skiing program in preparation for a ski trip to Kicking Horse, next month. This week, however, I did something completely different: I went surfing.  My brother and sister-in-law signed me up for surf lessons on three consecutive days – talk about an amazing gift!

As I drove to the beach for day 1, I wondered how I would do – both from a coordination and a fitness perspective. Would I have the stamina to keep paddling? Would I be sore before the second day – too sore to have fun? What about day 3?

I’m thrilled to say that I had an absolute blast each of the three outings, and that I had virtually no soreness at any point over the past 3 days. My arms were getting fatigued toward the end of the first 2 hour lesson, but that subsided before the next day. I was generally fatigued toward the end of the second lesson, but I was also fighting a cold (a not-so nice Christmas present from my young niece).

I kind of suspected this would be the case: that my ski-specific training program would prepare me nicely for surfing.

Here is the secret truth about sport-specific training: it’s really more about training that is specific for sports than about training that is specific for a sport. There. I said it.

Train for sports

There are  some minor variations between the training programs I would put together for a volleyball player, a soccer player, a skier, a surfer, a tennis player, and an ultimate player. But the similarities are  much greater than the differences.

How is this possible? If you think about what each sport requires, it should become pretty self-evident. Do you have a sport that you play? Start thinking about what you need from your body to be able to do it. Now read the training description below and consider whether it adequately describes the needs for your sport:

  • Strong rotary core muscles to control movement and transfer energy between your upper and lower body.
  • The strength to balance and express power with each leg.
  • The strength to push, pull, and stabilize yourself or an external object with your arms.
  • Mobility in the ankles, hips, and upper back/shoulders.
  • Work capacity (stamina) to be able to perform these  tasks repeatedly.

That about cover it? Ya, thought so.

There are in fact some important specifics to many sports, and ideally your training program will take them into account. But the similarities are much greater than the differences, and you could do very well in one sport from having trained for a completely different one. Like I did.

If I had actually been training for surfing instead of skiing for the past 9 weeks, the biggest difference in my program is that I would have had more focus on the upper body for the energy systems development portion of my workouts (stamina building). This would have meant using battling ropes, rope pulls, rope climbs, and inverted rows to prepare me for the repeated paddling I would have to do. Instead I did most of my energy systems work on the bike, the slideboard, and the ladder, in anticipation of the many mogul runs I will be doing.

Part of the reason well-developed sport-specific training programs are so transferable from sport to sport, is that they address both the movements you need to do for your sport, and those that work the opposite muscles, to ensure you maintain a healthy body. In the case of skiing, we’re not doing a whole lot with our arms, but because we spend so much time in a hunched over position, a good ski-specific program should include upper body strengthening, in particular pulling movements that work both the arms and the back. This helps with skiing because it keeps a healthy posture. And as it turns out, this helps to make a ski-specific program effective as training for surfing.

Now if only I had the skill to move a surf board as well as I can move skis.


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc, CSCS, CSIA II, is a personal trainer, ski instructor, and newbie surfer living in Ottawa.

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