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3 Exercises to Improve Your Pop Up


Article review by Glenn T Goodwin, PhD, DABFE

There is a quick progression of critical dynamic movements in the process of surfing a wave, but IMO, perhaps none more critical than the pop-up.  The pop-up is a complex and fluid neurophysiological motion, involving timing and coordination of mind-body synchronicity and takes place in a fluid medium (water) that is also in motion.  Popping up at the right time, with just the right foot placements, right where you want them, and with a balanced core posture ready to pounce, sets up everything else in a perfect state of readiness.

Strength, quickness and agility are essential, as is repetition of this complex behavior in order to keep the mind-body connections primed and finely tuned.  If you talk to older surfers who have not been able to stay in surfing shape or even younger surfers who haven’t surfed in a good while, most will say they have lost aspects of their strength, quickness and agility, and the pop-up often suffers the most.

Aside from surfing all the time in varied conditions, seems like the key is to practice functional mind-body exercises that generalize to real life surfing.  Your mind-body self is always trainable and responds efficiently to repetitive exercises that translate into the behavioral dynamics in surfing.  Once the summer flats set in, its time to get busy with a little training for what you know is sure to come.  Here is a good read by Phil White from The Inertia that will help you keep your edge…

‘Getting to your feet cleanly is always key, whether it’s a racy beach break or just a mushy takeoff that reforms into a rippable open face you want time to set up for. Regardless, other than doing it over and over again, how can you improve your pop up? Many people spend much of their gym time on weird exercise variations that have little bearing on real-world performance. A better way ahead is to think about the performance element you want to improve, and then work backwards to functional exercises to get you there. So with that in mind, here are three moves that build core strength and power from the ground up to give you a faster, more explosive pop up.

Plyo pushup

If the squat is the king of lower body exercises, then the pushup is the queen of upper body moves. It not only develops your ability to maintain integrity in a mid-range press, but also to engage multiple large muscle groups to generate power. The plyo pushup takes the standard variation to a new level, employing the same fast twitch muscle fibers you use to pop up from your board deck. This is how you do it:

Kneel down and place your hands at shoulder width with your fingers pointing straight ahead

Move your legs back, position your feet together and contract your glutes (see: butt muscles)

Screw your hands into the floor to create stabilizing shoulder torque, and level forward to position your shoulders over your hands

Bend at the elbows to lower your body into the bottom position. Try to keep your forearms vertical and keep your elbows tucked in close, rather than flaring them out

As you lower yourself toward the floor, keep your butt and belly squeezed

When your chest touches the floor, aggressively push your hands down to propel your upper body into the air

Land with your arms slightly bent to absorb the force of the explosive move, and then slowly lower yourself back to the bottom position

Repeat 10 times, adding more reps if your form stays solid

Split jump

When it comes to plyometrics, box jumps seem to get all the press. But while this is undoubtedly an effective exercise to improve leaping ability, leg power and hip torque, there are other plyo moves that are more applicable to improving your pop up. One of these is the split jump, which involves you taking off and lunging in a staggered stance, developing quickness to your feet you’ll need if you don’t already have. This is the breakdown:

Stand with your feet together, toes pointing straight ahead (i.e. not pigeoned in or ducked out)

Take a large step forward with your left foot

Drop your hips down into the bottom of the lunge position. Your back foot should remain straight, but with the heel lifted

Swing your arms up and simultaneously explode upwards from the hips to propel yourself off the floor

As you reach the top of your jump, switch legs in mid air

Land in the same position you started, but with the foot position reversed

Repeat for 10 reps on each leg, or until you start to feel a reduction in speed and power


One of the reasons that this exercises is such a regular fixture in sessions conducted by the military is that it’s highly efficient, builds both power and speed endurance, and requires your body to move to full range in multiple shapes and works everything. Here’s how to do it:

Stand with your feet together and toes pointing straight ahead

Hinge forward at the hips and place your palms on the ground with your fingers facing forward

Keeping your back flat, slide your feet back behind you and get into the top pushup position. Screw your hands into the ground and squeeze your abs and glutes.

Lower yourself into the bottom position of the pushup

Powerfully extend your elbows, drive your hips up and pull both knees toward your chest

As you pull your legs underneath your body, replace your hands with your feet. Land in the bottom position of a squat (feet shoulder width apart and toes facing forward, knees out, torso upright)

Drive explosively out of the bottom squat stance and perform a vertical jump, with your arms overhead

As you land, transition immediately into the next burpee with step #2

Repeat 10 times, adding reps and speed after you nail the technique. As the burpee comprises so many elements, have a training partner or coach watch you so they can identify and correct flaws before you ingrain a faulty motor pattern.’

Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights (and lefts)…keep your edge… 

And now a little reward for all that work…