Quick, what activities come to mind when you think of being active with osteoarthritis? Walking. Stationary biking. Swimming. Maybe sitting on your couch.

Yes, those answers are correct.

But what about surfing? That’s right. Hear me out…


Image courtesy of L’Express

Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of osteoarthritis exercise programs to help with my ankle stability and strength.  Of all those programs, it was a workout designed for surfing that has proven to be the most beneficial for me.

For many years, my workout routines were similar to those I did in college: squats, deadlifts, and jumping and agility exercises. As my ankle osteoarthritis grew worse, it became clear that those were not the type of exercises I could continue if I wanted to properly manage my OA.

The Elements of the Right Osteoarthritis Exercise Program

I needed to find a new osteoarthritis exercise program that was a better fit for how OA was affecting not only my ankle but the rest of my body as well. I wanted to find an osteoarthritis exercise program that met the following criteria:

  1. Full-body workout
  2. Low impact
  3. Include lower body stretches
  4. Emphasis on mobility

During my search, I read all sorts of fitness forums, reviewed old basketball workouts, and talked with trainers. While I found some good exercises, all the programs came up short.

What finally lead me to a surfing workout was a short video with Eddie Vedder, the lead singer from Pearl Jam, and Laird Hamilton, the famous big wave surfer called Iconoclasts: Episode 1: Eddie Vedder and Laird Hamilton. During the video, parts of Laird’s workout were shown and that’s when it hit me, a surfing workout was what I needed! Being a good surfer requires strength, balance, stability and flexibility. And that’s exactly what I needed to work on to help with my ankle osteoarthritis.


Image courtesy of Sundance.tv

A Full Body Workout

Once I knew I needed to find a surfing exercise program, I was able to find what I was looking for. Below is the exercise program I’ve been doing for the past few years as part of the overall program to manage my osteoarthritis:

  1. Breathing squat 1x15
  2. Yoga Plex: 1x10
  3. Inchworm: 1x10
  4. Cat Camels: 1x10
  5. Thoracic rotation: 1x10
  6. Squat to reach to stand: 1x15
  7. Warrior lunge with rotation: 2x8
  8. Single leg balance – eyes closed 3x30 sec
  9. Plyo jump (side to side jumping)
  10. Superset
    1. Stability cable push: 3x10
    2. Single leg deadlift: 3x10
  11. Superset
    1. Bulgarian split squat (stability ball split squats) 2x10
    2. Chin-ups (or pulling exercise) 2x8
  12. Supine lateral ball roll 2x5
  13. Bosu ball squats: 2x10
  14. Lateral lunge: 2x8
  15. Push-up with rotation: 2x8
  16. Russian twists: 2x10 (substitute with another ab exercise)

An Entire Workout or a Few Exercises

What I really like about many of these exercises is that they include movements I do in my physical therapy, so those exercises can be used in my physical therapy routine if I want to make it a little less monotonous, which happens fairly often.

I do feel that following a surfing exercise program has not only helped my ankle but the rest of my body as well. I can definitely feel a difference in my hips and knees, which is very important because with limited ankle mobility, more stress is placed on those joints.


Since I’ve been using surfing exercises as the foundation of my osteoarthritis exercise program for over 4 years, I see no reason to stop. Given everything my ankle has gone through, it is stronger and more stable than I would have thought. But I can’t be happy with the progress I’ve made because remaining active will require more effort and concentration managing my osteoarthritis. Whether it’s shorter backpacking trips, swimming, or taking a zero day, keeping my ankle as healthy as possible, along with the rest of my body is of the utmost importance, and it’s a foundation of surfing exercises that has gotten me this far and will help me reach my next set of goals.

ssc-logoIf you’re interested in learning more about the above program, check out Surf Strength Coach. I talked with Cris, who runs the site, and he tailored a program to meet the needs of my osteoarthritic ankle. If you’re looking for help with strength & stability exercises to offset some of what your osteoarthritis has taken away, he can be a big help!