In this series, fitness pros investigate how exercise trends measure up to the hype.
If you can't catch a wave in a tropical locale this summer, there's another way to hang loose (on dry land).
While relatively new to the fitness market, indoor surfboarding fitness classes can be found in major cities across the country, including Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. Even some smaller cities, such as Barrie, Ont., are offering classes. I checked out Surfset Toronto (2481A Yonge St.).
Whether you're a surfer or just want to look like one, the company's website says classes offer a "one-hour trip to paradise with an added bonus of a killer workout." The unstable board challenges your core, stabilizer muscles and brain in unique and athletic ways.
What to expect
Picture a room full of surfboards, each balancing on what looks like a row of three large medicine balls. Now, imagine using that unstable board to do traditional exercises, such as squats, planks and push-ups. Surfset offers various classes. I tried a "Burn" and a "Blend" class. Burn melds bursts of cardio with strength exercises. Blend includes more yoga- and Pilates-type exercises. Prices vary, from a two-week trial pass for $45 to unlimited monthly passes for $150. You can also try Surfset as part of ClassPass.
The classes were fun and unique, which is significant, since boredom is not conducive to long-term workout success. The atmosphere felt positive; no one raised an eyebrow when participants found the instability of the board a challenge. We all knew that we would eventually wobble as well. There were a number of pairs, a husband-and-wife team, and a mother-daughter team in the class. They inspired me – I plan on taking my sister the next time she comes to Toronto.
Surfset classes are also ideal for anyone prepping for water sports, as well as runners and other athletes who need single-leg strength. The Blend class in particular included multiple single-leg exercises, such as balancing on one leg on the board. I was amazed by how unbalanced I was on my left side. Standing only on my left leg was almost impossible. I even had a harder time when both feet were down but the left was the dominant working leg. Lunges with my left leg forward almost killed me – but I was almost completely stable when my right side was working.
But this is not a place for beginners. Yes, the teacher did say "work at your own pace" (easier said than done in a group setting) and, yes, she offered ways to regress everything – i.e. make the exercises easier – but since the exercises start at such a high level, the regressions are still advanced.
For example, we did single-leg, straight leg dips with our hands on the board. Straight-leg dips with one leg lifted is an advanced exercise even off of the board. The instructor said we could lower a leg, but further regressions were needed. She could have suggested we fully bend our legs, do dips on the floor, or even take a weight and work our triceps with overhead triceps extensions.
Even the warm-up was more advanced than the main portion of most people's workouts. It started with high knees to one side of board. We then ran to the front of the board, hopped up into a plank and did a push-up and another plank. Then we hopped off, ran backward and repeated the sequence.
Although form tips were offered, they were vague. For example, whenever we were standing on the board we were told to "focus on staying balanced." A more specific suggestion such as "focus on something that doesn't move" would have been more useful.
The unstable surface and fun atmosphere is guaranteed to put a smile on your face if you're comfortable doing moves, such as planks, side planks, squats and lunges.