How To Improve Your Pop Up – Exercise Foundations

If you can get to your feet quickly, and with no real faults, you’ve probably never actually considered what it takes to get to your feet, or how to improve your pop up. If you fumble around and clumsily get to your feet, pulling that one foot at a time maneuver, you’ve likely given it some thought, and been frustrated and pissed off in the process. This is the process, and physiologically sound, no internet surf fitness fluff in here. This is how to improve your pop up. Preparing for surf events is somehow expensive as you also need to do diet in order to get fit on the said schedule of competition.


Pushing strength and power, core integration, a bend pattern (hip pull), flexibility, and skill improvement. Those are the foundations to improving your pop up. Notice the skill is last. Where do most people start trying to improve their pop up? They start by performing the skill repeatedly, without first making sure the foundations are adequate. This is what a lot of “functional” training attempts to do, unfortunately. It neglects the difference between skills and foundations. Improve the SKILL, by working on the the foundations (flexibility, pushing strength and power, core integration, bend pattern (hip pull).

That differentiation needs to make sense between skill and foundations.

The movement of a pop up is a skill, a movement pattern your body / brain connection has wired in. Like how you can slide the key into the ignition in your car without really having to focus on the movement. It’s hardwired. The quickest way to change a hardwired movement is to make sure the foundational patterns of that movement are adequate or improved, and then you begin to work on the skill (actual pop up drills, or preferably, surfing).

To really improve your pop up, if you’re having difficulty, isn’t to start practicing pop-ups onto a foam roller or unstable surface… yet. As with any legitimate athletic or performance training, you find what’s limiting you, improve that foundation, and then let that carryover to skill improvement. Only when ALL the foundations, and basic strength or flexibility requirements are met, then you can start challenging the actual skill. That’s where some of the “functional” surf fitness exercises come into play, but most people just need to improve the foundations. And if you’ve got the foundations nailed, as a surfer and athlete, you’d be better off spending your training time improving some other skill or movement aspect, or surfing… not working on some overly technical and circusy pop-up movement.


Most of the older crew, or those spend a lot of time sitting, it’s generally a lack of flexibility that’s giving you issues (there’s always exceptions to the human body). A simple test is the deep squat position. Can you deep squat? What that movement is showing is if you have adequate lower body joint mobility. If you don’t, it’s quite unlikely you have the joint mobility to get into a pop up position cleanly and quickly. There are orthopedic conditions, past surgeries, or injuries that make a deep squat position difficult or even problematic. Work with a qualified practitioner to find your limitations and capabilities. The video below goes over deep squat positions, various stretches, and drills, to help improve pop up requirements.


If flexibility isn’t the issue, then we start looking to upper body pushing strength / power, the bend pattern (when you pull your hips and knees under your body, it’s a bend pattern), and also core integration. All this work can be done along with flexibility work if needed. For the Ladies, the upper body pushing strength is generally the issue. Everyone should be able to do perfect, clean, core controlled pushups.


Increase the basic movement and control of the pushup, with a properly integrated core and alignment. That pushup can then be progressed for endurance, strength, unstable surfaces, power, speed, whatever your body and pop up needs, but the foundation is that good ole’ perfect pushup.

The core and hip flexion work needs to be done with Quality movement. Again, that word is Quality. The majority of these pop up drills are reinforcing “stability” and control of the spine and pelvis. Pay attention to keeping proper alignment, and regress the exercises if necessary. Most people start a few steps ahead of where they ought to. Quality, not quantity folks.

Reinforce the basic strength qualities. Get a bit stronger. Develop more core control, and hip flexibility. Improve upon the pop up’s fundamental movement properties. This will carry over into your skill practice.