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Kelly Slater's 11 ASP World Titles didn't rest on talent alone - Functional fitness was key

Posted Dec 28 2011 12:35pm

For 20 years Kelly Slater's been the focal point of pro surfing, in large part because of his dedication to maintaining his fitness level.

Tom Servais...Show me a person who has good posture, and I'll show you someone who is increasing their chances of enjoying a long, productive career, life ... and 11 world surfing titles. OK, maybe not 11, but hear me out.

For those of us who are hunched over computers all day, commuting a half hour or more to work or carrying the kids around, posture is a hidden but alarming health issue that can gradually get worse over time. For surfers and other athletes, improper posture and muscle imbalance can lead to injuries and slow recovery. It can also dramatically affect performance on a surfboard. For more than 25 years of working with ASP athletes, including Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning and Jordy Smith, I have preached the power of posture as a vital aspect in their treatment and training as world-class competitors.

Slater has incredible body awareness and when he trains his focus is on full body mobility, stability and strength. He uses a system called Foundation Training, which emphasizes improving posture and core fitness by focusing on strengthening the back of the body to balance the overused, over-stressed front side. It teaches him how to remember what proper movement feels like.

Injury? Nothing a little duct tape can't take care of. And the posture, take note of that too. Slater looking limber three world titles ago.

The athlete with rounded shoulders and forward-carried head posture tends to have poor body awareness and alignment, and often walks and runs with a short, choppy gait with hips and feet turned out. These are the athletes most and often prone to declining performance, slower recovery, more injuries, sickness and eventually, a shorter career. The quality of one's movement each day is literally a window to how well the body performs and recovers. Next time you see Slater at an event, notice how effortlessly he walks, paddles out and pops up on his board. This is no coincidence: it comes from how well his central nervous system is connected to his muscles.

I started working with Slater in the early '90s. He has always had extraordinary mobility, but because his sport requires right and left sides to move differently, he always has to work towards achieving optimum balance.

Top strength and conditioning specialists focus on smoothing out and connecting movement. It's somewhat counter-intuitive, but simply training to make muscles stronger is a recipe for injury. For those of us who don't have the benefit of training with a professional strength and conditioning coach, if you want to improve your overall fitness and health, learn to move your body the way it was designed ... like you did when you were a kid, and not a slave to sitting.

Slater also has such naturally keen movement awareness and innate understanding of how important good posture is to feeling and performing at his best. Poor posture and quality of regular movement patterns over time are the main reason athletes become injured; and for us regular folks and weekend warriors, it's why we have bad backs and hips, sore necks and headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, and so on. Good movement is measured by an ability to move how the body was designed with the least amount of stress. Interestingly, nothing illustrates quality of movement like watching a great athlete do his or her thing. Why? Because they move like kids do ... with economy of motion, balance and effortless grace. Guys like Slater make it look so effortless because they maintain a relaxed balance of form and function.

Add to this the fact that Slater has a tremendous thirst for knowledge and is a serious student of the body. He can move incredibly well in some directions, and is less effective in others. There is little doubt that he is a flat-out gifted athlete and has the drive a to be a world-class competitor, but his focus on constantly improving his health through good nutrition and improving balance, movement and posture throughout his career is undoubtedly a key factor in his longevity.

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