Here’s the fitness program that got two surfing world champs back in the game

Mick Fanning flexing. Photo by Skull Candy
Mick Fanning, healthy and flexing. Photo: Courtesy of Skullcandy

“There was a loud crack and then hellish pain in my butt,” world surfing champion Mick Fanning told GrindTV about the injury that almost ended him. “I didn’t know at the time, as I was on a boat trip in the middle of nowhere off Sumatra in Indonesia, but I had ripped my hamstring right off the bone where it attaches to the pelvis.”

This was in 2004, and after a grueling trip back to Australia for surgery, Fanning had six months of rehabilitation ahead. “I couldn’t even sit down for the first six weeks. However, it was this six months and the rehab done through the C.H.E.K system that has been crucial for my career,” he says. “It taught me so much about how my body, health and mind works. I learned which muscles to work on to improve my performance as a surfer.”

Fanning has gone on to win three world titles, and he still incorporates some of the C.H.E.K principles into his own everyday training. With his success as inspiration, other high-profile surfers such as Laird Hamilton, Kai Otton, Jamie Mitchell, Dan Ross and Stephanie Gilmore have also used the fitness program to overcome serious injury, maintain surf fitness and achieve success.

Different sports, different muscles. Mick off the fitness ball and into the waves. Photo by Red Bull
Different sports, different muscles. Fanning, off the fitness ball and into the waves. Photo: Courtesy of Red Bull

C.H.E.K was devised by Paul Chek and is based around an integrated, holistic approach to health, fitness and well-being. It stands for Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology and views the body as a fully integrated unit where physical, hormonal, mental, emotional and spiritual components must be considered. Diet is important, with the use of organic foods and the eradication of gluten and dairy seen as crucial.

Specific training is also key, for both the individual and the individual sport. “Every sport uses very specific muscles throughout the body that, if conditioned properly over time, can greatly enhance performance,” says former top professional surfer and now coach Dan Ross (seen below in a high-intensity C.H.E.K workout). “That’s the key to C.H.E.K, with its specific balance and core exercises that use the muscles for whatever activity or sport you are into.”

While surfing’s elite have used it to go from major injuries to world titles, there are also tailored regimes for other sports like golf and tennis.

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“For surfing, weights aren’t as important,” says Fanning. “In surfing, we’re constantly getting hit by water and there are all these different variables; the surface conditions are always changing, so you need to have those little muscles turned on. With weights, they use the big muscles, but when you’re standing on a Swiss ball, it’s so unstable that the exercises turns on the little stabilizing muscles that are needed for surfing.”

Fanning underwent his rehab in Australia under Jan Carton and said it was pivotal in his 2007 and 2009 world titles. It was a similar story for Stephanie Gilmore, who also worked under Carton in 2011 after she was randomly attacked with an iron bar near her home and suffered a broken arm and head injuries.

“I lost my rhythm. … I realized it was going to take more than just natural talent and intuition to win another world title,” Gilmore said at the end of 2011 when she finished third in the world-title race.

Steph Gilmore competing on the Gold Coast. Photo by WSL/Cestari
Steph Gilmore competing on the Gold Coast. Photo: Cestari/WSL
Never one for intense training, she in the past she has used C.H.E.K when she was back at home on the Gold Coast. She has said that it focuses on her core strength and balance, the things that are specific to her body and her surfing.

“But the lot of my success comes down to finding balance in my life. If I wake up and there’s no surf, I’m not going, ‘Oh, I should do a hundred sit-ups,'” she told Outside. “I’m going to just enjoy exactly where I am.”

With that attitude and the knowledge gained through C.H.E.K, Gilmore went on to overcome the mental and physical scars of her assault and win two more world titles, in 2012 and 2014.

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