Training Days with Jeremy December 2015 - Shelby Stanger
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Training Days: Dr. Jeremey Sheppard
July 21, 2014
Words By Shelby Stanger
Photos by  Andrew Shields
Dr. Jeremy Sheppard By Andrew Shields

Dr. Jeremy Sheppard By Andrew Shields

The Hurley Surfing Australia High Performance Training Center (HPC) in Casuarina Beach, just south of the Gold Coast of Australia, is far from your average gym that offers surf training as part of their program. There’s no treadmills, stationary bikes or rows of cardio machines. Instead, there’s a myriad of hi-tech gadgets and tools from force plates that measure how soft athletes land and re-gain balance, to gymnastic trampolines, accelerometers, a sensory deprivation pool tank (where the air and water are the same temperature as an athlete’s skin temperature depriving athletes of all senses, and allowing them to relax), video equipment for analysis, a myriad of scales and GPS units, a vending machine that sales surf wax, a stocked room of brand new Al Merrick and DHD surfboards and FCS fins, a jetski, a large swimming pool, and an area to practice skateboarding.

A project of Surfing Australia, the HPC is funded by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), a government entity whose goal is to ensure Australia maintains its place as a world leader in surfing. Hurley is a major sponsor. While any surfer from grom to adult can attend camps, clinics, corporate parties, or get private coaching and/or a video analysis session by a hand-picked coach, the guy in charge of coaching and training the top Australian pros is Dr. Jeremy Sheppard who partners with Surfing Australia’s National Coach, Andy King.

A former hockey player turned surfer, Dr. Sheppard has a PhD in Strength Sciences and a long list of accolades and experience. He’s coached athletes and teams in the Olympics as well as the NRL, NFL, and AFL. Surfing Australia hired him three years ago to help develop the year and half old facility and to train their nation’s top surfers. He also mentors Masters and PhD students that can coach anyone, even non-Australian citizens who want to train like the pros at the center.

“Everything we do is based on science and has a purpose and method behind it,” said Dr. Sheppard, who is currently full-time training WCT Surfers Bede Durbridge, Adam Melling, Dion Atkinson, Mitch Crews, Dimity Stoyle and Sally Fitzgibbons. “When we do training, we always look for a return on investment.”
Considered one of the top in his field, Dr. Sheppard has been solicited by a variety of U.S.A. WCT surfers to help with coaching, but is unable due to his contract. Passionate about using science to improve performance, however, Dr. Sheppard was able to share a few of his techniques and tips to take your surfing to the next level.
“There’s no one-size fits all routine. Every athlete’s training schedule is different. Bede, Mitch, Dimity and Sally all have very different daily, yearly, and long-term plans. Every surfer who trains at the center goes through a screening first. The screening measures their ability to move as a human, as an athlete, and specifically as a surfer. Everything is measured and re-evaluated several times a year to determine progress.”
“Movement is the pillar of everything and the most important key to training. If you have tight hips, you can’t compress or rotate to do a good turn. If you have tight shoulders and can’t move your arms effectively, and you’ll compensate by using other muscles, which will compromise performance, and may take years off your surfing life. Poor movement prevents performance, and causes injury. If you are injured, you can’t train, and if you can’t train you can’t improve.
We work a lot with athletes to help them tolerate the sport better. We want to make sure athletes get the proper range of motion in their bodies, then we give them drills for stability, and then we add strength to their program. That’s rehab 101. They have to be able to move well before they can even train.”
Bede Durbidge Photo By Andrew Shields
Bede Durbridge By Andrew Shields
“Almost every surfer I’ve ever trained lacks adequate leg strength. They are literally weak in the part of the body that provides some serious propulsion. I think traditionally people have thought strength training meant getting injured or getting heavy, or getting slow, but there’s no scientific evidence for any of that. Stronger people get fewer injuries because weak things break. That’s just physics.
We are publishing a study to determine the relationship between judges scores on turns and an athlete’s lower body strength level. We had credentialed judges and expert coaches rank 20 of our athlete’s turning abilities. We then related those scores to a force platform test where we measured dynamic leg strength of each athlete. The finding is a large, positive correlation between the judges’ scores and an athlete’s leg strength. To be an athlete, strength needs to be one of your key foundation qualities.”
“Every surfer is screened to see if they can they do a single leg body squat all the way down and all the way up. We try to work them up to doing a reasonable amount of reps just using their body weight. That’s pretty important. Other things to do to increase leg strength are snatch squats, back squats, front squats, deadlifts, lunges and step-ups. Which ones we use depends on the athlete and the time of year.”
“This is also really important. We use medicine balls and cable work for working on strength and power in rotations, as well as dynamic gymnastic activities. Plyometrics are great for increasing power. And lower body power moves, things like jumps, weighted jumps, cleans, and snatches all help with core rotational power, which helps when doing big turns in surfing.
A lot of people use balance boards for surf training. That’s okay for rehab, but doing squats on a balance board isn’t going to help build strength and power like doing a squat on a stable surface will.”

Bede Durbridge By Andrew Shields

Bede Durbidge Photo By Andrew Shields

“We use a lot of gymnastics at the facility, and I think every surfer could benefit from more gymnastics. It helps with balance, landing and mostly with force production and force absorption, which is everything in surfing. Also, there is so much stimulus happening in surfing, you need to develop your entire sensorimotor system, and gymnastics is great for that.
We do things like gymnastics rolls, flips, rotations, and jumps. But, that’s just the preparation work. The truly fun stuff is off the tramps and in the air practicing airs and different grabs.”

Every athlete does some form of landing training. We do things like drops from boxes and then do a video analysis of it. Did they keep their body aligned? Did they absorb well enough through their ankles, their knees, and their hips? Did they let their chest go forward, which puts stress on their knees? We can measure this by putting waterproof accelerometers on different parts of the athlete’s body and having them go out and do airs. That’s how we can apply some sports science to it all. And then we’ll couple aerial simulations onto some mats right before surfing. They can practice doing the grabs they are already good at, but learn to reduce the impact and increase the completion rate, and then try to transfer that to the surf.
Image: Bede Paddling
We test paddling in a pool. We have devices built that allow us to attach a high tech-like string, to the back of surfer, and the surfer then performs a sprint paddle in a pool. This device then hooks up to a computer and allows us to detail to the millisecond how quickly they can paddle. We’ll measure explosive sprint paddles, a repeated sprint paddle, and then an endurance paddle over 400 meters and build drills based on their times so they can improve quickly.
“We published a study in the U.S. based Journal of Strength Conditioning and Research showing the relationship between sprint and endurance paddling speed and pull up strength. There’s a positive correlation for sure. You don’t have to be able to do a chin-up with a piano around your waist, but having good posture, a properly working shoulder, and some solid pulling strength are key to optimizing your paddling. Long arms help too, but I can’t do much about that!”
“We complete a lot of sessions with ten minutes of recovery breathing. It’s a good technique to train mindfulness, and to train your nervous system to go from that fighting gear when you are training, to a resting state. Breathing is the metronome of the mind. You can turn it down or up by using breathing exercises.
As far as sports psychology, there are no short-term fixes. Athletes should become more independent of their coaches every session, more knowledgeable and more mentally tough. We teach athletes how to make more informed decisions.
If you fall on a wave, for example, go ahead and be pissed off…for maybe five seconds max. But then turn your thought into what you need to do next. That’s where empowerment happens. Failure happens, but how you respond to it is where it matters most. Being mentally tough is incredibly important.”