Cris Mills - Surf Strength Coach

Meet Cris Mills aka the Surf Strength Coach: He’s got a following of close to 5000 on Facebook, 6000 on YouTube and his training videos rack up more than 41,000 views. His blog posts have included everything from exercises for duck diving and pop-ups, learning to read food labels, bad knees, back pain and warm-up exercises for surfing mothers.

Cris – who could be described as an unconventional health practitioner (by formal qualification at least) – is an avid surfer and has been involved in multiple sports. He isn’t shy to admit he’s ‘beat the absolute hell out of his body’ and as a result has had some serious joint operations, dealt with chronic back pain and has fought long-term health challenges.

Equipped with a criminal justice degree and en route to Law School, Mills had a change of heart and decided to focus his efforts on two of his passions – surfing and fitness. Having always been active and done a lot of training, it seemed like a natural step for Cris to start personal training, which evolved into post-therapy training, massage therapy and manual therapy, and currently, orthopaedic-oriented performance work and training.

“The fitness field is chaotic and frustrating and, I believe, driven by a lot of wrong intentions. I love surfing and I love fitness but there are lot of aspects of the health and fitness field I don’t like, so I had find something that I was really passionate about,” says Mills.

“There is a lot of bullshit and misguided information out there. I’ve put a lot of effort into providing credible, relevant and useful information for surfers who are interested in improving their health, their body, and their surfing.”

At the start of 2011 Cris started writing a surf fitness blog – his first post titled Surfers = Athletes? The timing coincided with the ‘fitness of surfing’ becoming prevalent on the pro tour, largely attributed to the likes of Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater. This spurred Cris on and although it was a somewhat incidental vocation, Surf Strength Coach has grown to become an established and well-regarded surfing fitness success story. 

Cris has invested significantly in education and has a lengthy list of qualifications to his name, including; NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, CHEK Practitioner Level 2, CHEK HLC Level 1, Licensed Massage Therapist and Remedial Therapist, Somatic Integrative Neuromuscular Therapist via Paul St. John’s Method, Functional Movement Screen Certified and NASM Certified Personal Trainer. He’s also read countless books related to fitness, health, nutrition.

His work centres on the remedial aspects of coaching, specifically pain elimination and post-injury therapy. Cris focuses on movement, lifestyle, nutrition, training, endurance and pain relief, helping surfers to improve their body so they can ultimately improve their surfing, increase their performance and maximise their time in the water.

“Surfing, as a sport, is pretty fucking difficult and a lot of sedentary people misunderstand the effort needed to put into their bodies to either improve their surfing or to keep their surfing pain free. This requires maintenance and upkeep,” says Mills.

“I do a lot of work with professionals and executives – guys who value their free time and being able to surf. When you’re stuck in an office five days a week it impacts on your body, so I work with them to help them find a balance. I also work with a lot of younger guys (late teens to early twenties) on strength and power work, which is fun because you’re really pushing them and it’s performance based rather than pain relief work.”

Having established a good following online, Cris also works virtually with a full spectrum of clients ranging from 25 to 60 year olds from all over the world. He says that being able to consult online is a cool aspect of what he does and has opened up a lot of opportunities. Surf Strength Coach provides thorough questionnaires, videos and specific online coaching programs designed for clients. Additionally, Cris will often consult with his clients’ local health practitioners – usually physical therapists and osteopaths - or someone else they’re working with.

Cris recently completed a five-week online food and nutrition program for 40 people and is set to release a full stretch and flexibility program. While he sees the benefit in maintaining a strong presence online, Cris doesn’t downplay the time investment required (on average he spends about two to three hours a day working on his blog and online programs). He credits the success of his blog and website to good content and says the growth in followers has been largely organic. 

“I started my blog and made my first YouTube video back in 2011 and I’ve just stuck with it but it’s taken a lot of perseverance and hard headedness. I’m not a fitness marketer, I just try to provide some rationale and reasoning and put out relevant and applicable information. I keep good stuff out and people seem to dig and it keeps growing, which is cool.”

Social media and online popularity aside, Cris says the best part of the work he does is being able to help people, especially those who are in pain, get back to surfing. 

“Helping people is huge for me. Surfing is goddamn fun and for some of us it’s a necessary outlet and a necessary part of life, so not being able to surf because you’re hurt or have an injury is frustrating. I’ve had some horrific injuries and haven’t been able to surf or have had to surf with pain and it’s shitty. So the biggest thing is being able to work with people and making a big impact on their overall health and lifestyle so that it translates to more time in the ocean,” says Mills.

On the flipside, Cris says the hardest part is not being able to help people, especially when it comes to pain and chronic injury and that there are some people that aren’t wiling to start helping themselves. 

“People aren’t formally educated about how to look after their body and there’s so much misinformation out there. Fortunately the clients I’m working with are people who are motivated to do what they need to improve. I provide a roadmap of where their body is at and what they need to do to progress – that’s when you start to see positive changes happen,” he says.

When asked for advice about getting involved in fitness surfing or coaching, Cris says ongoing learning and development is crucial and believes that his education has given him a broader understanding and application base in the work he does.

“You constantly have to be up-skilling and training in order to get the best results for your clients. At the moment I am pursuing a lot of Neurokinetic Therapy, which I’ve found to be the most relevant treatment right now.”

So what’s next for the Surf Strength Coach?

“I’d really like to start working with more pros – from the aspect of getting a better idea of commonalities across professional-level surfing. For example, whether ankle restrictions are really common, what the general type of spinal movements are, to see what pro surfing does to the body and what surfers’ bodies need.” 

Cris is certainly clear about what he needs and says he feels fortunate to be able to chase his dreams and to work with surfers helping them regain the ability to surf, enhance their performance and improve their overall lifestyle.

He says, “I am lucky to be extremely clear about what fulfils me in life - surfing, food and nutrition, spending time with my family, strength training, quality movement, good tequila and trying to enjoy the hell out of life - plainly, I just want to help people improve.”

Top Tips from the Surf Strength Coach:

•          Make sure you’re getting enough sleep – this has an outstanding impact on your overall wellbeing.

•          Focus on good nutrition – it’s one of the absolute foundations of a healthy lifestyle.

•          Move – we are designed to move, so find something you enjoy that keeps your body conditioned.

•          Get outside – we all need a good dose of Vitamin D and sunlight.

•          Learn how to do self-tissue release (with a tennis ball or foam roller) – this type of self-maintenance is huge for surfers and anyone trying to manage pain.

•          Don’t put off treating pain – a lot of people just deal with chronic pain and issues but get that shit checked out! 

Where can we find you online? 


Posted by: Jaclyn Knight, on February 22, 2015
Categories: Interviews