Surfing the Subway: A Fitness Guide

I surf all the time because I don’t like to touch that filthy pole,” says Cliff Ransom, a 30-year-old granola-ish F-train commuter who looks like he’d drink green tea to keep from getting sick. Subway surfing—the art of riding without holding on to anything (not to be confused with the death-wish stunt of riding on top)—is one way mysophobic New Yorkers are trying to stay healthy this flu season. As a preventive health measure, it’s dubious; flu shots are now available. But could it be good exercise?

Advantages: Personal trainer Joe Dowdell (who whipped Natalie Portman and Jimmy Fallon into shape), says surfing builds up agility and strength endurance—just like balancing on a Swiss ball. He even suggests that by increasing surf time (i.e., one stop the first week and two the next), you can turn a commute into a progressively more difficult workout.

On the Other Hand: “I think it’s a crock of crap,” says Edward Jackowski, owner of Fitness. “If the train suddenly stops, you’re going to go flying into something.”

The Muscles It Works Out: Core abdominal (mainly transverse abdominus and obliques), inner thighs, glutes, quadriceps, and calves.

How to Surf: The optimal position is like a snowboarding stance: feet spread a bit more than shoulder-width apart, one foot slightly in front of the other, with knees bent. The front foot should face the front of the train, and the torso should either face the windows or forward—whichever allows you to keep equal weight on both feet.

Best Surfing Routes: According to Neysa Pranger, coordinator of NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign, the A and C (it’s back!) from 23rd to 145th, and the 4,5,6 from Grand Central to 125th are nice, straight lines. Unlike the R or W. “The R/W near City Hall has a huge curve that you wouldn’t necessarily see by looking at the map,” she says—before noting that she doesn’t really advise surfing on any of them.

Surfing the Subway: A Fitness Guide