Bodhi Leigh-Jones at the Hydralyte Sports Pro Junior Gold Coast

TIPS: Top 3 Tips For Improved Shoulder Posture, Paddle Strength and Endurance

Let’s Get Some Real Advice About Being Stronger & More Mobile

When I was at school, I remember the sports teachers harping on about stretching. There was the lift your arm up into the air and slightly bend one, the lift your ankle up behind your bum one and the one leg out in front and reach for your toes one. No one ever took them seriously and I don’t ever remember feeling any kind of pulling or tightness but I wasn’t flexible either. Ahhhh how you take being a young, fit and active person for granted. Now in my thirties, everything hurts, is stiff and not slightly flexible. I think back to those sports lessons and wish that I’d taken the stretching thing seriously.

With niggles in my left shoulder and right knee and random stiffness in my hips and ankles, I thought it was time to bring in a specialist.

Michelle Drielsma is a sports physiologist and strength and conditioning specialist. She has worked with all levels sports people including professionals in football, martial arts, basketball and surfers as well as the Australian Defence Force.

At the age of 26, she started surfing. As a fluid mover herself, she experienced that feeling of getting tighter and stiffer and out of alignment and wanted to find some solutions. The more she surfed, the more she realised that she had to do some maintenance work to build and support her base as a surfer. The knowledge base that she built from her own practice gave her the opportunity to help her clients and expand to help more surfers in the wider community. She’s now the author of a fantastic book, and my new bible of sport and movement. It’s called FLUID SURFER; The Surfer’s Bible to Endless Performance and Injury Prevention. Sounds impressive? That’s because it is. It walks you through each part of your body, the ailments and the suggested practical stretches and strengthening ideas for you to work through.

We got Michelle to break down the basic premise of her work in the book and point out some of her favourites for girls (and women) of the sea, like us.

What’s one of the biggest things you work through with surfers and their bodies? 

“If you’re surfing every day, you’re putting your body under strain from the one-sided imbalance that comes with the side stance in surfing.” Says Michelle. “It was something I became very quickly aware of when I started as an adult. I’d get out of the water and feel parts of my body stiffen up. Putting the book together helped me revisit areas, like the hamstrings, that are so important and often missed with surfers.”

What do you find is something unique and specific to women who surf? 

“Women don’t experience the same mobility issues as men. Women have a greater amount of joint laxity and muscle flexibility and therefore need to work on strengthening our joints through full range of motion. Having full range of motion control and strength, ensures our joints can cope with all the quick, sudden and multi-directional forces that surfing demands. We need to work on stabilizing our joints, working with the muscle strength and flexibility to ensure our joints can cope with movements they are forced into to complete moves. Long-term joint health and keeping everything moving and active is very important.”

There are three of the major types of joints that need to be looked after with the water sports that we participate in;
Hinge joints like your elbows, knees fingers & toes
> Ball and socket joints like your shoulders and hips
> Saddle joints allow your wrists turn over
Pivot joints are those in your neck

What about stretching, how important is it really? Is it what is affecting my stiffness?

Yes. Stretching is really important but to be effective, we want to work on soft-tissue work and full-range strengthening to get the most benefit. This type of mobility work, if done effectively and regularly will lead to a happy healthy body that can take impact and move in the way you need it to, even under pressure. This is what Fluid Surfer is all about, it is not a book on stretching but rather a book on mobility work which educates the reader how each human joint should optimally function and how to improve each target area with soft-tissue work, self mobilisations and full-range strengthening. Working on mobility with active stretching, strengthening and release work, allows your body to deal with any situation it’s going to be in. Poor mobility will result in sub-optimal surf performance, acute injury or chronic injury with joint wear and tear. Long-term joint health can’t be overlooked when you’re a professional athlete or sports enthusiast.

“People who surf and don’t particularly do any other upper-body dominant sport, typically do not get the opportunity to regularly practice full shoulder range of motion which over time, leads to shoulder mobility issues. When you surf, you bring your arm in front but not fully overhead, (try it now, mimic your paddle and see for yourself) and your arm is also internally rotated. If you’re not doing any other sport or training, there’s a lack of regular full range shoulder and upper spine motion so you need to introduce some regular shoulder and upper spine mobility work to keep the body happy. In the end it will give you added strength, endurance and power to your paddling.”

You mentioned that writing the book got you working with and focussing more on the forgotten hamstrings…

“Yeah, I found when I started surfing, my hamstrings got really “tight” from spending more time in the paddling position and sitting out the back on the board, in cold water, between waves”. Tight hamstrings can also evolve from weak glutes, a stiff lower back, a forward tipped pelvis and long periods of sitting. Compared to sports and activities I did before, surfing wasn’t engaging my glutes as much, my lower back was getting tight and my pelvis was starting to tilt forward more – all a recipe for tight hamstrings let alone the sitting in cold water!

“Think for a moment about the speed and strange angles of your turns that aren’t similar to any other everyday movement. You put a lot of energy and pressure into driving into the back of your legs (hamstrings and calves) to move your board and your body around in a circular motion.

Ankles and knees are probably other common areas for you to assess with clients? 

“Moving down the body, your ankles and knees come into play in turns and when you move into aerial maneuvers. You need to prepare the tissue in these areas for taking multiple times your bodyweight by training in a range of movements. If you don’t have the optimal motion you’re going to get injured and I see it a lot.

“In the ankle, there are several positions that your foot can actually move. There are several awkward positions like pronation and supination and circular motions that your ankle has, and you want to apply a progressive force to strengthen that mobility. One example of this gently placing your foot into supination and progressively applying your own force against it.”

When is the optimal time to stretch and apply some of the exercises from your Bible? 

“Before bed is best because It chills you out. A few times a week is a good start. The exercises at the end of the book are strength based and can be done every day. It is good to choose different movements each day and rotate them for variety too.”

Okay, so some food for thought…

Your body is capable of absorbing and producing forces of multiple angles and intensities, you just have regularly practice full-range, multi-directional strengthening and ensure your joints are moving optimally. As a surfer, it’s important to work on the tissues around the lats, pecs and shoulder rotators because shoulder stiffness and injury are common with overuse and lack of stretching and strength.
As a surfer, it’s important to work on the tissues around the lats, pecs and shoulder internal rotators because shoulder stiffness and injury are common with overuse of paddling muscles and lack of regular full-range movement.
Work on full shoulder range of movement, shoulder mobility, hip and spine mobility. Include a dynamic warm-up before heading out in the water.
> Every surfer I see needs to work on their pecs, lats, shoulder internal rotators and hip flexors!
> If you don’t like stretching, you can use a variety of balls, like tennis balls, cricket balls, golf balls etc. to self-mobilise around these soft tissues. They give you more control and than a foam roller and allow you to feel an instant benefit.

The Top 3 Stretches & Mobility Movements For Women

These are just three of the hundreds of movement exercises and stretches in the Fluid Surfer Bible, get one for yourself so you can be the best and strongest you. 


Why should we do it? It’s for mobilising the pack part of your shoulder capsule more effectively than stretching or exercising. A mobilised posterior shoulder capsule means better shoulder internal rotation; which means freer paddling, the avoidance of pain at the front of the shoulder and less rounded / hunched forward shoulders. The band creates a backward traction to help impinge any stubborn tissues or structures around the shoulder joint. un

How to do it right: Secure a small to medium thick power band to a pole at waist height. Face away from the pole and place the band over your shoulder like a bag strap. This should be a gentle self-mobilisation and not cause pain. Reach that arm overhead in a tricep stretch. (see image) Lean forward at the torso and try to relax your shoulder, allowing the band to gently push your arm to the back of the shoulder socket. Hold for a few deep breaths then back the pressure off before repeating another four times.


Michelle DrielsmaWhy should we do it? To stretch different sections of the hamstrings and lightly strengthen the hamstrings within the stretch, which assists with long-term flexibility gains.

How to do it right: Lie on your back, place a tie or band around the base of your foot and gently bring your leg towards your chest, keeping your leg straight. Position your foot in four positions (toes pointed, toes across the body, toes out to the side) and leg in two positions (straight up and across the body). Hold each position for five deep slow breaths.


Michelle Drielsma

Why should we do it? To strengthen the middle and lower trapezius muscles for improved shoulder posture, paddle strength and endurance. YES PLEASE!

How to do it right: Kneel on the ground and lead forward at your hips, keeping your chest lifted and your back straight. Hold your shoulder down and back. Reach your arm directly forward with your thumb up (exhale) and lower (inhale). Aim for 15 repetitions. Repeat with your arm at 45 degrees to the forward diagonal. Ensure your thumb is up, the neck is neutral (chin down) and your thoracic spine is extended. Engage your glutes and abs to protect your lower back.


Top photo of Bodhi Leigh-Jones by Surfing Queensland.

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