How to be a better surfer – The importance of mobility & stretching

If you want to look graceful, sharp and stylish in the surf, as well as avoid surfing injuries down the track, get friendly with a surf specific mobility routine.


I worked with Michelle Drielsma from Sydney Strength and Conditioning a few years ago during my recovery from an ankle injury and torn MCL. I have always done a lot of yoga but still have areas of my body that are imbalanced and tight. Those areas don’t tend to get addressed in my yoga classes (vinyasa and yin styles), so I have learned to introduce mobility and different strength and stretching routines to address this. I asked Michelle to share her thoughts on the importance of mobility and stretching for surfing. Having worked with world-class athletes including 2x world champion surfer Tom Caroll, WQS surfer Freya Prumm, and pro snowboarder Jess Rich to name a few… she is next level in her thinking, content and approach to bodywork. Make sure you check out some of the below videos or her online monthly membership that delivers all this greatness into your inbox.


Surf fitness and strength and mobility
Michelle working with pro surfer Freya Prumm


Related post: Surf fitness and exercises with pro surfer Paige Hareb (video)



Surf stretching and mobility to become a fluid surfer – by Michelle Drielsma


There are many factors and reasons for reduced joint range of motion in surfers. Only one of which is muscular tightness. Muscle “tightness” results from an increase in tension from active or passive mechanisms. Passively, muscles can become shortened through poor posture, inactivity or scarring from the previous injury. Actively, muscles can become shorter due to spasm or overuse. Regardless of the cause, tightness limits range of motion, preventing you from getting that full torso rotation, overhead shoulder movement, back extension, drive or quickness in your turns. Muscle tightness can lead to muscle imbalances and injury in nearby joints which compensate.


Snowboard strength and mobiliyy
Jess Rich works with Michelle to support the motion her body needs to pull methods this stylie!
Photo courtesy of Jess Rich



Not all stretching is created equal, and there is a load of BS out there. I also am not a fan on any sole form of yoga, although I do adopt random techniques from different yoga styles. Most forms of yoga don’t focus on individual differences, surfing imbalances or acknowledge all body areas. For example; hamstring stretching is generally hammered with minimal quadriceps stretching or the style of quadriceps stretching generally puts the knees in awkward positions. Other body areas that receive minimal attention are the pecs, neck and forearms. Another issue is body differences – you might be someone who has an anterior pelvic tilt (over-ached lower back) and hamstrings that are already too loose, meaning to stretch the hamstrings will further destabilise your pelvis. On top of this, if you are hypermobile (women are more susceptible), stretching is not ideal for you and strength training would be the preferred alternative. Hormonal changes within the female monthly cycle (not to mention pregnancy) also influence joint laxity/looseness so overstretching can be a problem and lead to some cranky joints.



I have taken parts of Yoga that work for me, parts of what I experienced as a dancer growing up, parts of what I have learned with exercise physiology and also what I have learnt with physical therapy to include joint mobilisations, stretching of the muscle, stretching of the fascia and stretching of the neural structures.. where appropriate!


Related post: Sally Fitzgibbons: The fitness, workout and diet of a champion surfer



surf fitness and strength and mobiity



Why we want to stay supple for the surf – common surf injuries due to lack of joint mobility and muscle flexibility:



When you’re paddling, which eats up the majority of time spent surfing, your neck gets pulled into hyperextension and will tighten up the muscles at the back of the neck, make you look like a turtle, lengthen your neck stabilisers at the front of your neck and stiffen your neck up.



Shoulder injuries such as pinching at the front of the shoulder or tendonitis from chronic shoulder strain is a big one. Shoulder issues are commonly seen in beginners (poor paddling technique or unconditioned muscles for the amount of paddling) and older surfers (accumulated miles of paddling and imbalanced shoulder muscles). Releasing overactive and tight tissues, plus strengthening your rotator cuff muscles will prevent the prime movers pulling the arm bone upward and jamming into the shoulder joint.



Back strains / sprains are usually as a result of wipeout and the associated twists and turns forced upon the torso. In addition to this, any sudden movements have the potential to damage a poorly conditioned back as well as the strain that can develop from prolonged paddling if your butt and lower back muscles are not well conditioned, creating a shear force around the lower back and hip joint. Older surfers with poorly moving upper spines will compensate in the neck and shoulder areas.



Inflexible adductor muscles, chronic scar tissue in adductors, poor squat technique (squatting with your knees dropping inward) and chronic tension (stress / cold / balancing on your board / standing on one leg) all add up.



Knee injury such as medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury from the knee dropping inward is a common one.  This can be avoided by a good warm-up and good conditioning. Squatting with knees over the toes, freeing up tight tissues surround the knee joint, training knee stability, leg endurance, strength and power can all help.



Related post: Snowboarder Travis Rice on sustaining his body through diet, hydration and yoga



After you turn 30 years old, all this stuff will become more and more useful. To sum up a good injury prevention plan, start with the below:


#1 Mobilise

Mobilise restricted joint areas such as the thoracic spine, shoulder, hips and ankles to avoid compensation in areas above and below. (Link to if peeps want to check out how to address these areas).



#2 Stretch

Stretch areas found to be tight in an assessment by a physical therapist or fitness professional. My book Fluid Surfer has its own self-assessment chapter which can help you identify which areas you need to target rather than wasting your time with stretches you don’t need. Four free surf techniques with instructions can be found here


How low can you flow. #sydneystrengthconditioning #movement #move #flexible #strong #core #fitness #fitfam #groundwork vid is double time fyi

A video posted by Michelle Drielsma (@sydneystrengthconditioning) on Jan 20, 2016 at 8:59pm PST



#3 Balanced Strength

Get yourself a balanced strength program – balance pull to push ratios, focus on strengthening areas found weak from the right to the left, front to back and rotational aspects of your body. Train with exercises that have a functional carryover to surfing performance. Aim to correct surf-specific imbalances in the gym. For example, natural foot stance will likely develop a right rotated pelvis, goofy foot will likely develop a left rotated pelvis, therefore focus on balancing out musculature to prevent injury and early hip degeneration.

Before surfing, warm-up with dynamic stretching and mobility work. Use static, myofascial stretching and soft tissue techniques after or separate to high-intensity training to balance yourself out, reduce overall muscle tension or cramping.



#4 Nutrition

Ensure their nutrition is sound and supportive of their physical demands, providing the correct energy pathways and building strong bodies.


How organic eggs should be. Dirt, feathers and all different sizes & colours. #jerf #organic #eatyouryolks

A photo posted by Michelle Drielsma (@sydneystrengthconditioning) on Aug 27, 2014 at 8:52pm PDT



Related post: Kelly Slater Diet: Nutrition & sustainable living


If you can’t make it to Manly beach to see Michelle in person at her Sydney Strength and Conditioning gym, you can get daily inspiration and ideas for your own mobility exercises from her Instagram or Facebook pages. She also recently wrote a book on surf mobility, giving access to the techniques she teaches for surf performance and injury prevention. Check it out at


Thanks so much Michelle, looking forward to return to Sydney to work with you again :-)


Editor’s note: If you are after travel insurance for your next surfing adventure, Still Stoked recommends World Nomads. Prices are really reasonable and they insure actions sports (including heliskiing!) without charging a mega premium. You can also purchase the insurance after you have left home for your trip and extend the trip online during your trip; something that is quite unique to World Nomads and really helpful if your plans change as you travel.

Hiya, I'm Alexa. Always on some sort of adventure! I'm excited to share my stories & introduce you to other rad women, also living the dream. I'm here to inspire you to do the same :-)


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