Girl Surf Network came across this Northern Beaches local, frother, exercise physiologist and strength coach who has a passion for helping surfers correct body imbalances and surf to their highest potential. Michelle Drielsma continues to work with professional surfers including Tom Carroll, Davey Cathels, Freya Prumm and pro snowboarder Jess Rich. She has recently published her own book, named Fluid Surfer which is the absolute bomb! We caught up with Michelle to get insights into her book.
GSN: What is your new book Fluid Surfer about?
MD: Fluid Surfer is a book about optimal human movement for surf performance and surf longevity. It contains key techniques surfers can use to free themselves of overly tight muscles, tackle muscle imbalances, reduce body aches and pains, surf with more fluidity and extend their surfing lifespan.
GSN: Why did you decide to write the book?
MD: For 8 years now, my work has revolved around exercise physiology, sports performance, injury prevention and just getting bodies to move better. I grew up dancing and from high school onward have practiced a mix of strength training, yoga, sports rehabilitation, massage and strength & conditioning which has given me a fairly solid focus on what optimal posture and joint alignments should look and feel like. I started surfing in my 20’s so I could really feel the muscle and joint imbalances that surfing was creating within my body – like tight shoulders, neck, lower back, hips rotating toward my back leg and strain on the inside of my back knee. I totally had fallen in love with surfing though and was faced to decide what actions were necessary to allow me to keep surfing in five, ten and fifty years time. I have noticed these same dysfunctions in other surfers I am friends with or have worked with as clients. Without a focus on strength and mobility, surf performance and longevity is significantly compromised.
GSN: What would be a few of your top stretches / exercises for surfers?
MD: There are so many areas to address and everyone has their own weak links, but as a general piece of advice I would hone in on the pecs / chest muscles, shoulder capsule and strengthening the shoulder external rotators / mid back.
1. PECS (PECTORALIS MAJOR AND MINOR MUSCLES)
Why: The pecs attach to the shoulder blades and sternum so when they get short, they will pull your shoulders forward. Forward shoulders screw up normal shoulder blade, upper spine and rib movement. When the pec minor gets real stiff, it locks your shoulder into a forward position which is unstable for pulling / paddling and pushing / popping-up and duck-diving.
How to do it: Using a cricket ball or tennis ball. Place the ball in the upper corner of your chest – always under your collarbone – bring your arm out to 90 degrees and then bend at the elbow so that you have made an upside down stop sign with your arm (internally rotated). Bring the knees to the opposite side to gain stronger chest pressure on the ball. Hold for 5 deep breaths before moving to either the right, left, up or down to cover a greater area of the pecs.
When we paddle, which takes up the majority of time spent surfing, our shoulders continue to strengthen in a downward, internally rotated position. This means our shoulder internal rotators and downward pulling muscles become tight and our shoulder external rotators and upward lifting muscles become weak. The Shoulder Push-Down stretches out the tight muscles and the Swiss Ball Butterfly exercise strengthens the weak muscles, both exercises are demonstrated in the videos below.
2. SHOULDER PUSH-DOWN
This active stretch is for freeing up tight shoulder internal rotators and lats which are overused in surfers.
3. SWISS BALL BUTTERFLY
This exercise strengthens the mid-back and shoulder external rotators which are underused in surfers.
GSN: Do I have to be professional surfer to benefit from this book?
MD: Nah not at all! This book is suitable for those that have just started surfing, those who surf once a week, those who surf a few months per year, those who surf everyday or those who surf as a profession. Fluid Surfer addresses body imbalances and muscle tightness connected to surfing, which can start developing immediately. I remember when I first started surfing and decided to push myself into staying out in the water for a couple of hours, my shoulders started burning, fatiguing and pinching a little at the front. The more beginner you are at surfing, the more benefit you’ll get from this book since you will be preventing significant imbalances from developing as your surfing progresses. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are an advanced surfer, you will also significantly benefit from this book since you will notice your current imbalances and feel the changes over time when you practice the techniques.
GSN: What do I need to do these exercises? Will I need equipment?
MD: To cover all techniques in this book, the most you will need is a couple of balls (golf ball and a tennis or cricket ball) and a strong exercise band. There are only a few techniques requiring an exercise (power) band, and many other technique alternatives, so purchasing a band is not absolutely necessary. A yoga mat also helps. The majority of techniques in this book you can complete with your bodyweight. When I travel, I basically just need small, flat area of ground, a golf ball and a cricket ball.
GSN: How often do I need to do the exercises in the book? If I surf less often than someone else, do I do the techniques less often?
MD: It is best to do a few of these techniques every day if you can. There is a wide range of exercises in the book from self-mobilisations to stretching to soft tissue massage to strengthening, so choosing just a few of these techniques from a combination of any style (self mobilisation / stretching / soft tissue / strengthening) will benefit you. If you don’t surf very often, there is a chance you may be even stiffer than the person that surfs everyday – if you sit at a desk all day you most likely have developed a tight, stiff body. Daily exercise and movement will benefit you so my recommendation would be to follow any one of these techniques (or more) every day. The movements are not intense, apart form some of the strengthening movements in the final chapter which can be completed as intense as you make them.
Health in my opinion, should be your greatest investment. If you do not have time to stretch, move, eat good food, get enough sleep and do things that make you happy, then you may spend a lot of money and time later down the track addressing health issues. If you watch TV, do the techniques at the same time. If you’re waiting for dinner to cook or if you’re on a long phone call, lie on the floor and do an exercise or two. If you read a book, read while lying on the floor on a ball. Carrying out the stretching, self-mobilisation and soft tissue techniques before bedtime can be an effective way to wind down and relax. For me, adding more movement into my day is time well spent for helping not just surfing but for everyday living.