By Alan Russell
Alan Russell, ATC, NASM-PES, CSCS, is the Director of Performance Education for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, where he oversees the curriculum for the Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) certification program and various performance education programs.
Training & Conditioning, 12.9, December 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1209/safeboard.htm
The popularity of snowboarding has grown tremendously since the sport was commercially introduced 20 years ago. While still a relatively young sport, snowboarding has developed a devoted following and is now an Olympic sport for both men and women.
While the typical snowboarder is a male in his 20s, the sport is increasingly including people from all demographics. And one of the fastest-growing groups is children and teenagers. Some high schools have even started snowboarding club teams.
So, how do you develop a strength and conditioning program for a snowboarder? As with all sports, it’s important to look at injury trends, the individual athlete’s needs, movement patterns, and stability and power requirements. Although there are some differences in the movements and injury trends in the two main disciplines of the sport—freestyle and downhill—the overall training programs can be similar.
Injuries are common in snowboarding, primarily from falls and collisions on the slopes, but also from muscle strains and sprains. A study published in 2001 found that snowboarding injuries happen six times more often than alpine skiing injuries. The most prevalent injuries are shoulder and wrist dislocations and fractures, as well as ankle injuries. Downhill snowboarders are also prone to pattern overload training imbalances due to the consistent nature of their body position while going down the mountain—the same foot is always facing downhill.
As in field sports, preventing these injuries starts with strengthening the ligaments in the areas of potential injury. But in snowboarding there is another component to consider. Because so many of the injuries occur from falls, stabilization and proprioception play a huge role in limiting injuries.
Downhill racers are constantly trying to go faster while maintaining balance, subjecting their bodies to tremendous G-forces while also absorbing changes in terrain. Freestylers are constantly twisting and spinning in the air, then controlling their bodies as they land in order to maintain proper form. Both require impeccable balance merely to control the board. If the athlete can resist the forces that cause falls, he or she will remain upright and avoid trauma injuries caused by impact with the snow.
Another initial element in developing a snowboarder’s strength program is to assess his or her kinetic chain. If all components of the kinetic chain (soft tissue, joints, nervous-system control) are not working synergistically, movement compensations occur. This abnormal movement leads to increased joint stress and tissue breakdown.
Therefore, before the preseason program is started, it’s imperative to identify and correct any dysfunctional segments. If you don’t, you’re simply adding stress to stress, which does not lead to optimum performance.
Some exercises I use to assess movement patterns are lunges through all planes of motion, push ups, pull ups, double-leg bodyweight squats, and single-leg bodyweight squats. Dysfunctions to look for include:
• Feet flattening out: this indicates an inability to dynamically control pronation, most likely because of tight lateral gastrocnemius and peroneals, along with weak anterior tibialis and posterior tibialis.
• Feet externally rotating: indicates a tight soleus and weak anterior tibialis and posterior tibialis.
• Knees excessively adducting: indicates tight adductors and weak gluteus medius.
• Increased lumbar extension: indicates tight erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, and iliopsoas, as well as weakness to deep stabilizers of the spine and hamstrings.
• Head protrusion: indicates tight sternocleidomastoid and weak cervical flexors.
Preseason preparation is crucial for the snowboarder. Running, cycling, hiking, and swimming are great offseason exercises to keep the athlete’s conditioning base, but they don’t adequately prepare snowboarders for 15-foot drops into a half-pipe and Backside Ollies without “hitting the deck.”
What does prepare a snowboarder for the slopes? First, we need to look at the body movements. These include forward, sideways, and rotational movements. It’s also important to note that snowboarders are doing these movements while their bodies are traveling at high speed.
Because so many of the movements center on body control and strength, I focus my program on these four elements: dynamic stabilization, dynamic force reduction, increased rate of force production, and strength. All four work together, of course, and that is the key to designing an appropriate program.
Stabilization is needed throughout the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex as well as the extremities. Therefore, I use a lot of stability ball exercises and drills that focus on symmetry and balance but do not produce much spinal flexion and extension.
Because dynamic force reduction is key to landing smoothly and safely, I have my athletes focus on the eccentric contraction in every exercise, as well as concentric and isometric contractions. In addition, the greater the athlete’s ability to dynamically absorb force, the more efficiently he or she can, in turn, produce force.
Power is also critical for the snowboarder. It comes from an increased rate of force production and increased strength, both of which are equally important. It doesn’t matter how quickly the athlete can access the muscles needed for a maneuver if he or she lacks adequate muscular strength. At the same time, if the athlete is strong but can’t call on that strength quickly, it will be wasted.
Because movement patterns occur in all three planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, and transverse), strength-training exercises should do the same. Therefore, I use exercises that combine all planes of motion.
Snowboarding also places incredible demand on the foot, ankle, shin, and calf musculature. The ankle complex must constantly work to shift body weight from the toe side to heel side of the board. The gastrocnemius and soleus work to provide control on a toe-edge turn, while the anterior tibialis works to control heel-edge turns. Therefore, I include exercises such as lunges, step ups, calf raises, single-leg squats, Romanian deadlifts, and Olympic lifting.
To ensure that athletes reach their optimum performance, it’s important to realize that performance training occurs along a continuum (from simple to complex, slow to fast, stabilization to power). One of the main objectives of training is to systematically improve physical, physiological, and performance adaptations. Sports science and empirical evidence suggest that following a planned, progressive, integrated training program allows each athlete to concurrently improve all biomotor abilities and build high levels of functional strength, dynamic postural control, neuromuscular efficiency, and dynamic flexibility.
So where do you start? Begin the training program with a phase that focuses on increasing stabilization, since this is critical to properly prepare the athlete to handle the demands of snowboarding. This can be followed by additions of a strength and then a power phase. Here’s a more specific breakdown of a 12-week program:
Stabilization training covers the first four weeks of the program and is designed to create optimum levels of stabilization—strength and postural control. The nervous system allows prime-mover recruitment only to the degree that the joint can be stabilized. Therefore, it is important to build this foundation prior to advancing to the strength and power phases.
In this phase, the athlete trains with relatively high volumes at low intensities and slow tempos. I use a 4/2/1 tempo, which represents a four-second eccentric contraction, two-second isometric contraction, and a one-second concentric contraction. The training tempo ensures proper time under tension of the muscular unit.
Exercises chosen relate to stabilization training, such as a bench press on a stability ball or a single-leg cable pull down. Training must be in a multiplanar, proprioceptively enriched environment, which allows for maximal recruitment of dynamic joint stabilizers, thus establishing high levels of neuromuscular efficiency and functional strength. This training phase lasts for approximately four weeks to allow for optimal tissue adaptation.
Specialized strength training covers the next four weeks and is designed to enhance stabilization strength and endurance during functional movement patterns. This phase also improves the overall work capacity by progressively utilizing a higher volume of training to increase cross-sectional area, mitochondrial density, and local metabolic rate.
Exercise order is important. A strength exercise should be immediately followed by a biomechanically similar stabilization exercise. For example, a dumbbell bench press is followed by a push up; a pull up is followed by a stability ball prone dumbbell row; and a barbell squat is followed by a single-leg squat touchdown. This forces increased motor-unit recruitment after the prime movers have fatigued, while also enhancing dynamic joint stabilization.
The next phase, power training, is designed to specifically enhance neuromuscular efficiency and power (rate of force production throughout the entire range of motion). Snowboarders are required to express force quickly to produce motion and dynamically reduce energy. Therefore, it is important that these athletes are exposed to a training program that utilizes the entire velocity-contraction spectrum.
Again, exercise order is important. A strength exercise must be immediately followed by a biomechanically similar power (reactive) exercise. For example, a barbell squat is followed by a squat jump; a dumbbell bench press is followed by a medicine ball chest pass; a pull up is followed by a medicine ball soccer throw. Strength followed by explosive-power exercises increase motor-unit recruitment, synchronization, and rate of force production.
While the stabilization and strength phases require three training sessions per week, this final training phase requires only two training sessions per week. Research suggests that prolonged training with high intensities increases neural overtraining, fatigue, and tissue breakdown.
When it comes to choosing specific exercises, I look for those that enhance the carryover from exercise to movement on the slopes. Therefore, I use only those that integrate multidimensional and multiplanar movements in an proprioceptively enriched environment.
The exercise training variables listed in Table Two (at the end of this article) provide the framework for exercise variety that enhances neuromuscular demand and training specificity. By modifying these training variables, the program can be altered to allow for constant neural and cellular adaptations. For example, if you teach an athlete to do a lunge to overhead press, it can be varied in the following ways:
• front lunge to two-arm DB overhead press
• side lunge to two-arm DB overhead press
• turn lunge to two-arm DB overhead press
• front lunge to alternate-arm DB overhead press
• side lunge to alternate-arm DB overhead press
• turn lunge to alternate-arm DB overhead press
• front lunge to alternate-arm DB overhead press on Airex pad
• side lunge to alternate-arm DB overhead press on Airex pad
• turn lunge to alternate-arm DB overhead press on Airex pad
This can certainly be overdone if you’re not careful. Provide minor changes to the exercises only at a rate that does not interfere with sound technique.
One final area to consider is conditioning, which should begin in the offseason, with enjoyable activities that develop an endurance base. During preseason training, I use a circuit or superset to increase conditioning. For example:
• bodyweight squats: 20 reps
• side lunges: 10 to each side
• front repeat box jumps: 10 jumps (box is at athlete’s mid-tibia height)
• turn hop (with stabilized landing): 5 each leg
The athlete would perform two to three of these circuits at the conclusion of the training program for that day. However, these leg circuits should be performed only at the intensity at which the athlete can maintain proper dynamic joint alignment. Exercising at intensities higher than they can control will place unnecessary stress to joints and soft tissue and possibly induce injury.
While a thorough preseason training program can help boost a snowboarder’s performance and reduce injuries, don’t forget about safety. Integrated training programs may provide the best training stimulus specific to snowboarding; however, the training will do little to prevent impact trauma. It is recommended that snowboarders of all abilities wear protective headgear, elbow, wrist, and mouth guards and take lessons from trained instructors.
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Table Two: Exercise Training Variables
Use the following variables to allow for constant neural and cellular adaptations
PLANE OF MOTION
BASE OF SUPPORT
LOWER BODY SYMMETRY
Staggered stance unstable
UPPER BODY SYMMETRY
Half foam roll