Over the past few decades, snowboarding has quickly become one of the fastest-evolving and most popular winter season sports. The impressive combination of power, velocity and technique make this activity appealing to both recreational riders and high-level competitors. But speed, terrain, gravity and the unique snowboard stance also create the potential for injury.
Clients who enjoy snowboarding need to understand the sport’s inherent risks and prepare as much as possible with a good exercise program. As a trainer, it’s good to know exercises that can help clients prevent snowboarding injuries.
Injuries to snowboarders vary by skill level (Ogawa et al. 2010). Beginners and recreational riders see more upper-extremity injuries because they use their hands to arrest falls. Elite snowboard competitors, by contrast, more often suffer lower-extremity injuries from executing twists, turns, jumps and flips.
Among novice snowboarders, wrist sprains, fractures, cuts and bruises account for the majority of injuries on the mountain. Beginners (first 5 days on a board) and board renters are more prone to injury (Rønning et al. 2001). While collisions are rare in snowboarding, they do occur, producing head injuries and concussions.
As you discuss safety with your snowboarding clients, be sure to encourage preventive measures like using wrist guards and a helmet, which are known to be effective (Rønning et al. 2001; Wijdiks et al. 2014 ). Also, advise clients on proper falling techniques, such as using the forearms to break a fall and keeping the hands in a fist position.
If you work with more elite-level riders, bear in mind that high-severity lower-extremity injuries, particularly to the knee joint, are the most common type of incident (Wijdiks et al. 2014). With knee-injury rates parallel to those of alpine skiers, snowboarders typically damage structures such as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL).
Ask your clients about their skill level and their propensity for daring maneuvers. More experienced riders are landing from higher-amplitude jumps, racing much faster, and hitting the mountain harder when they land a jump or crash. While lower-extremity injuries in elite snowboarders are more difficult to prevent, it’s still a good idea to evaluate the biomechanical aspects of these injuries. Riders’ preferred environment also matters. One study found that snowboarders are more likely to sustain fractures or concussions in a terrain park than on a ski slope (Brooks, Evans & Rivara 2010).
Understanding snowboarding’s effects on the human anatomy, identifying musculoskeletal imbalances and designing appropriate exercise programs can help correct risky habits and prevent injuries on the mountain.
Snowboarding injuries often result from lack of physical fitness, inadequate skill, poor trail or park conditions, collisions, or improper equipment (Bianchi & Brügger 2015). Helping riders optimize their physical fitness can prevent the more common injuries.
Tschana Schiller, senior strength and conditioning coordinator for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, recommends a variety of full-body, multijoint pushing and pulling exercises. “These athletes need to be strong in large ranges of motion,” she says. “Not only do they need to be powerful and produce force, but probably equally or more important is their ability to arrest force.”
When training Olympic and elite snowboarders, Schiller uses a mix of eccentric and concentric movements. While the athletes practice appropriate landing mechanics, they may also have to maintain control when their body gets pulled off axis. “We utilize exercises such as squats, deadlifts and hex bar deadlifts, multidirection lunges, step-ups, plyometrics, Olympic lifts and variations, pullups, pushups, and exercises that train the torso to resist rotation or collapse, as well as accommodate forceful rotations,” Schiller says. Exercises also incorporate balance and proprioception, if possible, to create a more dynamic environment.
Hip, gluteal and core strength are the keys to a strong foundation for riders. Be careful about neglecting the hips and glutes in favor of the quadriceps. Hip weakness may cause the knees to collapse toward the midline and increase the risk of ligament injuries.
Noncompetitive riders also need multiplanar, full-body movements in their conditioning regimen. Once a good foundation of strength is demonstrated through proper form, use dynamic movements that require your client to create force or resist it rapidly. Build on basic exercises, such as squats, as your client’s strength and power progress. For example, add velocity and complexity with high-speed repetitions, ball tosses and unstable surfaces (see “Sample Snowboard Readiness Routine” for more).
A Little Preparation Goes a Long Way
Getting ready for the snowboarding season is especially important because it’s a seasonal sport, and many clients will be coming off an 8-month hiatus. Snowboarding requires muscular endurance, flexibility, strength and balance. With a little program design specificity, trainers can safely prepare enthusiast and elite snowboarding clients for the slopes.
As the strength and conditioning coach for the U.S. team, Schiller recommends a variety of full-body, multijoint pushing and pulling exercises.
BRIDGE PROGRESSION (NOT PICTURED)
Three sets of 10–15 repetitions.
Basic bridge. Begin lying supine with arms relaxed at the sides, knees bent and feet planted hip-width apart. Draw the bellybutton down toward the spine, tighten the abdominals, and then lift the torso toward the sky. Maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the knees; hold 5 seconds, then lower to the starting position.
Unstable bridge. Place the feet on a foam pad or other unstable surface.
Ball bridge. Begin lying supine with arms relaxed at the sides, knees straight and heels on a balance ball. Draw the belly-button down toward the spine, tighten the abdominals, and then lift the torso toward the sky. Maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the ankles; hold 5 seconds, then lower to the starting position.
Three sets of 10–12 repetitions.
Basic squat. Begin with feet hip-width apart and lower down until the knees are bent to 90 degrees while maintaining an upright torso. Add dumbbells as appropriate.
Ball-toss squat. Add a weighted ball toss, with the client returning the toss while rising out of the squat position and lowering down (different forces will be experienced).
Balance board hold (image 1). Begin with feet hip-width apart and maintain a slight flex in the knees, torso upright.
Balance board squat (image 2). Add a squat while balancing on the board.
Balance board lateral toss. Add a ball toss while standing next to the client (encourages core rotation).
Balance board grabs (image 3). Lower the squat beyond 90 degrees while maintaining an upright torso, and practice gripping the board at different points (between the feet, on the diagonals, on the sides and behind).
Note: The balance board shown in the images is the Vew-Do® Flow Balance Board, which has a patented track-and-rock design allowing for faster movement by creating more efficient transfer of rotation energy from the hips to the lower legs to the board. However, the exercises can be done on any balance board.
LATERAL SQUATS PROGRESSION (NOT PICTURED)
Three sets of 10–12 repetitions, alternate sides.
Basic lateral squat. Begin with feet hip-width apart; step either leg out to the side with toes pointing forward, then lower down until the knees are bent to 90 degrees. Maintain an upright torso and add dumbbells as appropriate.
Ankle resistance-band lateral squat. Place a resistance band around the ankles and perform as above.
Torso resistance-band lateral squat. Place a thick resistance band around the ankles and resist the lateral movement (while the client is squatting away from you).
Three sets of 20-second holds, or 10–12 repetitions.
Basic plank. Begin in the pushup position, shoulders relaxed, and the scapulae drawn back and down. Hold for 20 seconds, rest and repeat.
Plank on balance board. Perform as above with palms placed firmly under the shoulders on the balance board. Hold for 20 seconds, rest and repeat.
Pushup on balance board (image 1). Lower the chest toward the board while maintaining a straight torso. Do 1–12 repetitions, rest and repeat.
Leg lifts on balance board (image 2). Maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the heels while alternating hip extensions. Do 10–12 repetitions, rest and repeat.
Mountain climbers on balance board. Maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the heels while alternating controlled knees toward the chest. Do 10–12 repetitions, rest and repeat.
SUPPLEMENTING TIME ON THE SLOPES
To improve flexibility in snowboarding clients, encourage them to do a short sequence of yoga-inspired movements and holds. Tschana Schiller, senior strength and conditioning coordinator for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, recommends a series that includes hip openers, thoracic spine rotations and shoulder mobility. Elite riders should also spend time on self-massage, foam rolling and a light aerobic cool-down.
Elite snowboard athletes spend 3–6 days a week in the gym or outdoors, adding activities such as mountain biking, skating or climbing. From May through November, leading up to competition months, they often incorporate two sessions per day. During snowboarding season, maintenance workouts happen one to three times a week.
The average weekend rider should begin training in the summer months, tailoring session frequency to his or her level of expertise and the expected difficulty of the terrain.
FINDING THE RIGHT WORDS FOR YOUR CLIENTS
These terms from The House, an outdoor-gear retailer, illustrate some of the twists and turns snowboarders take:
50/50. When the board rides (nose first) straight down a rail or box.
ALLEY-OOP. Spinning frontside on the backside wall of the pipe; popping off of one’s toe edge and executing a backside spin or off of one’s heel edge and executing a frontside spin.
BACKSIDE 180. An aerial move where the rider makes a 180-degree rotation off the jump leading with the heel side (clockwise for a regular stance and counterclockwise for goofy—right foot forward).
CORKSCREW. An aerial fast-and-tight rotation in the halfpipe or off of a jump.
FLYING SQUIRREL AIR. Bending at the knees and grabbing the heel edge of the snowboard with both hands, with the front hand near the front foot and the rear hand near the rear foot.
FRONTSIDE ROTATION. Rotating in the direction your heel side is facing.
MCTWIST. Named after skateboarder Mike McGill, this inverted aerial has the athlete performing a 540-degree rotational flip. In other words, the rider approaches the halfpipe wall riding forward, becomes airborne, rotates 540 degrees in a backside direction while performing a front flip, and lands riding forward.
TAIL GRAB AIR. The rear hand grabs the tail of the snowboard.
Credit: The House, the-house.com/portal/snowboarding-terms/.
Bianchi, G., & Brügger, O. 2015. National strategy for preventing injuries from skiing and snowboarding in Switzerland. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Sportmedizin und Sporttraumatologie, 63 (2), 6–12.
Brooks, M.A., Evans, M.D., & Rivara, F.P. 2010. Evaluation of skiing and snowboarding injuries sustained in terrain parks versus traditional slopes. Injury Prevention, 16 (2), 119–22.
Ogawa, H., et al. 2010. Skill level-specific differences in snowboarding-related injuries. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 38 (3), 532–37.
Rønning, R., et al 2001. The efficacy of wrist protectors in preventing snowboarding injuries. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 29 (5), 581–85.
Wijdiks, C.A., et al. 2014. Injuries in elite and recreational snowboarders. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48 (1), 11–17.