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Fit for Snowboarding
By Keith Littlewood, Peak Fitness Performance Training.
When the white stuff is not around, most of us head for the occasional trip to one of the indoor slopes or dryslope in an attempt to stay sharp, so the rust doesn't go too deep for the next trip.
Whether you're a top class performer or occasional boarder, we're going to show you top level training techniques that will really make an impact on the way you snowboard.
For those of you who think that your posture is not something that you need to consider when training for the season ahead, think again. Posture is where your movement starts and finishes. Consider that if you have poor posture and you're learning a new trick, well you're learning that trick in a position that's a potential source of injury.
Many factors contribute to posture, physiological, emotional, hormonal, nutrition and even responses from your internal organs can affect the way we sit, stand and subsequently move. There's a guy called Schmidt who's a whiz on motor learning and performance, who suggests that it can take 300-500 repetitions to develop a motor program good or bad and up to 5000 repetitions to break that a bad or faulty program.
This applies to all who participate, whether an international half pipe champ or someone who's sat at a desk for eight hours a day and boarding once a year. Muscular dysfunction affects us all.
As a rough guideline, your posture from the side should align perfectly from your ankle to knee, through the hip joint, middle of the trunk and finally the shoulder joint and ear. It's quite hard to assess it yourself, so let someone like a CHEK practitioner or postural specialist take a look.
Conditions such as forward head posture, rounded shoulders, curvature of the spine, tilted pelvis and rotated knees are rife in the inactive and elite level athletes and these all contribute to injury hotspots.
Part 1 - Training with a Purpose
Any sport requires varying levels of Bio-motor abilities. Translated that means that we require:
For snowboarding an optimal focus for your training should be focused on Strength & power but particular importance should be paid to your flexibility, agility, balance and coordination. A moderate level of endurance may be needed for longer freeriding and that can be obtained with general cardiovascular sessions and a little slope time.
Flexibility is not something to be taken lightly but everyone has different flexibility needs. A general stretch routine may work for one person. However most of us need to do some form of corrective exercise stretches, based upon specific muscular length tension assessments. I f you feel you have a lot range of motion in one area, there may be no need to stretch at all. A lot of females tend to be hyper-mobile and should be focusing on strengthening, avoiding flexibility training.
A training concept I want to get you thinking about today is about warming up appropriately. Spinal stabilisation is based around the concept of the deep abdominal wall or inner unit and the outer unit or superficial muscles. These are often referred to as the core muscles.
I see a lot of clients, athletes and non-athletes who have a dysfunctional inner unit, which means an inability to stabilise the spine. This can leave the chalet door open for a host of injuries such as blown discs and neck, knee and hip wrenches. With a sport like snowboarding the demand for activation of the core muscles is increased because of factors such as unpredictable surfaces, weather and changes in velocity and direction are prevalent. Imagine coming out of big jump with a few rotations or simply wiping out and you can't stabilise the spine. Bang there goes a disc and your out for a couple of months.
Inner unit test
To test your inner unit, tie a piece of string around your belly button, whilst standing. Take a breath in, your belly should move away from the spine. Exhale, your belly should gently move back toward your spine.
Now gently try to draw your belly button in toward your spine, away from the string. If this doesn't happen or the belly pushes outwards you may be in need of retraining of the core.
A technique that you can try to 'wake up' or excite these muscles is to destabilise the body in an attempt to fire up those muscles. Have a look at the following warm ups to get those core muscles working.
This is a four point stance as a wake up. Remember that with each exercise you are trying to maintain a neutral spine or imagine a pole in contact with the head upper back and lower back as a cue.
If you find that comfortable try the kneeling Swiss ball balance. Remember that the less points of contact that your have with an object the more stability you require.
Move the ball around to manipulate the position and test your body's ability to stabilise.
If you haven't tried these before, get someone to assist you to avoid injury!
Part 2 - You can't build a house on an unstable foundation
In the last article we talked about training the Bio-motor abilities, which are all of the physical attributes that we have such as strength, power, flexibility and agility. One of the most common problems that people tend to make is to throw themselves head long into a training program and concentrate on strength and power in their first training cycle.
This often serves to fortify any existing muscular dysfunction and is a route to certainty of developing an injury, maybe even before you hit the white stuff. As a CHEK practitioner, a continuum that we are taught and that you should definitely consider should be the following.
Work through each factor before progressing to the next for optimal conditioning for the season.
Periodisation is concept that is not practised among the boarding community,however the more you integrate periodisation within your training schedules throughout the year, the fitter and less exposed to injury you'll become (provided that you do the right type of exercise).
Periodisation is a manipulation of acute exercise variables. Consider the following points to be the main variables and consider how you want to train.
Reps, sets, load or intensity, rest, tempo. For each variable that is manipulated can bring about the appropriate response. Think carefully about what you want from your training in each phase. Is it strength, strength endurance, power or any number of performance attributes?
Your first training program, building up to your first bout of boarding, should begin 12-16 weeks prior to your first trip. Those of you who do nothing (you know who you are!) are waiting for the inevitable career/pasttime threatening injury.
As I mentioned earlier, people often make the mistake of jumping into strength and power workouts way to soon, this is often termed the specific or competitive phase. We all need to approach a BASE conditioning phase to build muscle tissue at a gradual pace. I'm not just talking about the size, I'm talking about the tensile loading of these structures that allow us to develop to the peak of performance.
Consider that muscle adapts pretty well with low volume initially if you haven't trained for a while 1-2 sets can bring about a good training response in the first few weeks. Ultimately you should change your programme, between 5-8 weeks to pose a new stress and adaptive response to the body. However the body will react to conditioning in a very subjective response. Many things will determine your reaction to a training programme such as training age, experience and even your own genetics.
Snowboarding requires use of tilting and equilibrium responses and you should train the body using these reflexes. We'll look at that concept in the next few articles. As a rough guideline, here are some great exercises that you can do in a Base-conditioning programme. There are many more but given that it's your first work out in a while try them at a nice slow tempo or speed to master the exercises.
Base condition exercise 1
The front squat is an effective exercise for developing stability and strength in the initial stages of conditioning. It serves to develop the muscles that are needed for strength and the subsequent explosive moves of jumps, as well as conditioning for carving.
Stand in a position with the legs around shoulder width apart. The toes may be slightly turned out - depending on the relationship of your hip/ thigh rotating muscles. Breath in as you start to lower down, but also attempt to draw the belly toward your spine - this activates the deep abdominal wall. Lowering to 90° or just below is fine initially. Breath out after you have gone past the sticking point or mechanically hardest point. You should aim to keep the knees tracking over the second toes throughout.
Ensure your posture remains correct in a neutral spine. Remember to always hold back two good repetitions and avoid training to failure.
Base condition exercise 2
The Supine lateral ball roll is an example of a big bang exercise. Big bang exercises are fantastic exercises that train many of the biomotor abilities, planes of movement and virtually all the muscles in the body in one go. We'll talk about them more in the next article, but for now give this exercise a bash.
Place your head and shoulders in the middle of the ball. Use a pole to provide some feedback of your trunk position; it should stay parallel with the floor. Ensure that your tongue stays in the roof of the mouth. Take a leg laterally to the side. Then take the other leg towards the same side. Then take your shoulder out to meet the outer knee. During this time, ensure that your hips and shoulders stay level. Move back to the centre and proceed to the other side.
To develop movement proficiency, try a slow tempo such as 3 seconds out, 3 seconds hold and 3 seconds returning to the start. Remember the form principle.
Part 3 - Progression
In the last article we talked about the importance of a base conditioning program. This phase shouldnít last much longer than 6-8 weeks. The body will adapt if exposed to the appropriate stress and will often stagnate if not challenged by a new training stimulus. This means that you may find both physiological and psychological progression limited. A rough guideline to determining your training cycles may look like this.
The progression to the base conditioning phase 2 should only progress once all the movement patterns and exercises set out in your first phase have been mastered. Remember that all exercises should be done with good form and always hold back 1-2 good repetitions to ensure optimal movement programming.
When moving to the next phase consider, what are you trying to achieve, what is the outcome of your training? Manipulation of the acute exercise variables will need to be undertaken so that appropriate stress is put on the tissues needed for performance. We may consider decreasing the tempo of the exercise. This means that speed increases in the base phase 2, a nice slow tempo was conducted for the supine lateral ball roll of a 3/3/3. An exercise in the next phase may be conducted a little faster at say a 2/0/2 tempo, but again this is all dependent on your goals. Exercise for performance is very subjective. For one boarder their goal may be to obtain more endurance when carving, for another hitting multiple rotations with ease may be the goal. Be clear about the objectives you want to gain!
Assessment of flexibility requirements will also need to be reassessed when progressing through phases particularly during the season. Snowboarding like most sports will develop dysfunction due to your stance. Furthermore most riders will always pull off a stronger jump on the frontside rotation then a backside rotation. The dominant pattern will develop muscular dysfunction and be the catalyst for injury. I also have a theory that the stance angle of riders may be linked to the amount of muscular dysfunction at the hip. (so beware those with excessive or low angles at the base plate, we may get you on the couch sooner than you think!)
If in doubt get it checked out!
The exercises that I think are most appropriate for the competitive phase will be looked at in subsequent articles. Here are a couple of exercises that will serve to fortify your progression into the base conditioning phase 2.
Exercise 1 - The Swiss Ball Russian twist
Place your head and shoulders on the middle of the ball. Place your tongue in the roof of the mouth behind the teeth (this serves to strengthen muscular interaction at the neck). Gently draw the belly button towards your spine to increase stability Place your hands in front of you (or hold a medicine ball to increase load). Drop to one side twisting from the trunk back to the middle then the other side Try to keep the pelvis as level as you can Stop before you lose form or good postural alignment.
Exercise 2 - The Reverse Wood chop
This is a particularly good exercise as you train the muscles responsible for rotating and extending at once. The exercise can be broken do for all levels. You should be able to reverse the thoracic curve in your back, prior to completing this exercise. Get a CHEK practitioner to assess your spinal curves if unsure.
The exercise shown here is a fully integrated wood chop with lateral lunge. You can do this seated, kneeling (floor/swissball) depending on your level of ability/skill and mechanics.
Stand in a lateral position to a cable machine. Grip with the hand furthest away from the machine. Your weight should be loaded 70% on the leg closest to the machine Proceed to shift the weight laterally to the other side via a lateral lunge. At the same time chop upwards and behind so that your arms are raised above the side of the body furthest from the machine. Lower then repeat. Then complete the other side.
Part 4 - Crank it up!
So the season or next trip to those powder adorned peaks is coming up and your training should warrant a change now that you have developed a good base of flexibility, stability and strength and now itís time for the power.
In other words we can start to throw in some funky exercises that are going to add some serious bite to your performance. A lot of people tend to throw themselves straight into a strength or endurance program without working through the continuum previously mentioned. If you donít take time to find out which muscles are tight and need stretching and which may be long and need strengthening, your bodies misalignment is going to increase due to the nature of boarding.
Exercise 1 - Squat and Toss
The squat and toss is a great exercise that can have a great impact for jumping and twisting movements combined and works pretty much all muscles in the body with a lot of emphasis on the rotators of the trunk and the extenders of the trunk hip and knee joints. It also requires the use of the stretch shorten cycle of muscle tissue and constitutes a plyometric exercise that is very demanding and movement specific for boarding. This exercise will seriously increase your ability to pull off rotations with ease!
Exercise 2 - The Prone Cobra
Now if your competing or boarding on a regular basis your muscular dysfunction is going to increase quite rapidly so its really important to complete key postural exercises to keep you aligned and injury free.
The Prone Cobra is the exercise to do at the end of a day to help out with such issues and is an excellent entry exercise for back conditioning. It is particularly effective for reducing rounded shoulders that is often seen in the sedentary office worker and over exerciser. It also effectively conditions the long back extensors that run from the lower back to upper back. If you have an excessive lower back curve, you will need to contract the glutes first before executing this exercise, or you run the risk of increasing the curvature.
Part 5 - Meet your new friend
The last few months Iíve have given you an insight into specific boarding conditioning that should be turning you into one strong and stable hell raiser.
There are many other exercises that could be integrated into your yearly training plan, however I want to focus on a piece of kit that I think is invaluable for improving and maintaining range of motion and mobility of the muscles and joints.
Meet the foam roller, a simple chap and cheap to buy. This can be stuffed in your board bag with ease and weighs virtually nothing. In fact Iím so convinced of the rollers efforts to ease you into a better performance, I get all my clients to use one on a daily basis. You will learn to love the roller!
You can use the roller for two main purposes. The first is to reduce muscular tension often found as trigger points or tender points within muscles. The second is to mobilize joints, in particular the inter-vertebral joints of the spine.
Exercise 1 - Reducing muscular tension
You might ask why do I need to do this? Remember that early on we talked about posture and its relationship to optimal performance. The further you are away from good alignment, there exists more chance of reduced mechanical performance (how well you move) and the incidence of injury. The foam roller can help you identify any potential tender spots, which may have formed from repetitive movement, poor nutrition or psychological stress. The body is composed of tonic or stabilizing muscles (prone to shortening/strengthen) and phasic or movement muscles (prone to lengthen/weaken). These can be Dysfunctional for a variety of reasons.
Using a foam roller and reducing the neuromuscular tension prior to stretching has a much better effect on range of motion, than simply stretching alone.
The Rectus femoris or Thigh muscle is predominantly tonic muscle that can cause your pelvis to tilt forwards (one of several muscles), which can change your centre of gravity and performance on the board.
Exercise 2 - The Release
You have probably stood up and lifted your heel to your backside to stretch out your thighs. This stretch is simply ineffective as it causes the pelvis to tilt further forwards.
Using a Swiss ball or Chalet sofa serves to stretch the muscle with out the tilt associated with standing.
Part 6 - Coming soon...
Keith/Tommo is a Corrective and Performance Exercise Specialist & Neuromuscular Therapist from Peak Fitness Performance Training.