The Snowboarder Physique part 3 – Strength
As the level of competitive snowboarding reaches new heights the demands on the bodies of the riders who want to be in the game rises. Apart from having the coordination that is needed to learn tricks, being strong is perhaps the most important quality to have as a snowboarder.
Even though you might not be on an international competitive level you probably could benefit from becoming stronger. Stay tuned to learn why and how.
First of all we must establish what we mean when we talk about strength. Is it the ability to do a lot of work at a high pace? Is it jumping really high? Or is it just a matter of how much you squat?
Actually it’s all of the three.
To get an overview I like to divide strength training in to three categories:
Maximum strength – the maximum load you can perform a movement with.
Explosive strength – the ability to produce power quickly, loaded or unloaded.
Muscular endurance – the ability to do more repetitions with a given load.
You might, with all rights, argue for more types of strength but I like to keep it simple since I think that this is what we want to focus on in our training for snowboarding.
Strength and Conditioning Research has a good article on the relationship between maximum strength and strength endurance if you’re interested in further reading on the topic.
Let’s connect the different types of strength to snowboarding:
Maximum strength is what we need when we land. The stronger you are the better you will be att stomping heavy landings, simple as that. It also affects your ability to do multiple laps.
Explosive strength is what we need when we pop, turn quickly, initiate and stop rotations, etc..
Muscular endurance is what keeps you going through a banked slalom course or down a long powder run. It has a great influence on your ability to do multiple laps through the park.
So, how should we train strength for snowboarding?
As i discussed in my text on specificity it’s easy too fool yourself into doing a lot of weird activities that you think will have a large carryover to snowboarding but won’t actually get you better att much more than the specific activity.
In my opinion you should do strength exercises that are proven to get you stronger in a safe way. Even though the strength isn’t directly transferrable to snowboarding you will get a bigger buffer that you can adapt to snowboard-specific strength. It’s easier and safer to get strong by squatting in the gym than it is to bomb drop yourself strong with your snowboard on.
To make things as simple as possible I have chosen to do less technical movements with high loads to train maximum strength and technical movements with little or no load to train explosive strength.
Gym training for maximum strength:
For my athletes with less gym experience I often prescribe a simple powerlifting program. Powerlifting is a strength sport where you compete in lifting the maximum amount of weight in three movements; Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift. These are fairly simple movements that you can learn to do in a safe way quite quickly and that will get you hella strong if you stick to a program! In my opinion the more we can focus our time in the gym on building strength the better, so compound movements that require little technique work is preferable. Some might argue that olympic weightlifting has a greater carryover effect to sport, but looking at the complexity of that sport and the time you need to work on technical details I think you benefit more from doing the simple movements and getting good at them. However I often introduce my more experienced riders to the olympic lifts to diversify their training and introducing speed into their strength training. Keep reading to see how I implement the explosive training.
The powerlifting program will aim to get you stronger in the three exercises cited above. Of course you will do other exercises, but they will be aimed at assisting in getting you stronger in squats, bench press and deadlift. I argue that if you show good strength and form in these exercises you are pretty strong overall. Since we only focus on three exercises it’s also really easy to track our progress.
If you are new to the gym or to powerlifting, I suggest you first find a trainer who can show you the proper technique. This will minimize your risk of injury and maximize your gains. For sets and reps I suggest the following basic template for a two day per week program: (N.B. this is not a complete program, just a sketch up to get an idea of how to think)
Back squat 3 x 10
Romanian Deadlift 3 x 10
Bench press 3 x 10
Accessory exercise leg: 3 x 10-15
Accessory exercise shoulders:3 x 10-15
Deadlift 3 x 10
Front squat 3 x 10
Shoulder press 3 x 10
Accessory exercise pull: 3 x 10-15
Accessory exercise push: 3 x 10-15
This is a really simple sketch but the main point is that you keep the “goal exercises” (squat, bench, dead) quite heavy and the accessory exercises quite light. As your strength progresses you increase the load on the bar and when you feel comfortable in all the movements you can progress to heavier weights and fewer reps. I suggest a 5×5 set/rep approach to start with when working towards more maximum strength.
It might be wise to incorporate some rotational core work since we have to deal with a lot of rotational forces as snowboarders. A good approach here can be to practice both resisting rotational forces for example doing a deadlift with just one hand for resisting or throwing a medball sideways for producing force.
Sprint and agility for explosiveness:
Explosive strength is your ability to produce or absorb a large amount of force in a short time frame, in sports science it’s known as Rate of Force Development (RFD).
There is a correlation between RFD and maximum strength, however it’s is commonly thought that you need to train on applying the force you can produce in a short time frame for it to have a carryover effect to explosive strength.
A big part of the ability to produce force quickly is good neuromuscular control and coordination. So to become better at producing force quickly we need to learn how to move in a way that we can do so. In my opinion it’s always good to keep things simple and train on becoming better at things that you easily can fathom. In this case sprinting and jumping is my go to training to focus on RFD.
Most people know how to jump and sprint and can learn how to do it safely pretty quickly. Therefore they can progress to more complicated drills or increase the load and see their progress.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to sprint and jump drills but the main focus’ should be stability in the hip and knee joints, and maximum effort. This doesn’t mean that you should do maximum box jumps until your shins are bloody but that when you do a squat jump or a broad jump you focus on jumping as high or as far as possible, every single rep.
Working in different planes of movement is also a good idea here since it’s something you seldom do at the gym. For example you can practice jumping and landing sideways or you can try sprinting backwards to increase coordination and neuromuscular control.
Here is a little workout I did a while back that you can find some inspiration from:
Muscular endurance, for your banked slalom comp or your Japow trip:
We’ve all felt that burning sensation that you get during a great, long pow run. Well, here’s a way to keep that sensation on hold for a bit longer and, hopefully, recover quicker for the next run.
It’s quite simple really, do more work with less rest and push yourself to endure for longer. It’s not fun, it will suck, that’s kind of the point. However you can be really creative in designing your workouts so that they don’t become too repetitive. Look to Crossfit for inspiration, they’re pros at designing workouts that really suck but are quite fun as well.
A good test of endurance in your leg muscles is choosing a weight and see how many repetitions you can do before failing. A weight that you can do 3 sets of 10 or maybe 12 is pretty good to start with.
Another way of testing your endurance is to choose a time cap and see how many repetitions you can do within this time cap. Both of these tests requires you to have good form performing the exercises so be cautious of your form and don’t push yourself beyond your technical limit. If you’re in doubt, have a spotter to check your form and call you out for “technical failure”.
You can work your way up to really many reps in some cases but at some point you will lean over to more of a conditioning aerobic exercise where it’s not your muscular endurance limiting you, but your aerobic capacity. Training in the rep range of 20-50 reps is not uncommon for muscular endurance training, it’s also not uncommon to train to failure. In this case it’s quite safe since the load you need in order to do 20+ reps must be low.
For the muscular endurance training it might be beneficial to incorporate some isometric exercises, for example planches or wall sits. A caveat when performing isometric exercises: Try to keep the tension tight all the way through your set! Don’t try to make it as easy as possible just to last the time out. It’s better to do a 30 second planche with high tension than a 1 minute planche with sloppy tension. In the latter you might last longer but not due to getting better endurance but because you just found a more efficient way to do the exercise.
Don’t forget to rest!
As to how often you should train these three qualities it’s important to remember that the higher the load of the workout the more rest you need. You will need more rest after a workout where you’ve maxed out your squat than when you’ve done 3 sets of 10 at 60-70% of your max. This goes for the sprinting and jumping as well as plyometrics are pretty strenuous on your ligaments and joints.
A good rule of thumb is to rest at least 24h between the gym workouts and 48-72h between the sprint workouts.
The endurance workouts aren’t as strenuous on your joints and ligaments since you have to keep the load light, but you might experience muscle soreness since you do a lot of volume these workouts. Rest as needed and be aware that you can be subject to overtraining if you just push on through the pain for a long training period.
If you experience daily muscle soreness and a decline in performance on your workouts it’s probably a good idea to take a few days of and get a good amount of sleep and good food.
The science of strength training is not easily fathomable but in this text I’ve tried to simplify and connect different areas of training to snowboarding qualities. As it’s a simplification there are a lot of exercises and types of training that aren’t mentioned that might be really good for snowboarding.
When you plan your training try to incorporate some of the following:
Lifting something that’s really heavy.
Sprinting and jumping far and high.
Doing something that makes your muscles burn.
It’s not as simple as that, but it’s a start and int will get you a long way and get you fitter before the upcoming season!
If you have any questions feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via instagram @rehncoaching or on Facebook.
Thanks for reading,