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 makes 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 an effective 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 than others (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 and medial collateral ligament.
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 this is 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.