Over the past few decades, the sport of snowboarding has quickly become one of the fastest evolving and most popular sports of the winter season. The impressive combination of power, velocity, and technique make this activity appealing to both recreational riders and high-level competitors. As with any athletic endeavor, there is an element of risk and potential for injury. But did you know injury patterns of snowboarders vary based on skill level? While the general snowboarding population sees more upper extremity injuries, the elite-level group exhibits higher injury rates involving the lower extremity.
So how do these injuries occur? In the novice community, wrist sprains, fractures, lacerations, and contusions constitute a majority of the mountain trauma. Beginners (first 5 days on a board) and those renting boards are more prone to injury (Engebretsen et al). While collisions are rare in snowboarding, they do occur, making head injuries and concussions frequent pathologies. So how do we stop this from happening? Preventative measures, such as using wrist guards and a helmet, have proven to be effective (Engebretsen et al). It is also important to learn proper falling technique in order to mitigate injury, such as using your forearms to break your fall and keeping your hands in a fist position.
In more elite-level riders, the lower extremities are at risk. High-severity lower extremity injuries, particularly affecting the knee joint, constitute these common patterns (Hackett et al). With a knee injury rate parallel to that of alpine skiers, snowboarders typically encounter damage to structures like the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and MCL (medial collateral ligament). A difference in mechanism of injury most likely explains this occurrence. For instance, more experienced riders are landing from higher amplitude jumps, racing at increased speeds, and enduring larger impact forces. While lower extremity injuries at the elite level are more difficult to prevent, evaluating the biomechanical aspects of these injury mechanisms can prove extremely beneficial in the role of mitigation. Of interest, when comparing injuries in terrain parks to those on ski slopes, snowboarders were more likely to sustain fractures or concussions in the terrain park (Rivara et al).
By understanding anatomical elements of the body, identifying musculoskeletal imbalances, and designing appropriate exercise programs, we can help prevent injury on the mountain, while also correcting poor habits that may be placing the rider at risk.
Injuries may be multi-factorial and may be due to lack of physical fitness, inadequate skill, poor trail or park conditions, collisions or improper equipment (Brugger et al). This article focuses on how riders can optimize their physical fitness to prevent the more common injuries.
Tschana Schiller, strength and conditioning coordinator for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team at the Center of Excellence training facility in Park City, Utah, trains elite and Olympic-level riders and recommends a variety of full body, multi-joint pushing and pulling exercises. “These athletes need to be strong in large ranges of motion. Not only do they need to be powerful and produce force, but probably equally or more important is their ability to arrest force.” Tschana relies on a mix of eccentric and concentric movements, and while the athletes practice appropriate landing mechanics, they may also be put in situations where they must maintain control when their body is pulled off axis. “We utilize exercises such as: squats, deadlifts and hex bar deadlifts, multi-direction lunges, step ups, plyometrics, Olympic lifts and variations, pull ups, push-ups, and exercises that train the torso to resist rotation or collapse as well as accommodate forceful rotations.” Further, balance and proprioception are incorporated whenever possible to create a more dynamic environment. Of note, the hip and gluteal muscles tend to be neglected in favor of the quadriceps. Hip, glute and core strength are the key to a strong foundation for riders. Weakness in the hips may result in the collapse of the knees toward midline and increase the risk of ligamentous injury.
The average, non-competitive rider should also implement multi-planar, full body movements into their conditioning regimen. Once a good foundation of strength is demonstrated through proper form, dynamic movements that require you to create force or resist force rapidly are encouraged. Basic exercises, such as a squat, should be built upon as the athlete’s strength and power progress. For example, add velocity and complexity with high speed repetitions, ball tosses and unstable surfaces.
With regard to flexibility, riders are encouraged to maintain a short sequence of yoga inspired movements and holds. Tschana recommends a series that includes “hip openers, thoracic spine rotations, and shoulder mobility.” These athletes also spend time on self massage, foam rolling, and often incorporate a light aerobic warm down.
Elite snowboard athletes spend 3-6 days a week in the gym or outdoors training with activities such as mountain biking, skating or climbing. These riders often incorporate two sessions per day from the months of May through November, leading up to competition months. While in-season, maintenance workouts occur one to three times per week. The average weekend rider should also begin training in the summer months, with the frequency of training tailored to their expected terrain difficulty and level of expertise.
Bridge Progression (Repeat 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions)
Squat Progression (Repeat 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions)
Lateral Squats Progression (Repeat 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions, alternate sides)
Plank Progression (Repeat 3 sets of 20 second holds or 10-12 repetitions)