To think you can go up and snowboard without any degree of physical fitness is simply wrong. You might be able to learn the basics without any ill effects except some sore muscles. But once you begin to take the sport seriously you must have a solid degree of fitness in both the upper and lower body.
The majority of the strength needed to snowboard comes from your lower body. However, in freestyle riding, the most popular discipline today, an overall level of fitness is needed. That’s because of the twisting and turning involved in the tricks. So while the majority of the effort comes from the legs, to be physically fit throughout is important. Balance and flexibility are also key ingredients to overall snowboarding success.
There are two roads to general snowboarding fitness. The first is to prepare your body through a serious of conditioning exercises and stretching. The second is to cross-train—to participate in a number of sports either directly or indirectly related to snowboarding.
The first step, especially for someone who has not been active in sports, is to achieve a solid degree of aerobic fitness. Simply put, aerobic exercise helps to condition the cardiovascular system—the heart and lungs—by increasing the body’s efficient intake of oxygen. Good aerobic fitness will allow you to snowboard for an entire afternoon without getting tired.
Aerobic fitness can be achieved in a number of ways. Running is probably the most basic exercise that comes to mind. But jumping rope, riding a bicycle, jazz dancing, or any discipline that raises the level of your heartbeat can help you achieve aerobic fitness. To increase endurance, any aerobic exercise should be done for twenty to thirty minutes, at least three or four times a week. By elevating your heart rate nonstop for this amount of time, you will become more fit to participate in snowboarding or, for that matter, any other sport.
A word of caution. If you decide to run, invest in a good pair of running shoes. They will protect your feet and joints. Also be sure to warm up with a set program of stretching exercises. And when you finish, you can cool down by once again going through the same stretching routine. A good stretching program will also give you added flexibility, an all-important ingredient in freestyle snowboarding.
Stretching exercises should always be done slowly and smoothly, without quick, herky-jerky motions. Hold the maximum point of the stretch for fifteen to twenty seconds, or longer. You will feel the muscle stretching, but you should not feel pain or discomfort. If the stretch is painful, release it slowly. Stretching not only gives the muscles more flexibility, but also makes them less likely to pull or tear during participation in any physical activity or sport.
Before getting into specific stretching exercises, a quick word on additional exercises. Besides stretching and aerobics, general fitness will be improved by regularly engaging in old standbys such as sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups. Strong abdominal muscles help support the lower back, which is under some strain while snowboarding. Push-ups and pull-ups will strengthen the arms and shoulders, an important part of training for freestyle and halfpipe riding.
A supervised program of weight training is another way to get in shape and keep in shape. Go to a qualified instructor and tell him which sports you’ll be doing. He can suggest the proper exercises for you. As a rule, light weights and high repetitions will serve you best. Heavy weights are designed more for simply putting on muscle mass. With snowboarding, flexibility is the key.
Now, back to stretching. Snowboarders should concentrate on the legs and lower back. Stretching out the hamstring muscle is a good starting point. The hamstring is the large muscle that runs down the back of the leg at the thigh. One of the best and easiest ways to stretch it is to stand before a rail or bench that is about waist-high. Place one leg on the support, keeping it straight. You can bend the other leg at the knee very slightly.
Start the stretch by leaning forward at the waist and sliding your hands down the outstretched leg toward your foot. As your hands get closer to your foot you’ll begin to feel the hamstring stretch. Go as far as you can without pain or discomfort and then hold the stretch for fifteen to twenty seconds. Then straighten up slowly. Next, switch legs and stretch your other hamstring. Both legs can be stretched, alternately, five or more times.
Another basic exercise that will stretch not only the hamstring but the lower-back muscles as well is called the hurdler’s stretch. This is done by sitting on the ground or floor with your legs spread apart and in front of you. One leg is then folded back, bent at the knee, and tucked tight to the buttocks. To do the stretch, bend forward from the waist and move your hands down the outstretched leg. Again, go as far as you can without pain and hold the position for the allotted time. Then repeat with the other leg and alternate, five times each.
To continue working the lower-back muscles, lie down on your back on a flat surface. Then bend one leg at the knee and put your hands around your thigh just above the knee. Pull the leg up as tight to your stomach as you can. Hold for twenty seconds and then repeat with the other leg. You should feel the stretching of the lower-back muscles with this one.
The quadriceps (front thigh muscles) or quads can be stretched by holding a wall, rail or even a chair for balance. Then raise one foot behind you, bending it at the knee, and grab your ankle or lower shin with your hand. Pull your foot back toward the buttocks until you feel the stretching in the quad. Hold again, then release and go to the other leg. Stretch each leg five times.
Stretch the calf muscles by standing two feet or so from a wall. Put your hands on the wall and move both feet back as far as they’ll go with both heel and toe still touching the floor. The farther away from the wall you place your feet, the more your calf muscles can stretch. This stretch can be done with both legs simultaneously or one leg at a time. Hold and repeat.
These are just a few ways to stretch some of the major muscles used in snowboarding. Skiers, skateboarders, and surfers can follow the same routine. A coach, trainer, or even an experienced snowboarder may suggest additional exercises. Stretching is just a great habit for any athlete. Even during the off-season or a couple of off-days, keep stretching. It will pay dividends.