By Lucien Gordon in 2006.
Snowboarding is a very static sport when it comes to the muscles in our body. This is due to the nature of having our feet held in a position that does not change. Because of this position our body develops imbalances between opposing muscle groups that can create limited abilities to move freely on our equipment and instability in our joints, which can ultimately lead to injuries.
For a stable working joint there needs to be a similar strength in the muscles that work in pairs, so when working together one does not put too much strain on the other.
The shin and calf
One of the muscle group areas that commonly develop imbalances is the calf/shin (tibialis anterior). These muscles control the ankle; an important joint to keep supple aiding the control of edge angle and pressure. Because of the forward lean available on modern bindings we don’t have to use our tibialis anterior (the muscle in shin that’s used for lifting the foot towards the knee) and its range of movement is limited, therefore not much strength is developed. It’s partner muscle, the calf (or gastrocnemius), gets a lot of use in snowboarding and becomes very strong. With this imbalance many snowboarders have unstable ankles, which commonly develop into ankle injuries.
To keep some stability in our ankles, when riding, the toes can be lifted during heel side turns therefore making the muscles in our shins work to hold and control edge angle. Riding with a lot of forward lean can make heel turns easier to control, but can limit flexion in the ankle. For people with weak ankles this creates a muscle imbalance and therefore increases the chance of an ankle injury.
The hamstrings and quadriceps
Another group of muscles in which imbalances develop are found in our upper-leg. The activity of snowboarding builds a lot of strength in our quadriceps (thigh) muscles. On the other side, though, the cluster of muscles we call our hamstrings (bicep femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus) stay weak in comparison. The primary functions of the hamstrings is to flex the knee, bringing the heel toward the buttocks, allowing hip extension and moving the leg to the rear. This imbalance leads to two unstable joints, the knee and the hip. When riding, the hamstrings is used when the hip joint is extended during toeside turns in both legs. This movement is not a full extension amongst the majority of snowboarders, therefore under developing the muscles in the hamstrings.
With weak hamstrings our knees are easily hyperextended and also less stable laterally than if the hamstrings were strong. Hips are also at risk of injury if hamstrings are weak as a snowboarder’s strong quadriceps can pull the femur forward in the hip socket. To maintain healthy use of our hamstrings, during toeside turns the hamstrings can be contracted to extend the hip joint fully. To compensate for this, knees and ankles will need to be flexed a little more to keep the same balance.
The lower-back and abdominal muscles
The lower-torso is the last area where common major imbalances occur. This is due to the way a lot of snowboarders move during toeside turns. To move the centre of mass further across the toeside of board, the pelvis is tilted back to use the muscles of the lower back for support. Therefore the strength of the lower back is increased. On the other side of the torso the lower abdominals gets very little use and remain weak. This muscle imbalance leaves the lower torso unstable and is often the cause of lower back injuries experienced by many snowboarders. This imbalance can be avoided by keeping the pelvis tilted forward and engaging the lower abdominals to keep the lower torso stable.
Snowboarders must be aware that there are three major groups of muscles, which if used incorrectly, can lead to instability of ankles, knees, hips and the lower-torso. These muscles are the Tibialis Anterior (shin), hamstring group and lower abdominals. All of these muscles can be strengthened outside of snowboarding for maximum stability of these joints.
It takes more than luck to stay injury free while snowboarding – be smart!