Getting More ‘Pop’ in the Park

Today I walked through the first frost in Epping Forest, the sun was shining and the skies were blue.  I love when the weather turns as it means the ski season is nearly upon us!

It is also the time that the keen skiers and snowboarders get stuck in to their pre season training to ensure they get the most out of their time on the snow.  I have been posed a very interesting problem to solve by one of my clients – Mr Keen Snowboarder (lets call him Mr KS).  He snowboards for 4-6 weeks a year but is frustrated by the lack of progress he is making in the park.  He simply cannot get the height or ‘Pop’ he desires which means his jumps lack the ‘air’ you hear everyone rave about.

Keen to start a specific training plan that will help him on his his four week tour to Jackson Hole this Christmas he has asked my advice on what he needs to work on to make sure his body is in the best shape to get that much lusted after ‘POP’.  A keen snowboarder myself I have never been much of a park monkey so the mechanics of freestyle boarding is not something I have analysed in depth – but I do love a challenge so have embraced this request head on and am determined to get Mr KS lots of ‘air’ this winter.  I am going to diarise the treatment and training plan, and hopefully report back with some improvement by the time Mr KS hits the park.

The Basics

Where better to start then at the beginning and the ‘Pop’ is probably the base of most freestyle moves.  Given the variety of stances and how these affect the muscles used to achieve the movements we will start by looking at the mechanics of the ‘Pop’ using a flat stance as this is the closest stance to anatomical neutral, in other words in the position your joints should be in when in neutral.  This involves your bindings being at 0⁰ i.e. pointing straight forward, we need your hips slightly wider than hip width for balance so they are slightly abducted to shoulder width.  Now lets get started!

Being a dynamic action I have broken the ‘Pop’ down into 4 key positions Neutral (a), Prep (b), Power (c) and Finish (d).   We are going to look at the biomechanics of positions (b) – (d) to understand what muscles are involved and how to give us a better idea of how to train.

Prep  – Position (b)

This move prepares the body to generate the power needed to ‘Pop’.  It involves dropping your knees and hips deeper into flexion, adding dorsiflexion at the ankle to allow us to press through the board akin to the coiling in a spring, everything gets lower and tighter.  Below I have outlined the key muscles that contract in order to achieve this position (I am focusing largely on the hip and lower body at this point, but the core is key to all of these actions so its not to be ignored!):

Primary Muscles
Rectus Femoris, Iliacus, Psoas Major, Hamstrings (knee attachment), Tibalis Anterior.

Secondary Muscles
Gluteus Medius & Minimus,TFL, Adductors, Transverse and Rectus Abdominis (flexing the torso fowards).

In addition we need to consider the limiting factors to these movements as if we are to get deep into this position then we need to have a good range of motion in  the joints involved. Shortness in the opposing muscles e.g. tight hamstrings will restrict the depth of this position meaning we have less range to push through in the next move.

Power  – Position (c)

Now we are ready to unleash the coiled spring.  The main driver here is extension through the hip which in turn is followed by extension of the knees and plantar flexion of the ankle.    This is the point that the kinetic chain kicks in to lift the board off the ground and into the air, the more power we create the more air we get. Remembering that we are extending our hips from an abducted position Gluteus Maximus becomes a big player in this hip extension:

Primary Muscles
Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Soleus & Gastrocnemius.

Secondary Muscles
Gluteus Medius & Minimus,TFL, Adductors, Erector Spinae and Transverse Abdominus.

Again we must not forget any limiting factors and being aware of what our range of motion is for these key movements.  Is your Iliopsoas holding you back from extending upwards?

Finish  – Position (d)

So now we have the power and our body has lifted off the ground we pull the finishing move to maximise the air.  To do this we revert to the same actions as position (b) flex hips, flex knees and dorsiflex ankles drawing them towards the chest.  The same primary and secondary muscles but with more power as in this case we have gravity to contend with!

So what does this mean and how do we train to maximise height and power?  Well this is where we need to be specific and look at each person’s individual biomechanics. It is not as simple as saying, ‘strengthen your legs’ as maybe your legs are strong but inflexible preventing you from firing on all cylinders when entering the power move.  To illustrate this lets come back to my client – Mr Keen Snowboarder.

He has a lot of lower body strength, but he suffers from a severe posterior tilt of his pelvis.  This manifests itself in chronically tight hamstrings and calves along with other repercussions higher up the chain.  Is this the reason he is not getting the ‘Pop’ he chases year in year out?  If he cannot get sufficient differential between position b and position c then the amount of power he can achieve is greatly reduced.  In addition his glute maximus firing pattern is incorrect.  Glute max has been inhibited and the hamstrings are doing all the hard work. Finally there is evidence of hip instability. If the hips are not controlled, the knees fall inward reducing the power of the extension action needed to pop you off the ground.

To get my client moving we are going to start on the following plan of action as I like work on a no regrets basis and addressing these postural imbalances will help regardless of the specifics of this move:

   o Improving proprioception of the glutes
   o Strengthening the  erector spinae group and the hip flexors
   o Releasing the hamstrings, abdominals and calves with hands on treatment and stretching
   o Adding some functional exercises to work on performing the kinetic chain required e.g. the jump squat

Next I am going to start looking at whether or not your stance affects your power in the park given how varied these can be, but we will have to also weigh that up with everything else you want to achieve when you are out riding the snow.   Stay posted!

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