It’s Tuesday again and time for another snowboard article.
Two weeks ago I spoke about the muscles in the lower legs and their actions, Stretch the calf muscle & improve your riding. I also mentioned at the end of the post how one particular muscle action was important when it came to turning on a snowboard, especially the heel to toe edge turn.
So what’s going on down there?
How while there are many muscles that we use, and movements that these muscles make, when we snowboard, lets talk about a one group in particular and their actions.
This group comprises of Tibialis Anterior, Extensor Digitorum Longus and Extensor Hallucis Longus and are located along the anterior aspect of the lower leg (shin-bone -> foot)
All three muscles aid in dorsiflexing the foot (pointing toes to the sky). Independently, Tibialis Anterior lifts up the foot and the remaining two lift up the foot and curl the toes. A good way to describe this is if you were to lie your leg out straight, keep your toes in line with your foot and bring you foot up towards you, then curl the toes towards you respectively.
Fix that dreaded heel to toe turn
I have found over the years that one area people struggle with when it comes to technical snowboarding is the heel to toe edge turn. We’ve probably all heard comments such as ‘..but you just don’t commit…”, “…get more weight on the front foot…” and the list goes on.
For me, it’s all about having the body in the right position over the board to start off with to let the turn happen easily and naturally. Not just before you go for the turn or as you do the turn but the actually body position on the heel edge.
When we ride, our board and body are effected by additional forces, the faster we go, the greater these forces become. But while this may effect out posture throughout our turns I feel that one of the main reasons that people struggle with the heel to toe turn is their love for the almighty high-backs. (I said high-backs, not all blacks!)
Being committed way back in your high-backs restricts many problems such as restricting the amount of movement in your ankles: some of benefits of staying off them are listed in the post: Are highbacks making us lazy snowboarders ?
With most things in snowboarding if something isn’t quiet going right downstairs (board upwards to hips) then the upper body will counter this with an equal and opposite re-action. e.g. straight legs with hips and bum sticking out = hunched over upper body and head.
With this in mind lets, re-cap the basic stance for the heel edge:
Legs and ankles flexed pulling up with the toes, spine slightly flexed and a relaxed upper body with head in line all relative to the edge angle of the board.
Yer, so what if I use my high-backs!
A lot of people tend to forget about the ‘toes up’ and rest back onto the high-backs for leverage, edge tilt and ultimately, grip. However if you are ‘lazy’ with your toes and rely to much to the high-backs your ankle joint opens up with the distance between your knee and toe increasing.
So what, you might think.! Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not against using the high-backs when riding and yer sure I use mine for support. But there’s the difference, use as oppose to rely. Some of you may love the secure solid feeling you get from them when riding, but how about getting the same grip by tweaking a few things and then coming onto the high-backs and using them more for support. Imagine how much more stable you would feel!
Let go back to the ankle joint opening up. Well, on a larger scale this can lead to virtually straight lower legs (ankle – knee), now all the suspension has to come from the knee bending with makes the hips and bum stick out. As mentioned earlier the upper body then counters by leaning/breaking forward totally messing up the heel edge posture. From this position is it extremely difficult to work the ankle joint used for initiation in the heel to toe turn and to cross over onto the new edge.
However when standing over the board correctly, we gain added stability and control allowing us to initiated the turn by simply reducing the edge angle under our lead foot and by flexing forward into the front of the boot. This reduces edge angle and grip, allowing the board to slide more easily into the chosen direction. Yes there are also other things going on here but lets stick to the actions and movements of the ankle joint.
By simple just pushing the lead toe down, we won’t turn just like that. In fact, in some cases this may bring us more onto our high-backs by opening out the ankle joint again. Taking us straight back to square one.
We must however initiated this, ‘dropping of the toes’, from the ankle by flexing forward in the boot driving the knee over the toes. This way we don’t open up the ankle joint. Ultimately we are trying to keep the distance between the knee and the toes the same as we steer into the turn, so as we arrive onto the toe edge we are already moving into a sound flexed position ready for any bumps or/and increases and changes in pressure.
The key is to be strong with your shin muscles and keep the distance the same between the knee and toe.
From one simple action of engaging the muscles along the front of the leg (shin muscles), using these and lifting the toes while at the same time staying relaxed and keeping the ankle joint flexed, we can change the way we stand on our board and ultimately help us initiate that heel to toes turn a lot easier.
Here’s a little test
Ok, so here’s a little challenge I like to use to see if people are.
A: Standing over the board correctly
B: Using their toes to make the heel edge grip.
Try it out with a friend as a race – both standing in a heel edge position on the side of the slope in line with each other. (use a fairly steep pitch, maybe the angle of a steep blue perhaps). Set the start and finish points. Then race each other back up the slope by jumping off the heel edge, landing back on the heel edge and so on all the way to the finish marker.
The challenge is obviously NOT to fall over but to be balanced when you land, more importantly though is to have grip to push off. If you don’t lift those toes up, as you get low your edge angle ‘may’ decrease and there goes your grip!
Remember: Try not to rely on those high-backs, use the toes and allow the body to stand upright and well positioned with flexed ankles – head up!
Give it a go and I’ll be very interested to hear how you get on.
Stretch and strengthen
Here’s a couple stetch and strengh building excerises for the muscles mentioned above.
If this causes problems, stand upright with one one hand against the wall. Bend one leg up to a 45 degree angle and reach back with your free hand onto the instep. Gently stretch the lower leg out. Try not to let the leg fall down straight as this then become a stretch for the upper thighs, try to keep the 45 degree angle.
Strength exercises: Mini toe raises will work the appropriate muscles.