Evan Strong on a skateboard. Strong uses sports like jiu jitsu and skateboarding to crosstrain for snowboard. (Photo: Getty Images)
At first glance, snowboarding and jiu jitsu appear to have nothing in common. One takes place on a board in snow, the other is a ground-based martial art. Snowboarding involves speeding down a course; jiu jitsu is a close-contact sport utilizing various holds, chokes and joint manipulations.
But a further examination reveals some fascinating links between the two. Both are high-pressure activities that require intense mental focus and concentration.
“In jiu jitsu you have to learn to get comfortable in uncomfortable positions,” explained Para snowboarder Evan Strong, who practices jiu jitsu with his oldest daughter Indie. “It’s learning to stay cool under pressure. Boardercross is a lot of pressure. It’s like using self-inducing stressors and pressure to make you more resilient once you come across other pressures in your life.”
Strong, who has also competed in skateboarding, has noticed a difference in his resiliency in that sport from his jiu jitsu training. He hopes to see similar success in snowboarding.
“The biggest thing I noticed in my competition runs in skateboarding at Dew Tour this last time, I was feeling the mental resilience from practicing jiu jitsu coming into my headspace,” said Strong, who won silver in banked slalom at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 and gold in snowboardcross at the 2014 Sochi Games. “It’s going to be really cool to see if that also translates into boardercross racing.”
Skateboarding and mountain biking are popular cross-training sports among snowboard racers. Snowboarding uses similar techniques to pumping at a skate park. Downhill mountain biking offers some of the sensations of being on a snowboard course, hitting big jumps and ripping around berms. But other sports yield numerous benefits for off-snow training.
According to Dan Gale, who co-founded Adaptive Action Sports with his wife and Paralympian Amy Purdy, surfing lends itself well to cross-training.
“It’s great cardio, and you’re standing on the board in the same direction,” said Gale, who currently serves as a development coach for Para snowboarder Zach Miller. “You’ve got to learn how to pump the waves and use the wave to gain energy and move forward. Those are all things you have to do on a snowboard as well.”
Gale teaches snowboarders to accelerate out of a berm, use a roller to their advantage, and gain speed on the back side of the roller through proper body movement.
“We work on those types of body movements and mechanics quite a bit,” Gale explained. “Surfing, skateboarding and mountain biking all require the same kind of attention.”
Former pro snowboarder and current U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding National Team technical coach Callan Chythlook-Sifsof is a big proponent of cross-training, particularly in snowboardcross.
“We require a complete skill set with skills in every type of snowboarding, from speed to edging or turning,” she said. “You really need that complete package and the ability to be fluid with your mind, fluid with the physics of your body and body mechanics, and quick on your feet.”
But cross-training in specific sports is only part of the puzzle. Proper warm-ups and exercises are big keys as well. For Miller, this presents a challenge. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of six months, Miller has to work harder than most athletes to build muscle mass and put on weight. Therefore, diet and nutrition are especially important in his development along with proper exercises and weight training.
A typical day for Miller starts with a protein shake, followed by warmups and some time on the bike. After several hours of high-intensity training on the mountain, he downs another protein shake to gain back lost calories, then hits the gym.
“This year, one of the things I’ve had to focus a lot on is my diet and nutrition, more so than other athletes,” Miller said during the Team USA Media Summit, held virtually in October. “I have to focus on how much I eat, how much I’m getting in there and how much I’m putting out at the end of the day.”
While most courses are short (taking around 60 seconds to complete), a good cardio workout helps the body deal with intense body movements and adrenaline spikes. Gale’s athletes spend a great deal of their time on row machines and stationary bikes. They also take part in tumbling to improve general body movement, and other training to develop a strong core.
“That not only helps with your riding ability but it also reduces injury,” Gale said. “It’s also important to have good, strong legs to maintain that level of athleticism for 60 seconds.”
Snowboarding requires a mix of power, lower body strength, and quick, fast-responding muscles all working together.
“It’s a unique sport in that way because our training is for both power and endurance,” Chythlook-Sifsof explained. “But it’s also for fast twitch (muscle groups). So plyometrics are a big part of our training.”
Like Strong, Chythlook-Sifsof believes mental focus is paramount to success as a snowboarder. Whether it’s a contact sport like jiu jitsu or a riding sport like equestrian, anything that taps into an athlete’s mental makeup and self-awareness is a plus.
“Some of the most surprising sports might be the best cross-training ones for boardercross,” Chythlook-Sifsof said. “You can pick from any sport and find something that helps out with the sport of boardercross.”