An Overview of Off-Season Conditioning for Wakeboarding
It is almost that dreaded time of year to winterize our boats and put away our boards: yes, unfortunately, the off-season is upon us. Reflect back on this past season. Did you land all the tricks you were hoping to? Were you able to ride as hard and as long as you wanted, and get in enough reps to master that new trick? Did you remain injury free? If you answered "no" to any of these questions, it's likely your level of strength and conditioning (or lack thereof) negatively impacted your riding to some extent. Bottom line: If you can't concentrate on your technique and the mechanics of a new trick because you are out of breath, your legs are burning, and your hands, forearms and shoulders are screaming, your riding isn't going to progress as quickly as you'd like. Furthermore, if you get hurt, you can't ride, and if you can't ride, you can't improve.
Instead of loathing the cold weather months, why not use this off-season to get in the best condition of your life and make the '08 season your most productive, progressive, and healthy one yet? Let's take a broad look at the essential components of a wakeboard specific strength, conditioning and injury prevention program.
Dynamic Flexibility/Mobility Drills: dynamic flexibility/mobility drills are simply the use of specific body movements to promote range of motion at the joints. These drills differ from traditional stretching because they are movement based (dynamic), as opposed to static (holding a stretch in a fixed position). Research has recently shown that dynamic drills are far superior to traditional static stretches prior to participation in sports and other high intensity activities.
These drills increase core body temperature, activate muscle structures which are under developed and "shut down" in most individuals, and reduce the thickness and viscosity of the fluid in and around your joints (it's a lot like motor oil), allowing for greater and pain free range of motion. These drills should be performed prior to strength training exercises in the off-season and, in my opinion, are ideal to perform prior to your first wakeboarding run of the day during the season. Most riders I know do absolutely nothing to prepare their joints and muscles prior to their first run of the day, and I strongly feel adding a quick 5 minute dynamic warm-up would help prevent a lot of injuries that occur on the water.
Strength and Power Training: wakeboarders should strength train 3-4 days/week in the off-season. The main objective of strength training, as the name implies, is to increase the maximal strength of all the major muscle groups. Do you think your riding will improve in '08 if all of your major muscle structures are capable of producing 25% more force than they were last season?? Without a doubt! Wakeboarding, as is the case with the majority of water sports, is extremely taxing on the muscular system. Muscles which are stronger and more resistant to fatigue are going to allow you to have better control-and improve your mechanics-while on the water. Furthermore, muscles act as shock absorbers for our skeletons: stronger muscles are going to allow you to better absorb the impact forces when landing big jumps.
The secondary objective of strength training is to promote structural balance in all the major muscle groups and to correct existing imbalances which are predisposing a rider to injury and poor body alignment. The gluteals (ass muscles), hamstrings (muscles on the back of thigh), lower and upper back muscles, the obliques (or "side abs"), rear shoulder muscles, and the muscles on the back of your neck are all extremely important to wakeboarding performance. Strengthen these muscles and your body alignment and riding technique will improve, as will your potential for staying injury free.
Conditioning/Energy System Development: although wakeboarding is muscularly taxing for riders at any level, riders beyond the beginner level will be the first ones to tell you that it also gets your heart pumping! Repetitive hard cutting, edging, and jumping will take it out of you and leave you breathing heavy. Improving your level of conditioning, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, is ultimately going to allow you to focus your concentration on what's important: the mechanics and technique involved in whatever new trick you are trying to land. Don't let fatigue hold you back!
I recommend wakeboarders condition 2-3 days/week in the off-season, and interval training is the preferred method. Interval training consists of periods of intense work alternated with bouts of low intensity/recovery work. Intervals are typically 15-60 sec. in duration, and recovery periods are typically 1-3 times the duration of the work interval. So, for example, if your work interval consists of riding a stationary bike at 25 mph for 30 seconds, your recovery period may be 30-90 seconds long while riding at 10-12 mph. Interval training, as opposed to steady state traditional cardiovascular training, is the best way to condition the heart and lungs, and will transfer better to the water.
Specific Injury Prevention and Soft Tissue Work: although basic strength training exercises, along with dynamic flexibility drills, will certainly decrease your potential for injury in any joint of your body, some areas require special attention. The rotator cuffs, the neck, the muscles which rotate your hips, the muscles which flex and extend your ankles, the muscles on the bottom of the feet, the muscles of the hands/forearms and the IT bands (which are responsible for a great deal of the pain riders experience on the outside of the knees) all benefit from focused work and self massage techniques using a foam roller or tennis ball. A few simple exercises and massages at the end of your strength training and conditioning sessions are all it takes to address these areas.
These exercises and techniques will break up "knots" and adhesions that many people have in their muscles, and will "turn on" several muscle structures which are usually shut down. If your muscles are knotted up and/or "turned-off", your brain is going to have a hard time optimally recruiting them when they are needed during wakeboarding (or any activity). If muscles that are needed to perform an activity cannot be recruited or activated optimally, the body will look elsewhere, and place the demands of the activity on muscle structures that are not intended to take on the full brunt of the load…this leads to injuries.
Now that we've covered the general components of a riders off-season program, in the coming weeks, we will begin looking at the specifics of each component, including the specific exercises/activities, frequency, time, intensity, sets and repetitions. I'll also provide a sample training template. In the meantime, make the mental commitment that you are going to improve your riding through improved strength and conditioning this off-season, and get ready to implement the routines I'll be outlining in the very near future.
P. J. Striet, an avid wakeboarder, is the owner of FORCE Fitness and Sports Performance in Cincinnati, OH where he trains and coaches a wide array of competitive and recreational athletes alike. He holds a BS degree in Exercise Physiology and is available for online training and consulting through his website www.forcepersonaltraining.com. Also, in the coming months, he will be launching a new site, www.watersportsstrength.com, a site devoted entirely to strength training, conditioning, and injury prevention for water sports enthusiasts. You can email P. J. at firstname.lastname@example.org.