Is your back arm killing your freestyle snowboarding?

A common riding issue with snowboarders is twisting their body to face down the slope. It often arises due to peoples weight being predominately over their back foot when they first start learning to ride. That weight often makes it feel more comfortable and easier to settle onto the heel edge and naturally riders will relax and face down the slope. If you ride with your weight a little more towards the rear of the board you require more force to get the board to turn. This force generally comes from throwing your upper body around to help the board swap from edge to edge.

An open riding posture

An open riding posture

Ideally snowboarding should look as relaxed as possible. The least amount of effort (input) to look the coolest you can on the slopes. A lot of inputs mean you’ll get tired quicker and it will most likely look a bit odd. Using your upper body to make the board turn can often be too much of an input. You really want to be working your feet and ankles to twist the board (steering) to make it turn. That way you can relax your upper body and only use it when it adds value to your riding. Plus you’ll be able to speed up your turn timing, as you’ll be using the primary attachments to the board, your feet.

Classic open posture with back foot steering

Classic open posture with back foot steering

The common appearance for upper body turning is throwing the back arm left and right as it swaps positions with your back hip. Think of the motion of kicking a football. The back arm starts in front of you. As you kick the ball your back leg/hip comes forward and swaps positions with the back arm. This creates a separation between your upper and lower body.

You would have seen an extreme version at some stage. That guy who is fishtailing (back foot steering) down the slope, kicking his back leg all over the place.

The problem is even as we become better riders, this habit of separation does not fully leave us. The more you ride the more your body becomes tuned to this posture. Things like t-bars and poma lifts only make things worst, as they keep you in a poor posture. The only difference is as your riding improves you’re able to compensate for this twist through being more active with your feet through properly steering the board.

How does this effect your freestyle riding?

As a solid freestyler you want the ability to separate as well as keep your upper body in unison with your lower half for various tricks. The problem most people have is due to the engrained habits from the early days of snowboarding they struggle to rotate their body in unison.

Back arm is blocking rotation

Back arm is blocking rotation

This will cause issues if you want to rotate frontside beyond 90 degrees, especially if you’re new to freestyle. It will have a negative effect on your backside boardslide and frontside 180's, and a massive impact on frontside 360's and tailslides if you want to spin out of them at some stage.

I refer to the impact of the back arm on rotation as ‘blocking’. You can see from the photo how as the rider trys to spin he initiates the rotation with his hips and as a consequence throws his back arm behind him. This arm movement blocks the rotation. This is only a 180, so you can imagine how difficult it would be to spin a 360 with this kind of movement occurring.

Back arm is blocking rotation, shifting weight to the heel edge

Back arm is blocking rotation, shifting weight to the heel edge

When trying backside boardslides for the first time you should focus on trying to keep you body centred and balanced over your board with a flat base on the box, yet facing down the slope. This can be tough as your muscle memory will engage and you’ll want you to balance on your heels as soon as you face down the slope.

Although you can boardslide in a separated position (see below), having your back arm over the heel edge can make it difficult to stay upright. Separation is more commonly used for backside noseslides.

Backside noseslide with separation

Backside noseslide with separation

A great first step to seeing if this effects your freestyle is getting someone to video you while trying these tricks. You can then watch you’re back arm and see if its helping or hindering your movement. If it is blocking, you can start by just being aware of it and seeing if you can naturally correct it, or you can work through some of these simple drills.

Drills to correct your back arm blocking

Traverse glove passing

Start on your heel edge in a traverse. Initiate a flatbase 180 without your board leaving the ground by passing a glove from your back hand to your front hand. Aim for the movement to be very smooth with the glove pass taking place just as your board starts to rotate. Aim to keep your shoulders moving with your board and not being left behind.

Once in switch carry out a toe to heel turn. When on your heels pass the glove from the back hand to your front hand again. This will enable you to work on your switch riding as well as regular frontside 180’s. If you’re in doubt of how the sequence works. Carry out the drill without your board on and walk through the movements.

Off board static jumps

Carry out a frontside 180 rotation off the board by working on initiating the rotation with your hip, shoulders and back arm in one fluid movement. Focus on your pre-wind with your back arm being just behind your back hip. Bend your knees so when you jump it will help you gain height for the rotation. Try not to bend at the waist. Pay attention to how your back arm is moving. Does it jump backwards as you rotate, or do you feel tightness in your chest as the muscles are worked by your arm moving backwards during the rotation. Try the jump with your eyes closed to feel how your whole body works through the rotation. Once you feel comfortable with that rotation try it with your board on.

Tap your hip

Riding into the kicker with your shoulders slightly open will often cause the arm to block in the second 90 degrees of the rotation. When riding into the jump be patient and focus on your back arm tapping your back pocket just before you go up the transition of the kicker. Aim to leave the jump very straight with the rotation being initiated from the ground up (Board, knees, hips, arms, shoulders and head), where each part of your body works as a unit with a split second between each part helping the spin. That way you should not leave your shoulders too far behind your board.

Have fun perfecting those rotations. Once you can rotate in unison a whole load of extra freestyle moves will become accessible.