Top 5 exercises for softer landings [and better style!]

Smooth, controlled landings are a crucial part of wakeboarding. Landings are the most overlooked aspect of style in wakeboarding. The appearance of smooth, softer landings separate pros from amateurs...or riders with style from riders that 'perform tricks'. As you know from watching wakeboarding videos on the internet, most injuries occur during landings. More often than not hard falls and landings occur toward the end of a session when a rider is 'warmed up'. Fatigue starts to play a major role. Hard falls suck and wakeboarding can be brutal on your body. The following contains the Top 5 exercises for softer landings [and better style!]

Get in at least 10-20 minutes a day of the movements below. Your body will thank you.

 

 

Find A More Balanced Body Position

When we dissect the ideal body position for a landing it looks really similar to squat exercises in the gym. There's dozens of squat exercise variances but we'll use the basic air squat for wakeboarding purposes.

During a squat, your feet are shoulder width apart or slightly wider. Your toes can be slightly angled outward [this is called a ducked stance]. As you bend your knees and lower down into a squat position, the chest remains upright and tall so the spine remains neutral while the hips move backward. As you do this, your knees & shins should track inline above your ankle. The weight of your body should be even in the heels of your feet. It's really important to keep your chest upright during squats. Having your chest fall forward as you squat takes your entire body out of alignment, makes you unbalanced, and puts you in an awkward position that elevates your risk of injury in the gym and on a wakeboard.

Going further into the mechanics of a squat, it's important to assess knee position [Read How To Determine The Best Stance To Prevent Injury]. In all squats, the knee should track slightly outward and should never track inward (knock kneed). As your knee tracks outward in a proper squat it will activate the glutes, a large muscle group that helps support the lower back. A well positioned squat strengthens your glutes. This is important because you'll want to use your legs & glutes to absorb wakeboard landings rather than your knees [your knees buckle] or back [you bend at the waist].

Fix Your Wakeboard Landings

Now let’s breakdown how to get softer landings on your wakeboard. Imagine edging in for a heelside wake jump. You reach the peak of a jump hopefully while grabbing your board, extend your legs and prepare for impact. What should you be thinking about? Keeping your handle in near your core or waistline, with your chest up, and legs and feet active and ready absorb the impact from the landing. As you land, you'll want to focus on the same sequence of motion you focused on in your air squat exercises. You push your hips back and use your glutes to absorb the impact while bending your knees outward tracking over your feet.

I know this is easier said than done. So what happens if that doesn't happen?

The mistake that happens most frequently for riders is letting the handle out from your body towards the direction of the pull because your focus is on staying balanced. When you let the handle out, your chest will be pulled forward and down. Your lower back will round and the weight transfers to your toes before this happens.

How not to have softer landings

This chain reaction will easily put strain in the lumbar spine leading to potential disc injury, muscle spasms, compression fractures, and laundry list of other injuries.

The second most common mistake people make is not being active and strong in the legs and feet during a landing. Sounds so simple right? Remember, there's a lot going on with your upper body too so most people neglect lower body coordination during a landing...

If you aren't active in your legs and feet your knees can buckle. This leads to tears of the meniscus, cruciate ligaments, or bone bruises. By focusing on an strong and flexible lower body, you can drastically reduce the impact in your lower back. With your feet in particular, think about putting pressure on the outside of your foot. This is the strongest part of your foot and will also help keep your glutes activated.

Exercises To Help You With Softer Landings

The Air Squat

The first exercise is the air squat as I mentioned above. As the squat becomes second nature, you can add variations to help strengthen your legs in preparation for different wakeboard landings you'll encounter. A few squat variations are jumping squats, squats on a Bosu ball, or box jumps. Remember to keep your chest up! Aim to do 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each squat variation. This directly affects your ability to have softer landings naturally and frequently.

 Remember To Strengthen Your Feet & Ankles

Another important set of exercises strengthens your feet and ankles. Banded ankle ABC’s, calf raises, and one legged balancing on a Bosu Ball are good ways to strengthen your feet and ankles. For the banded ankle ABC's, wrap a theraband around the ball of your foot. Hold both ends in your hand and draw the alphabet with your foot. This will exercise all ranges of motion of the ankle and foot. Calf raises can be done with just body weight. Aim for 3 sets of 10 repetitions and try varying the positions of the toes (angled in, straight, and angled out) to target different sections of the lower leg muscles. For one legged balancing, start on the ground and once you are comfortable, move onto an uneven surface like a bosu ball or wobble board. Aim to hold for 30 seconds.

Exercises for softer landings
Banded Ankle ABCs

Activate Your Glutes and Core

The last muscle groups to exercises are the glutes and core. To activate and strengthen this set of muscles try banded monster walks, plank holds and bicycle crunches.

For monster walks, tie the theraband so it makes a closed loop and step into so the band rests on the thighs.

. With proper squat technique. lower half way to parallel and stay down. Then take sideward steps maintaining proper knee positioning. Take 10 steps in each direction and repeat 3 times.

For the plank, position yourself like you would in a push-up position except rest on your forearms and elbows. Practice holding that position up to a minute

.

For bicycle crunches, lay on your back to start. Support your lower neck with your hands and bring opposite elbow to opposite knee. Repeat on the other side. Alternate for 20 repetitions and repeat 3 times.

Buy Wakeboard Gear That Fits Well

There’s another critical component that will help you get softer landings. Yes, you guessed it...your wakeboard. I can't tell you how important it is that you ride the correct size wakeboard for your height and weight. Humanoid has developed a board sizer app that calculates the exact wakeboard size for you.

I've discovered in my time teaching new wakeboarders that most people ride too short of a wakeboard. It's better to go bigger! A bigger wakeboard displaces more water on landings. If you're riding a board that's too small, landings will feel abrupt and rough due to the board losing speed and sinking quicker in the water. A smaller board can't displace enough water to support your height and weight. A larger board will carry more speed through landings, displaces more water [floats better] and results in a softer and less abrasive landing. It may take some time but your landings will feel smooth and your riding will look more stylish.

Other technical aspects of board design like rocker, flex, and shape also affect landings but we'll leave that for a another day. You can also refer to our stance width and stance angle riding tools to help determine the best stance setup for your riding preference - cable park riding, boat riding, or crossover [hybrid of both styles].

Comment below and let us know how you keep in riding shape during the off-season.

Learn more and get proactive about bettering your health and preventing injuries as an athlete:

Stopsportsinjuries.org • Sportsinjuryclinic.net • Proactionsportsclinic.com • Themanualtherapist.com • Thesportsphysiotherapist.com