We spoke to team GB Olympic Slopestyle snowboarder, Jamie Nicholls about competing at the Winter Olympics, his training regime and his advice for other snowboarders
Jamie Nicholls came to our attention about a year a go, when he finished sixth at the Sochi Olympics. For Nicholls a normal day at the office requires him to perform technical and dangerous snowboarding tricks, some more than 100-feet up in the air. The 21-year old talks about his on and off snow training and why riding a bike without a saddle or handlebars is part of his workout routine!
Jamie’s training regime for another competition-packed winter has no respite. Under the watchful eye of Team GB snowboard coach Hamish McKnight, Nicholls not only spends hours on the snow, hitting rail after rail, jump after jump and perfecting skillful stunts on his snowboard, but also does plenty of time in and out of the gym to ensure he’s super-fit.
What are the key areas of the body to work on for snowboarding’?
The key ones are those that work on leg strength to prevent or reduce the risk of injury to the knees particularly when landing. I injured my knee, just before the Olympics in 2014, and know first-hand how important leg strength and recovery are for a snowboarder.
What’s your conditioning routine look like then?
I do a lot of stability work for my legs and aim to strengthen those vital ligaments around the knee. I take on plenty of weight-loaded squats and split squats. Depending on the session and time of year, I generally do 5 sets of 5 reps, each set uses a progressively heavier weight. I also mix in jump squats – this is an exercise that uses the same muscles and has balance aspects similar to those required when landing a big jump.
So what’s key to snowboarding fitness?
It depends on the level of snowboarder you are, if you’re trying to progress and get better at tricks and working towards jumping more, then you do need to be strong, agile and also fit.
Then at a competition level you need to be even stronger, more agile, fitter and more consistent. Today’s level of Slopestyle snowboard competitions involve a lot of spinning, flipping upside down and taking off and jumps over 100-feet high. So it’s no surprise your legs need
to be strong to pop and land from these heights, but your upper body and core also need to have the power to move you into trick positions and hold them in the air.
How do you plan your training?
During the winter I’m on my snowboard most of the time, so when I go to the gym after snowboarding I work on flexibility and recovery for my muscles. I spend a lot of time stretching and foam rolling. In summer when I’m on my board less, I train more often to keep strong and fit, so when I go back into the winter I’m ready for those big landings straight away. I spend more time doing cardio, as well as doing resistance exercises.
So what can you do in the off-season to improve snowboarding skills?
I generally love all board sports and this always helps me out on my snowboard! Going surfing, skateboarding or more recently wakeboarding in the summer months can really benefit my performance on the snow. All these sports require similar skills and muscular strength to snowboarding – such as balance, leg and core strength, the ability to transfer weight around the board to change direction and agility.
What are your strengths when it comes to snowboarding?
I’m strongest at riding rails on my snowboard. I also prefer riding rails to taking off big jumps, but rails require a lot of core strength to ride. Holding a trick as you ride down a rail is a great work out for your core and popping on and off them is hard work for your legs too. The more core and leg strength I get, the stronger and more creative I am when I’m rail riding.
What do you need to work on the most?
Since my knee injury, I know I could always be stronger particularly in my legs. The jumps are only getting bigger and so are the tricks, so I constantly need to get stronger too. It’s funny because the strength I do have in my legs has often allowed me to pop higher off a jump than those I’m competing with, but it’s the strength to take the impact on landing that’s really important for me to train for.
How important is core strength?
Core strength is very important, I do a lot of climbing at Rokt climbing gym and this helps me work on my core. In the gym I mix in core exercises in most sessions.
What tips have you got for someone wanting to take up the sport?
I think snowboarding is great and such a fun sport to do – it’s exciting and addictive! It will keep you fit and offer you the drive to progress and there’s always something new to learn. But it is a physical sport and having a degree of fitness before taking it up will really help you.
To avoid shocking your legs on your first snowboard lesson, I recommend that do other activities to build up relevant strength such as, horse riding, climbing, cycling or surfing. If not you definitely need to get some squats going on in the gym before learning to snowboard. And finally don’t forget to stretch after a session on your board!
What’s the most unusual type of workout you’ve done and what’s the toughest?
I think having a spin bike in a squat rack with no seat and no handlebars! You use the bar in the squat rack to hold onto leaning forwards over the front wheel, then cycling as fast as you can for short intervals, it’s the hardest thing I have done in the gym and not something I particularly enjoy. It trains balance whilst fatigued and develops leg power (don’t try this at home! Ed).
What have been your career highlights?
1st Burton Rail Days, Tokyo, Japan, 6th Winter Olympics, Sochi 2014
Who has been your fittest opponent?
I would have to say Shaun White, 2 x winter Olympic gold medallist
Who should we be looking out for, apart from you of course?
My cousin Katie Ormerod, also on Team GB and looking to be in the 2018 Olympics. She was recently the first girl to ever do a double cork 1080.