Counter-rotation: what it is and why it’s bad

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COUNTER-ROTATION

I have previously spoken about this topic in other threads, but I wanted to dedicate a new thread and some discussion to it. For the purpose of this article, I am only talking in reference to beginner and intermediate snowboarding; counter-rotation is not good during these stages of your progression—however it can be used to your benefit later on.

The first thing an instructor looks at is your stace. Your stance is the most fundamental skill of snowboarding, and it has the biggest impact on your riding. Get this right from the start and you will progress much faster and with more performance. It will also greatly help you with the other key skills of snowboarding: rotation, edging, pressure control, and timing/co-ordination.

Counter-rotation occurs when your upper body is in a different plane of alignment to your snowboard. You upper body is giving mixed signals to your snowboard; essentially your upper and lower body are working against each other.

Counter-rotation is a very common mistake. Nearly everyone does it at some point and most likely they aren’t even aware they are doing it or it’s a problem. So the main fix here is awareness and repetition. The most common counter-rotation occurs during a toeside turn, most likely towards the tail end of the turn. You get onto your toe edge, your back is starting to face downhill (and your upper body uphill), and your instinct is to counter-rotate your upper body so you are once again facing downhill. What this does is put you out of alignment with your snowboard—reducing performance and making it harder to complete the turn. This will be even more of a problem when you want to start carving properly.

The same tendency to open your upper body to face downhill can be seen when snowboarders are first introduced to terrain park features. As in the counter-rotated photo below, snowboarders tend to open their body like this when they approach terrain park features while they are learning. It’s understandable because it’s a security thing; you feel safer by facing downhill—but you are not. Again, this action has consequences, but in the park it can actually hurt! When you leave the jump or get on the box, your upper body wants to rotate—not good as you will be doing a straight air or a 50-50 when you first learn to ride the park.

When you ride straight or turn, your upper body and lower body should be aligned and stacked directly over your snowboard. When you are aligned correctly, you are in a much more stable and responsive position. This will help steering, edging, and pressure control—which will assist you in increasing the performance of your riding.

As an exercise, try riding with your back hand holding the side of your jacket, just near your bottom. Keep your front shoulder pointing towards the nose of your board and in the direction of travel. Try to be aware— and keep your upper body aligned with your snowboard. Make note of when your back hand comes out flying in front of your body; this is your red flag. Keep thinking about your back hand. Keep your upper body calm and relaxed—but strong.

When you get your stance right, you will progress faster and the performance of your riding will increase. It will also help the other skills of snowboarding as mentioned above. Work on your stance and your riding will thank you!

If you have any questions, please ask below. Happy shredding! cool grin

 
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sweet info cheers Jez. Pretty sure I am a big culprit of this, my back arm is always out to the side

 
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I think this is pretty spot. A really good guide for all riders from beginner up to intermediate (just like you said at the top).

If it’s cool with you Rider, I wouldn’t mind adding some info for more advanced riders.
Because the rules change a little bit as you gain experience and can move body parts more independently than before.

The main differences for advanced riders are:

1. Counter Rotation can be used for freestyle movements. Such as shifties, boardslides or finishing a spin that isn’t going to make it all the way. There are many more but these are the main ones.

2. Counter Rotation is never likely to help your turns in any way. But having an Open Stance definitely can. The difference is you’re not flicking your upper body one way to make the lower body turn the other way. You are just riding like you normally do but your shoulders just stay a little more open (facing a little more towards your direction of travel, turning with the lower joints)
An example of this would be carving.
Everyone has seen videos of people euro carving, are they aligned with their board? Nope.
One reason for this - look at the two pictures above. If they were both walking on a tight rope, who would be more balanced? The guy with his arms in line with the rope or the guy with his arms across the rope for balance? The guy on the left.
So isn’t balancing on an edge just like balancing on a tight rope?
We call this lateral balance (the balance required to lean towards your toe or heel edge) and it becomes more important the faster we go and the more we have to lean into our turns.

We learn things one way to make things easy, but we can also re-learn them, to make them work even better as we improve as riders. I hope this helps our more advanced riders to carry on their learning from what they knew, to what they are capable of now shaka

 
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Awesome posts rider and Andy.

I have noticed I use it when pressing (I’m talking riding on just the back foot or even just the tail of the board when I can get it back that far…  As it stabalises me more for some reason (I’m sure there is a reason… But it just feels more right for me..??) and I can press back further and hold it for longer…  But apart from that… (unless stopped to take photos and I have to rotate my body while keeping and edge to stay in the same spot) I don’t really so this… (that I’m aware of)

 
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My experience of teaching (other people and myself) is that getting too twisted or counter rotated was a major block on riding ability.  The exercise Rider mentions is super useful and if you can get used to riding in the more aligned way that it teaches you then your riding will hold up better when conditions get challenging.

One of the biggest problems I found was that when I got caught in a twisted position my upper body would ‘lock’ my hips and lower body from turning anymore.  This causes dead spots in turns where all flow and quite often grip is lost.  The locking occurs because if your shoulders and hips go in different directions at some point you can’t turn your hips anymore unless you’re made of playdo. 

To remedy this try and tighten up your core, that is use the muscles between your hips and shoulders to stop that part going wobbly.  Yes wobbly is a technical term. 

I treat the hip as the most important part of the body for controlling turns.  If the hip is in the right place then it allows your legs to steer, pressure and do other useful things and with a tight core your shoulders can sit on top of your hips and enjoy the ride.  If you notice really smooth riders their upper bodies don’t tend to do much.

Regarding advanced riding and park.  All of the above is required for advanced freeriding, if your hips and shoulders get too separated in hard terrain you’ll know about it.  Counter rotated movements have their place in advanced riding but they supplement a good starting position rather than replace it.  Some systems teach a level of openness with the upper body and it’s very effective but it’s important to note it’s a long way from being twisted.

In the park the full range of body movements can be used depending on the trick and feature.  For example putting a shifty into a spin is epic (I never quite got good enough at the bigger spins to put this into practice, for which I shed a few tears at night) and requires rotation to set the spin and counter rotation midway to add the shifty, Haldor does some nice ones.

 
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h0z - 25 July 2014 07:31 PM

Awesome posts rider and Andy.

I have noticed I use it when pressing (I’m talking riding on just the back foot or even just the tail of the board when I can get it back that far…  As it stabilises me more for some reason (I’m sure there is a reason… But it just feels more right for me..??) and I can press back further and hold it for longer…  But apart from that… (unless stopped to take photos and I have to rotate my body while keeping and edge to stay in the same spot) I don’t really so this… (that I’m aware of)


I do this too. Although I hadn’t thought about it relating to an open stance until now.
An instructor friend of mine just pointed out to me that I missed an important advantage to opening your stance. Which is what you’re saying (more so for turning, but it still applies I think). Apparently it allows you to apply more pressure to the nose or tail of the board because your hips and legs lever it more effectively. This sounds right to me because I always open up quite a bit to do nose or tail presses.
It actually feels quite awkward to press while totally aligned. Now I know why. Go knowledge mizu

 
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Jez’s advice is spot on for beginners and intermediates but I also agree 100% with Andy about the open stance. One of the instructor at Whistler (name is Alexander Law, I think you know him Andy) told me to open my shoulders and hip more when I ride. He said I was too closed up (parallel with the board).

And if you watch snowboard videos, most of the pros, especially free riders ride with a slightly open stance.

 
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Great points on advanced riding and freestyle skills, guys.

I think it’s important to understand that you never want to be fully rigid and aligned 100% of the time, whether you’re beginner or advanced. You still need to initiate your turn, and you also need to stay agile and responsive with your upper body.

It often necessary to be out of alignment when you’re initiating your turn, but this is only momentarily—your lower body then needs to drive through the turn in alignment with the upper body. The whole concept of turning for beginners is based on counter-rotation… turn your upper body and your lower body follows. The important point to take away is you need to stay aligned after initiation is achieved. The problem is when counter-rotation occurs during the middle of the turn—after the turn is initiated.

Also, there’s a big difference between counter-rotating your upper body and opening your hips; you can open your hips without being counter-rotated. Agree?

 
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Good point and well made.  I did this for years and years before finally picking it up.  I dare say I still do it from time to time, especially in the steeps when my technique starts to break away.

 
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“Also, there’s a big difference between counter-rotating your upper body and opening your hips; you can open your hips without being counter-rotated. Agree?”

Yeap, opening the hips = open stance = hips still aligned with shoulders

 
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This is awesome!!

 
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I realised I was guilty of this sin while I was in Whistler and am keen to ditch the habit.. Great information from all that contributed - Cheers!

 
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rider26 - 28 July 2014 11:05 AM

Also, there’s a big difference between counter-rotating your upper body and opening your hips; you can open your hips without being counter-rotated. Agree?

This is being really word picky (and possibly annoying) but I don’t think you can ever be “counter rotated”. Because it’s not a body position. It’s an upper body action which causes an lower body opposite reaction.

For eg.
- People throwing their arms one way to make the board go the other way, in a turn. That’s a form of counter rotation. Usually undesirable unless you are doing a quick speed check or something similar.

Someone who is riding across the hill on their toe edge but looking straight down the hill (instead of where they are going) that will cause a twisted body position (which looks like someone just after they turned with counter rotation) but is actually cause by someone looking in the wrong direction, not counter rotation. *This could be argued that it’s a very slow form of counter rotation, but I personally don’t think it is, I see it as 2 separate issues when I teach*

NOW, to stop being picky, yes I totally understand what you mean and I agree. You can definitely open your hips and have your shoulders aligned with your hips and this is a good (advanced) body position, without being twisted apart at the core.

 
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Would an open body position in park be something like when you are about to take off for a spin eg: opening up your body to front 1 or whatever?

 

hi, i’m a beginner and try to adopt what i see online. I was progressing alright, until this last season when i de-gressed big time, and had problems figuring out what was off.
First of all i just bought my first setup, camber with rocker in the middle- thought it was that. then realised i had the bindings set funny (accidentally subtracted half an inch from the front binding, on an already setback stance:) and ....Also decided to ride with an open stance after studying a youtube video. Now i did also read here and there that an open stance wasn’t really for beginners, but i don’t recall having seen any reasons why, so it was kinda at the back of my mind. Reading this thread is a saviour, i thought i was doomed!!
ANyways just to make sure i’m understanding all this correctly, here’s the video

. You can see at 1:14 Ryan distinguishes between the aligned stance (which i used to ride) and the more open stance he uses for this carving tutorial. This is what you guys mean right?-although riding like 1:25 has its benefits, if you’re a beginner its gonna throw you off (like it did me:)?

 
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xbiral - 29 July 2014 02:45 AM

hi, i’m a beginner and try to adopt what i see online. I was progressing alright, until this last season when i de-gressed big time, and had problems figuring out what was off.
First of all i just bought my first setup, camber with rocker in the middle- thought it was that. then realised i had the bindings set funny (accidentally subtracted half an inch from the front binding, on an already setback stance:) and ....Also decided to ride with an open stance after studying a youtube video. Now i did also read here and there that an open stance wasn’t really for beginners, but i don’t recall having seen any reasons why, so it was kinda at the back of my mind. Reading this thread is a saviour, i thought i was doomed!!
ANyways just to make sure i’m understanding all this correctly, here’s the video

. You can see at 1:14 Ryan distinguishes between the aligned stance (which i used to ride) and the more open stance he uses for this carving tutorial. This is what you guys mean right?-although riding like 1:25 has its benefits, if you’re a beginner its gonna throw you off (like it did me:)?

Hey xbiral,

You raise an interesting point for sure. The reason I said counter-rotation is bad during the early stages of progression is because the “steering” skills using your lower body haven’t developed yet. As beginners and even intermediate riders, the whole principle of turning is based on “turn your upper body and the lower body will follow”. During the early stages of progression, we use these gross (large) body movements to turn the snowboard. It works but it takes a lot of energy to turn the board. However, this is a necessary progression step, in my opinion. It is specifically during this stage of your progression that it’s absolutely critical to minimise counter-rotation. Everyone should at least learn how to ride with a properly aligned stance before they move on to more technical riding.

Ryan is obviously a very skillful rider, who has put a lot of time and work into his snowboarding. The techniques he talks about are absolutely valid. However, all the techniques he shows in that video use lower body steering to turn the snowboard, which is the next phase of progression. As we progress, we start steering the snowboard using our joints, getting progressively lower to the snowboard. We take our upper body out of the equation, and we start steering with our hips, knees, and even our feet!

In my opinion, it is important not to skip steps. It takes time to get anywhere close to Ryan’s level of snowboarding. Make sure you have the fundamentals dialed in before challenging yourself too much with very advanced techniques. It will just slow your progression.

In all honestly, where are you at with your progression? Can you comfortably link turns on intermediate terrain using the upper body rotation technique? Can you do this while staying aligned and balanced? If so, start thinking about using your upper body less, and introduce your hips and knees to help “steer” and drive the turns. Anyway, please let us know where you’re at exactly and we can give you some advice for your stage of progression.

Thanks for getting involved in this discussion!