By Carl Valle
For over two decades, UltraSlide has led the charge providing the best slideboard benefits to coaches and athletes. What started as an offseason cross-trainer for cycling is now a major part of the equipment arsenal for serious performance and rehabilitation. Slideboard training not only helps conditioning and endurance it also provides an array of enhancements for conventional strength training and agility exercises.
While very little research and expertise exists for slideboard training, we’ve done the homework on what we can do better with this amazing training modality. In addition to the best tips on slideboard training, we include the details of why UltraSlide stands on top of the market.
The Birth of the Modern Slideboard
The first “UltraSlide” was made by Barry Slotnick in his college apartment as a way to cross-train for cycling in 1992. Having friends who were US Olympic speed skaters, Barry understood how slideboard training would benefit cycling, as cycling and skating are complimentary. After he graduated, the university’s tennis coach contacted Barry in the fall of 1993 and asked him to build a board for the men’s tennis team. The business was born from there. UltraSlide is a 23-year-old brand that has stood the test of time while many other products from the 1990s have disappeared.
The use of the UltraSlide today has evolved to include lateral agility, demanding core exercises, and unique strength movements. Several high profile coaches have pushed the slideboard into new territories beyond what I could have imagined. The average coach, as well, can benefit from learning the most important details of how to use this tool better. The research on slideboards is scant, but a few studies have revealed what I knew to be true years ago—that investing the UltraSlide will have a big impact on athletic preparation.
Tip 1. Low Impact Conditioning
The UltraSlide’s original purpose was to deliver the best cross-training exercise for cyclists during the winter and when they needed a break from the bike. Physiologically many different workouts are available for challenging the aerobic system, but conditioning is more than just demand on the cardiopulmonary system. The muscular contractions of skating and sliding are very similar to cycling because they have a very small eccentric component. They also use a movement motion that gives the body a break from pattern overload, which is prevalent now. New models of treadmills, conventional bike routines, and elliptical machines live in the frontal plane and only offer lower impact benefits. They lack the sagittal balance that sliding offers.
Since space is at a premium for teams, there’s sometimes a need for multiple athletes to share training equipment. Athletes can train effectively with the UltraSlide by using a 1:1 work ratio. Or they can rotate in circuits quickly, as the booties take seconds to put on and require no cleaning or maintenance. Traveling, the need for home training options, and the ability to work with large groups makes slideboard training a perfect fit.
Video 1. Various techniques exist to help the general fitness of athletes and regular Joes. The exercise is safe and has value for athletes as long as one achieves the pushing movement by having the foot apply pressure away.
Some detractors of slideboard training proposed in the late 1990s and early 2000s a theoretical argument that the lateral part of the knee was at risk from stress. Like many truths in life, time has proved this idea wrong in many ways and the professional community moved on. The summary was as follows:
“As you slide across a slideboard, you have to stop at the ends. Because of the angle of the foot, the knee joint receives a lot of lateral shear force that tries to pry the joint apart when the athlete stops.”
While the theory sounds compelling, the UltraSlide side bumpers are angled specifically to encourage pushing off from forces through the bottom of the foot. If the argument were true, the “slideboard knee” would be on a pathology list by now. But alas both time and evidence show up on the slideboard’s safety record.
Finally, if knees were a problem with slideboards, even with lesser quality products, we would not see positive value in the postoperative research studying slideboards for ACL rehabilitation. The article linked above claimed that skating’s EMG (electromyography) wasn’t the same as a slideboard’s, which is a detail we could debate forever. For now, consider the clear and highly visible number of Olympic gold medalists using them.
The primary role of slideboard conditioning is to provide an excellent alternative to running for athletes. A recent study from the University of Calgary confirmed the slideboard is a reliable option for competitive speed skaters. Since slideboard testing protocols are a good fit for speed skating competitors, they’re a good option in other sports for generic fitness testing and alternatives to typical lab tests.
Tip 2. Develop Lateral Agility
Strength and conditioning coaches immediately caught on to UlstraSlide’s change of direction benefits in the 1990s. The deep knee and hip bend of the body combined with a pronounced push off angle mirror many of the biomechanical needs of lateral agility. The vast popularity of slideboards for general strengthening is based on the low wear and tear of training compared with ground-based agility, which is the opposite. We don’t believe slideboards replace the need for agility training on the field and court, we just know it complements these activities with little baggage.Slideboards complement ground-based agility training with low wear and tear on the athlete. Click To Tweet
Loading the slideboard is easy for lateral training using three possibilities that are up to the coach.
- Adjust the length of the slideboard by using different sizes or bumper settings.
- Modify the technique to load muscle groups differently.
- Add resistance vertically or horizontally.
Widening the slideboard’s length is for advanced or taller athletes. A shorter distance increases the absorption of each corresponding reception of the push off. The faster an athlete is directed into the bumper, the more they can take advantage of their speed to redirect their momentum.
Some clever coaches have used resistance cables and vests to overload athletes, and each provides unique benefits. While both resistance options create a general mechanical overload and have similar challenges to the legs, horizontal resistance provides more advantages. The weight vest and vertical option tend to fatigue the lower back more, but it better overloads the support leg. Horizontal cables, provided they’re not attached to selectorized machines, load the push off leg better without any of the fatigue to the lower back muscles.
The angled bumpers make the UltraSlide special; the bumpers are not pucks or slabs or wood. The bumper slope was designed so as much of the foot as possible pushes to engage the hip muscles while the weight and grip of the board keeps the UltraSlide stable.
Tip 3. Reduce Groin and Hamstring Injury
Eccentric exercises get a lot of attention now from coaches and sport therapists, as they help reduce injuries to the groin and hamstring. Using a slideboard doesn’t provide heavy eccentric options that scientific studies favor, but they’re perfect for transitioning to those exercises. Most coaches use hamstring curls (with glute bridges), lateral lunges on or off the board, and reverse lunges with the rear foot sliding back. All of these movements are valuable for progressing athletes to more demanding activities in their preparation.Slideboard training is perfect for transitioning to heavy eccentric training. Click To Tweet
Because they are weighted, slideboard exercises provide assisted stretching that shows up in both real-world settings and the research. Resistance training that employs full range of motion does improve flexibility, but no research is available to know if it’s the same as the eccentric lengthening of the muscle tissues, as proposed by the top scientists in sport. Split squats, lateral squats, and supine knee curls with a hip lift are great for achieving range of motion or assisting in learning how to recruit muscles that are lagging behind.
The most convincing argument for slideboard training is that it’s different enough to break away from overuse injuries and similar enough to strengthen the muscles at risk generally. In the 1990s cross-training exploded because offseason training needed to carry over. But due to the length of current competitive schedules, coaches should replace cross-training with UltraSlide work to maintain fitness or to unload an area that’s receiving too much stress. Coaches love that the UltraSlide supports what they need specifically in conditioning and strength training without charting into overuse territory.
Tip 4. Enhance Torso and Hip Training
Planks are staples for beginners and athletes starting back into training, but we can all admit they get boring after awhile. Purposeful variety in training keeps athletes learning new variations and progressing to higher levels of strength. Core training is a part of many programs and should follow the same laws of training the legs and upper body.
Confusion over the slideboard’s true value was ignited a few years ago when the V-up exercise was studied compared to different tools, including the TRX and Power Wheel. Researchers questioned the use of all commercial equipment as torso EMG was insignificant for isometric strength. They were correct that the V-up was not challenging for isometric strength, but that’s not the fault of the equipment, it’s the choice of what exercises fit the criteria for isometric stress.
V-ups are similar to mountain climbers, and most coaches add this exercise for general fitness, not demanding core training. In fact, most V-ups done with commercial equipment do not challenge the abdominals. Some of the better coaches have migrated over to the Body Saw and other exercises for better core or torso bracing because it’s easier on the spine.
Many of the prone exercises and supine movements performed with slideboards prepare for more demanding training later. Using the UltraSlide for both upper and lower body actions increases the demands of bracing exercises with small modifications without the distractions of keeping accessory equipment on the feet or hands.
Tip 5. Rehabilitate Smarter and Harder
The UltraSlide’s rehabilitation options and benefits are a composite of the four concepts listed above. Rehabilitation has evolved from overly conservative care to strength and conditioning practices with medical oversight. Using slideboards used to be a lower body or sometimes core training option, but now research is concluding that it may be a great solution for upper body return-to-play.
The abduction and adduction shoulder exercise a prime example of the slideboard’s value for rehabilitation. It’s virtually a push-up with the hands sliding back and forth instead of bending at the elbow. Many other exercises are more demanding on the rotator cuff muscles, but the targeted advantage of this movement is its coactivation ratio (how well the stability of the joint performs during the maneuver).
The study examining the slideboard adduction and abduction exercise showed it provided a near 1:1 ratio at the movement’s midpoint. It’s not a magic bullet for rehabbing the shoulder, but it’s a great option for those needing a stability exercise that is safe and easily accessible.
Video 2. A simple slideboard push-up is great for core and shoulder rehabilitation. In addition to the upper body, the neck is prepared as well, making it useful for concussion return-to-play.
Other exercises that are less common but great for the modern athlete are internal and external hip twists at rotational ranges prescribed by sports medicine. While it’s arguably a better mobility drill, it’s a safe option for experienced athletic trainers and physical therapists working with athletes after hip injuries. Countless other common strength and conditioning movements exist, but the UltraSlide invites creativity.
Bonus Tip 6. Budget Benefits
One reason slideboards are popular is the cost savings when compared to other equipment-based conditioning options. Sure running on a field is cheap, but it’s not possible during winter in the North. Facilities must manage the cost of building, heating, and cooling large spaces to perform conditioning sessions. Indoor facilities that have multiple surfaces are ideal for poor weather locations, but most high schools and small colleges simply don’t have multiple options for all of their teams.
Slideboard training can condition a large group of athletes in a hallway without requiring electricity, unlike treadmills and ellipticals. Because a slideboard can be shared by using work-to-rest ratios, teams with very strict budgets can benefit even more.
Interval training is not a utopian solution for sport teams wanting to maximize their aerobic fitness, but investing a few hours a week should provide enough benefit that those who need an alternative can continue to improve. Not only does slideboard training help save costs for equipment, it also offers a great bang for your buck with time, a need that’s universal for everyone.
Group exercise classes in the fitness world have helped teams when traveling because many cities have facilities that have multiple boards on site. Fitness locations are essential when arenas and competition venues don’t have a place to train. Although slideboards are portable, they’re appropriate for driving or chartered flights, not for carry-on obviously.
Common Experiences With Slideboard Training
We could go into countless success stories and compelling case studies to show why slideboard training is “evergreen,” meaning timeless and always effective. We’ve found from the body of work from an array of coaches that slideboards are an important and indispensable part of training. While many new training options will come and go, slideboard training will always be relevant because alternatives are simply not available to push it aside.
Video 3. Watch the non-supported leg and see how the torso and pelvis move more when the leg crosses over the center line with this conventional technique. I don’t like teaching it because it doesn’t add a reference point for lateral plyometrics.
We can periodize slideboard training over a season with plenty of wiggle room for the challenges of keeping athletes fit and healthy. Many programs use slideboards in the offseason to transition slowly to impact load, while some programs use them for conditioning to contrast the stress from practices. No formal rules exist with slideboards. Coaches should just adhere to conventional training principles.Periodized slideboard training offers lots of wiggle room for keeping athletes fit and healthy. Click To Tweet
A common approach uses slideboard training for specific planned needs, such as injury resilience work and low impact conditioning during the offseason, or as needs arise such as rehabilitation or unavailability of other options. Slideboard training is flexible and very useful for many needs, but it’s also unique to specific and targeted requirements.
To summarize, coaches want to train their athletes to become specifically fit for their sport without the collateral damage that comes from identical loading. Slideboard training provides enough similarities for generating positive adaptations while its differences allow for baggage-free loading.
The UltraSlide Promise: Value, Quality, Design
While there are less expensive roll-up and plastic slides on the market, they don’t provide anywhere near the performance or value of the UltraSlide. UltraSlide’s creator, Barry, visited Boston University last year and saw boards made in 1995 were still being regularly used. This highlights its value.
It’s a continual frustration that more people don’t realize the UltraSlide’s value and shop only according to price. The design and material qualities are the result of years of refinement to improve the daily use of slideboard training. If you’re a fan of slideboard training, especially the UltraSlide, we suggest customizing your board with your school or company logo. It’s worth the added cost to promote your school or personal brand professionally and effectively.