Balance is something we commonly forget to work on before and during the ski season. it's the number one function hardest to get back after a knee injury. It's also not the first to come to mind when training our body for the slopes. There are simple ways to improve balance both on and off the hill. Take 10 minutes out of your day to focus on balance, and reap the rewards on skis.
Physical therapist Scott Blair gave OnTheSnow some tips on how to go about improving our balance. Blair spends much of his winter traveling with the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team as their private trainer.
There are a handful of different tools to help challenge our fast-twitch muscles. These are the smaller, more detailed ones that focus on balance, Blair explains. Exercise balls, Dyna Discs, and half-foam rolls include some of these gadgets. Pick them up at a sporting goods shop or get creative at home. Create any uneven surface to challenge yourself.
Blair says to start simply and work up from there. He explains that you challenge yourself by increasing difficulty with surfaces and directions. Choose a space with ample room to move around. A close wall on one side can be helpful. Find a focal point to hone your eyesight on. Focusing on a non-moving spot while your body is in motion aids your mind in calming to find that stillness. Begin by standing evenly on one leg and lift the other leg, bringing your knee up to a 90-degree angle.
Focus on bending your standing knee rather than trying to keep your leg straight. Let your ankle do the majority of the work. This is how the fast-twitch balance muscles engage. Once you're steady, slowly begin moving your arms and legs around for a challenge. Do circles with all three, change directions, and sway like a tree in the wind. Hold this balance pose for at least 30 seconds before switching legs.
Half-foam rolls, Dyna Discs, and exercise balls can be used in the same way with added difficulty. Stand on the half-foam roll flat side up both horizontally and vertically. Work up to the point of standing on a full foam roll. First keep it stationary. Then work on controlling the roll from forward to backward. During recovery from a knee injury, these are the types of surfaces and directions your fast-twitch muscles must re-adapt to. A final challenge would be taking this work outdoors. Blair explains that not only is the at-hand balance the challenge, but also the challenge of the unpredictable both for surfaces and surroundings. Reacting to the unknown is a basic challenge in itself.
The less air in the Dyna Disc the harder the balance challenge will be. Starting by standing and increase difficulty by hopping on the same leg, then hopping and landing on the other leg. Take it to the floor and sit on the Dyna Disc for an express core workout. You'll feel your abdominal and oblique (side) muscles working at the same time while you challenge your middle balance by lifting your legs off the floor.
Use caution on the exercise ball. Start on your bottom, lift your feet off the floor and explore the balance work from there. Once you're feeling comfortable move to your knees. Again, have a wall near by. Start with your hands on the ball to steady yourself, then work on coming upright with your upper body. After much dedication to ball balance grab a helper and attempt to stand on the ball. Only with supervision is this challenge attemptable.
With a friend steadying the ball and you steadying yourself on the wall, work your way up from your knees to standing. You'll feel your entire bodies fast-twitch muscles kicking in to aid in the balance. The best ski racers in the world take it another step by performing weighted squats. We don't recommend it. Stay in your comfort zone, and have fun with the challenge whether your balance is excellent or needs work.
New to the balance challenge is slacklining: Another activity for overachieving athletes. Make this a goal to work towards. Just don't jump right onto the rope.
Enough exercises for at home-let's take the challenge to the slopes. Working on our balance in ski boots is a little more complex, but just as much or more difficult none-the-less. Blair says we need to transfer our at-home balance to our on-snow balance to capitalize on the work we've done to improve our skiing stance and ability.
Begin by taking a minute to explore the fore and aft stance once clicked into our skis. Flex the boots, wiggle the toes, and rock the feet from side to side, Blair explains. Performing one-legged standing drills on snow becomes an increased challenge with the weight of skis and boots on your feet. Stand on a flat surface and focus again on bending the knee and letting the ankle do the balance work. Increase the challenge with single-leg hops and then alternating hops. Try the same drills while zigzagging your way down the bunny hill.
There is no set way to improve your balance, Blair concludes. "Be creative," he says. "Only you know where your weaknesses are, so focus on those areas to challenge yourself. Going out of your comfort zone is the only way to you can improve."
More information: Slackline.