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When skiing balance is a vital component that helps us to maintain the correct posture while negotiating different terrain and gradients. It’s an automatic skill we have developed over millions of years, which enables us to instinctively react to situations in our environment. But what exactly is the balance? And do you need it for skiing?
Balance is an instinctive skill we all learn from a young age. It enables us to keep our center of mass over our feet or skis irrespective of the terrain underfoot. Correct balance when skiing creates a good posture, so we can maneuver our skis correctly and control our speed. Training balance and reaction time is easy to incorporate into a preseason fitness program.
Definition of Balance
There are two definitions of balance, one for static balance, where the person is stationary, and the second, for dynamic balance, where the person is constantly moving. The definition of balance is the ability to retain the center of mass above the base of support, whether stationary or moving.
How Does Balance Work?
It would be easy to imagine that balance is somehow located in the legs, as these are the limbs, we use most often to keep steady. However, it is several tiny organs inside your inner ear that govern how we maintain our balance. These organs consist of semi-circular canals that are partly filled with fluid and two separate ones that contain tiny calcium crystals.
As your head moves from side to side, front to back or sideways the fluid and crystals in these organs move very slightly around the canals. The exact movement of the fluid and crystals is picked up by tiny hairs inside the canals, which trigger an electrical signal.
This signal is fed back to the cerebellum, the part of the brain associated with the synchronization of balance and muscles. So, the brain is constantly updated on the exact movements of your head. The brain interprets these movements and makes exact muscle movements in the body to maintain balance.
If you ever take a trip on a ship when the sea is rough, you may feel seasick. The seasickness is caused by the contradictory messages coming from your inner ear and those from your eyes. So, it’s not the sea that is making you feel ill but more your brain’s inability to understand what’s happening.
Why is Balance Important in Skiing?
When skiing we carry out a complex combination of maneuvers. We must continually adjust to the steepness of the terrain, the angle we ski the terrain, as well as react to any minor deformities we ski over.
When on the skis we must also continually adjust our weight distribution from one foot to the other, apply weight to the edges to turn corners, and ensure our shins press inside the front of our boots to keep most of our body weight forward. Combining all these skills at once ensures we stand over the skis in a good position, which enables us to control the skis and how fast we go.
In the event of a fall, the inner ear immediately detects the change in movement and alerts the brain. The brain processes the stream of information and decides which limbs to stimulate to attempt a recovery. From experience, you will know this all happens in microseconds, where sometimes the recovery works and sometimes it doesn’t. Reaction time and balance are trainable skills routinely used by sportsmen and women.
How to improve your balance for skiing?
Most skiers understand the importance of getting fitter before the ski season starts. Skiing is a good aerobic activity, which can burn more than 600 calories per hour a man. Consequently, a lot of skiing fitness preparation concentrates solely on strength and endurance in the legs.
While this will go a long way to improving your stamina and flexibility it won’t do that much for your balance and reaction time. By incorporating these as well you will be able to develop a better sense of how to move your body to adapt to changes as you ski. With this better understanding, you will feel more relaxed when skiing and better able to react to situations as they arise.
It’s often quoted that the brain is a muscle, and you should use it or lose it! It’s certainly true with skiing and there’s always room for improvement. When you master a new technique in skiing the process you used to achieve it gets stored in your memory. Each time you repeat the same technique the memory will become reinforced.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to pick up bad techniques and end up reinforcing those. That’s why it’s so important to use reliable sources of information and coaches, so from the outset, you are reinforcing good practice.
Three simple exercises to develop skiing balance. Make sure you have plenty of free space around where you’re training:
- Stand on one leg with your eyes closed for at least 10 seconds. Notice how your balance soon improves with repetition.
- Stand on a trainer or Bosu ball or firm pillow on one foot for at least 10 seconds. Your foot should wobble less as your balance skill adapts to the surface.
- First, stand on both legs and turn your head completely to the right, then turn it completely to the left. Repeat the exercise but this time standing on just one leg.
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