Balance Training for Skiing


DRYLAND balance training

Moving on. ATHLETIC STANCE we learned the principles of good stance. In TURN SHAPE we learned to use leg steering to control and modify our turn shape, when and as desired. Now in BALANCE TRAINING we'll get our first taste of balance skill training.

Of all the skills sets involved in skiing, I place supreme importance on balance. Good balance skills not only allow us to remain upright when all rules of physics dictate we should not, they allow execution of all the other skills from a position that affords us the most opportunity for success. It also lets us manipulate our state of balance away from ideal to achieve situational benefits. Without good balance skills, everything we try to do on our skis will be unnecessarily more challenging.

I teach balance a little different than some. I do not shoot for learning to ski in the ideal state as a singular goal. Learning ideal is good, and important, but it's only one step in the process of realizing your potential as a skier. Focusing only on ideal does not prepare a skier for those situations when ideal slips away. It does not provide skiers with the confidence of knowing they can continue to perform when such slips occur. Such confidence affords the courage to try new skills, or ski more difficult terrain, where slipping out of ideal is more likely to occur. And finally, ideal balance is not what is needed to exploit all the inherent opportunities for fun and performance our sport carries.

So what the heck is IDEAL balance, anyway? Ideal balance is a way of standing on our skis that requires the least muscular involvement to remain upright. It allows us to use the magnificent balancing capabilities of the foot to their fullest. It provides the best opportunity to react and execute athletically. Balance is broken into two categories; 1) FORE/AFT, which refers to how weight is distributed front to back, along the base of our feet. And 2) LATERAL, which refers to what percentage of weight we have on each foot.

In the fore/aft plane, ideal is a state that distributes pressure across the entire foot, with weight on both the balls of the foot and the heel. Our foot is a wondrous balancing instrument. It's made to, when weighted properly, compress into a amazingly stable platform. For that stable platform to be formed, weight must be applied across the entire fore/aft base of the foot.

Ideal fore/aft balance also involves not overloading the front or the back of the ski boot cuff. When a skier leans against the front or back of the boot, another point enters the platform upon which he/she is trying to balance. This deteriorates the foots potential to provide balance, while requiring additional muscle involvement to prevent our body from collapsing over the front or back of the boot.

Now let's talk about lateral balance. Ideal lateral balance is usually characterized by having the majority of ones weight concentrated on the outside ski. There are a couple reasons for that. First, during a well executed ski turn the outside foot will try to pronate, which directs pressure to the inside edge of the outside ski. That's exactly what we want. Second, as we tip into a turn our inside leg needs to flex/bend/shorten more than the outside leg to allow the outside ski to stay pressured on the snow. The more flexed a leg becomes, the less able it is to resist the G forces produced by a ski turn. Obviously, we want to direct the bulk of those G forces to our straighter/stronger outside leg and foot.

So, now that we have an understanding of what ideal is, how do we get there? How do we know if we're there? How do we learn to move away from ideal when we want to? How do we develop the skills to perform in less than ideal states? And why would we want to? All good questions. All have good answers.

The first step in coming to learn the above answers is developing sensory awareness. We need to know what state of balance we're in before we can manage it. For that we need to develop a keen sense of pressure/load awareness in the base of our feet, and our legs. That awareness will tell us precisely how weight is distributed across the base of our foot/feet. It will tell us if we have more pressure on the balls of our feet or our heels. It will tell us how much of our total turn intensified weight is being assigned to each foot. It will allow us to sense if/when/how our state of balance changes during the course of a turn. It will allow us to dictate that change whenever and however we desire.

A few simple drills, both off and on the snow, can get you started in developing that sensory awareness. Start at home by standing up in bare or stocking feet. Assume the stacked stance you learned in ATHLETIC STANCE. Now, by slowly flexing forward and back at only the ankles, feel the pressure distribution across the bottom of your feet change. Really focus your total attention on the sensations you feel on the bottom of your feet as you do this. Notice how a very minor articulation in your ankles has a dramatic affect on the pressure distribution happening along the base of your feet. This demonstrates how acute the movements involved in balance management really are, and therefore how keen our sensory awareness needs to be to control it.

Now introduce some lateral balance awareness. Slowly shift your weight side to side, from foot to foot. Do it slowly so you can feel it gradually shift, little by little, back and forth from foot to foot. Notice what you're doing to make that shift happen? Focus your attention on your pelvis. You're shifting it left and right to manage your lateral state of balance. What you're actually doing is intuitively managing your lateral balance by moving your Center of Mass, and it shows up in the pelvis movement you notice. Store that tidbit of knowledge,,, we'll be using it later.

Next, combine lateral and fore/aft management. In the manner we described, try slowly shifting your weight fore/aft while in different states of lateral balance. Remember to focus in on the sensory feedback being provided by the base of your foot. Later, experiment with simultaneous lateral and fore/aft shifting, picking up on both sensory awarenesses at once.

Finally, get your skis and boots out of the garage/closet. Dust them off so non skiing spouseys don't bitch about dirtying the carpet. Put on your boots and click into your bindings. Do the same drills as above. Notice how the forward pitch built into a ski boot slightly changes your stacked stance. Try to keep it as stacked as you can. Key is to not be levered against the front or back of the boot with your shin or calf. Fore/aft shifting should be done with out levering leg against boot cuff. Move back and forth between aft, ideal, and fore. Try slightly lifting your heels up without levering leg on boot cuff. Try lifting balls of feet doing the same.

Now DO lever leg against boot cuff. Keep flexing forward in the ankle until you feel your shin come in solid contact with the front of your boot. Continue ankle flexing forward and feel the boot top bend. You have now added your shin and ski boot to your balance platform, further deteriorating your through-the-foot ideal balance. Your lower leg is now part of your balance platform, and accentuated muscle activity is recruited to keep you upright. Feel it? Try holding that position for 10 minutes and see how you feel in the morning. If not for the added platform provided by the ski, you would not be able to even remain standing.

Ok, reverse. Reverse your ankle flexing (called extending) until your levered strongly against the back of your boot with your calf. You just passed through ideal balance, and out again. From muscle/stance efficiency,,, to muscle intensity. From through-the-foot balance, to a boot/leg/foot platform. Both these levered balance states, while lacking in pure efficiency, do have situational uses in skiing, and we will be learning to use them when we get on snow. I'll explain their appropriate situational usages then.

These BALANCE TRAINING in-house exercises serve as a stepping stone to developing balance skills and sensory awareness on snow, which we will delve straight into in BALANCE DRILLS.


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