July 31, 2023

static balance and proprioception training basics

Balance leads to proprioception and precise ski technique

Agility, balance and coordination are considered to be the ABC's of Proprioception. Together they make up the body's spacial awareness to the surrounding environment and the ability to react accurately and precisely. However the order to practice them is actually quite important and should be respected as balance first, coordination and then agility. It is much easier to remember them as ABC's so they are often referred to in this way. Similar to the principles taught in skiing, balance is the foundation and essential to effectively building coordination and agility with the intent to improve proprioception. Kids who master confidence with balance exercises early in life often find athletics more natural and simple. Women often require more precise technique. This is based on the fact that they typically have a lower muscle mass and are unable to muscle their way through an activity, their technique has to be more precise and accurate to achieve the task. I know several skiers 65 and over that are much more in tuned athletes than those half their age. However, due to the rate of decreasing efficiency seniors often have more barriers from accumulated age with the eyes, ears and muscles which makes balance training a priority.

Balance

The body's ability to maintain an equilibrium by controlling the body's centre of gravity over its base of support.

Balance is important. From sitting on a chairlift, standing at the top, or when we are charging down a run whether it be monster moguls or a pristine groomer. Just like when teaching skiing, it makes sense to introduce and check in with our balance in a basic static way before transitioning it to a dynamic moving pattern challenge. 

Balance Exercises

Everyone can benefit from balance exercises. By making it a priority earlier in life you will prevent injuries and likely find yourself enjoying skiing a whole bunch more. Plus the more it is maintained, the less you will likely lose later in life. It's always good to work on balance. Mid summer is perhaps the best time of year for a skier to emphasize these drills. Ski season is a memory for most and the idea of snowflakes while burning up in the hot summer sun is tantalizing. Starting now gives plenty of time to progress and build while being in no rush before that first chairlift spins. The better your balance, the more effortless it will be to tango smoothly with those skis in the intended fashion. Plus prevent injury from trying to regain balance once drastically lost. 

Building a foundation of balance

Start barefoot in the corner of a room with a firm floor surface, tile, concrete, or hardwood etc. to maximize balance. Standing between walls helps your body relax. Starting with poles as you begin adds another fail safe to avoid injury should you lose your balance. Lift the poles off the ground during the balance exercise. As confidence builds do the exercise without poles in hand. 

Step One: Narrow stance

Feet as narrow as possible, close eyes, then lift poles. If there is extreme discomfort and instability with this phase, it would be best to contact professional assistance to build a plan to help you maximize your balance safely.

Dryland stationary balance is the beginning before adding balance with movement like on skis for the fore and aft balance. 


narrow stance. standing balance test.

STEP ONE: Set up for narrow stance balance

balance test. senior. one foot. stork test.

STEP TWO: Stork stance, one foot balance


Step Two: One foot

Starting from a relaxed standing position with feet stacked under your pelvis, lift one leg and maintain balance.

Skiing is actually an open chain movement as our feet are not fixed to the snow but sliding on it. The Stork Turn done well is a dynamic balance exercise as opposed a static one.


Balance test. Senior. narrow stance.

STEP THREE: Tandem Stance



Step Three: Tandem stance

Standing heel to toe. Lift poles and remain standing. Beware this is challenging for most individuals regardless of the age. Try the other foot. For a challenge close your eyes.


Now it truly begins...

These 3 static balance steps are extremely important and crucial to the development of balance for athletes of all genders and ages. It is imperative to remember once you are relaxed and in the zone that it is meant to be a challenge. Often when people envision balance exercise they picture a beautifully still yoga pose being held with not even a breath of movement. As beautiful as that is, it is SOOO refined and dialled in. As skiers our objective is to make the larger muscle groups work in our balancing training as well.

In order to improve, you must be outside of your comfort zone. This applies to any sport technique or also with physical training, where to improve cardiovascularly you maintain an increase in heart rate. To meet the objective of improving balance the goal is to train slightly out of balance in a careful environment to offer our brains and bodies something to push them to recalibrate and dial in. 

The higher the consequence of falling the lower the risk factor should be. Having said that, if your not managing osteoporosis or a deliberate reason to have extreme caution, it is ideal to practice balance training between about a 4-8 on this Rate of Perceived Stability Scale. 


Scale to score perception of stability.Rate of Perceived Stability

Next Steps

The terrain the balance stance is performed on makes a massive difference. Once the initial phases have become comfortable the next step in training is varying the stability of the surface. The snow isn't always hero snow! Continuing on with the goal of remaining as stationary as possible...

Carpet

For some this makes a massive difference in stability immediately. 

Varied Material 

A pillow, bunched up blanket, or a sweater works great to throw in some variable factors to a firm platform underneath

Reactive 

Standing on a surface that forces you to react to maintain your steady stance on it... balance board, trampoline, paddle board...

But wait... Skiers use their arms too!

Even though the arms and poles seem significantly less relevant than the legs, it's amazing how much it can change a skier's style to remove their poles. The majority of the turn shape, espeically in advanced parallel turns we are carrying our poles, an open chain movement with our arms. But that pole plant is a closed chain movement, even though it is almost instantaneous.  

Open Chain Proprioception

Again, a bit repetitive, but hey it's important, balance is still the first step here before adding in coordination and agility. For skiers,  holding our arms in the ideal location can be challenging. Especially after an injury or to create a new habit. 

Check out Ski Nerd's Blogs with this concept out on the hill while skiing or in the summer while on a ski simulator. 

Step One: Skier Stance

How: Stand barefoot on firm flat ground. Hold a pole in front of you resting against your thighs. Move into your ski stance and hold for 30 seconds. This activates the back and shoulders to be in a strong and active position. Close your eyes and lift the broom to the level your arms would naturally rest while skiing and hold for about 30 seconds. Stay relaxed in the shoulders, don't let them creep up towards your neck. 

Why?: It's easy to forget how much we actually use our shoulders and core during skiing. This exercise preps us to hold our arms with our shoulders actively engaged and ready to ski down the hill. It is especially beneficial for those recovering from shoulder injuries. 

Step Two: Return to Balanced Skier Stance

Resume your skier stance from step one. This time keep your eyes open. Have a helper gently push your hand while you attempt to hold it steady and return to balance. 

Step Three: Reactive Skier Stance

Resume the skier stance. Close your eyes. Have a helper nudge and bump your arm from multiple directions. The goal is to hold that arm position as steady as possible..

Closed Chain Proprioception

Again, a bit repetitive, but hey it's important, balance is still the first step here before adding in coordination and agility. Although most of skiing is. open chain movements for the arms. 

Step One: Light Static Pole Plant

Literally standing and practicing the pole plant position. Begin by putting minimal weight on the pole. Practice the relevant body position for short radius, advanced parallel and intermediate parallel.

Step Two: Heavy Static Pole Plant

Same game, actually load relevant weight on it loading the muscles like you would be at the completion of a hockey stop on skis. Keep in mind whether you are returning from injury or simply practicing balance. 

Dynamic Balance

Walking before running is recommended. But walking and then assuming that's the same thing as running is foolish. For some reason balance is often trained in a static stance, but it's often overlooked to graduate to training balance in a dynamic motion. Although static balance is a building block, it is dynamic balance that allows fluidity and coordination of forces during skiing. This does not mean trying to stay standing on an unstable surface. It means moving through a range of motion while on a terrain that is challenging balance. Adding this in can add to that dynamic movement during skiing and help skiers to get rid of those rapid movements to a stuck position. Stay tuned for the ABC's of Proprioception Part two where we will dive into training the coordination aspect of proprioception. And of course part three, the agility component.

Physical Components of Balance

The eyes, ears and proprioceptors are the 3 main contributors that are part of the systems affecting balance. These two systems work together to decipher whether it is you or the environment that is in fact in motion. 

Oculomotor System

We often forget how much vision helps to provide feedback for our balance. It's amazing how quickly we reminder in the midst of a whiteout.  The Oculomotor system is responsible for calibrating your position in space from the visual cues of the surroundings. It is important for freestyle athletes doing inverts or rotations to learn to disregard the visual input to avoid getting dizzy. 

This system communicates static and motion with the CNS from it's position in the inner ear. Drafting feedback from 3 different planes, 3 semicircular canals within the inner ear detect change in position and act accordingly. This certainly sounds useful for a foggy or big POW POW day eh. There are two sacs in the inner ear, the saccule and the utricle that are impacted by gravity. The saccule is in charge of managing equilibrium aka that sweet spot of balance most efficient to keep the skis facing the snow. The duty of the utricle is to sense head motion forward or backward. The vestibulo-ocular reflex in the inner ear lets the eyes stay still when the body is in motion. 

Skier STOKE!!! 

Building a proper foundation is EPIC. But sometimes it doesn't feel so epic in the process. It can be handy to have a crew to hold you accountable! Join the conversation in the SkierLab Community to help you stay accountable and on your game. Check out some of these other links!  

Plus so many more!!! Cheers to the ski season! It never really ends! 

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About the author 

Jessi Morris

Ski bum by day, Athletic Therapist by night, life is better in the mountains, that's why I hardly ever leave. I live full time in Bear Lodge on Mount Washington where I have my own clinic set up for injury prevention, injury management, and skier specific strength. I ski because I love it. Refining technique keeps me on my toes. Plus, it allows me to nerd out on the anatomy, physiology and overall biomechanics of it which is totally my jam! Cheers to new ski buddies and more ski stories! 

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