As an ex-bike racer, my balance wasn’t very good for nordic skiing. At first, I was unable to stand on one foot for any period of time, much less glide a ski for any distance. I spent a lot of time on the snow — literally — from falling over. So I made it a point to improve my balance.
Functional balance is comprised of several parts: core strength, muscle memory, proprioception, inner ear and visual systems. There are more accurate physiological defintions, but this will suffice for the purposes of this article.
By far, the most effective tool for improving my balance has been a wobble board.
I use the 16″ Fitter First wobble board. This one is solid wood and has adjustable angles. There are other, less expensive options.
It’s taken me a few years to master it but it has paid of tremendously in my comfort and efficiency on skis.
The first drills are quite simple. Stand on the wobble board, one leg at a time, and balance on it as long as possible. Your leg will get tired very quickly, in particular all the stabilizing muscles. This will help improve your muscle strength. When one leg gets tired, switch.
You will also find that the board will want to bottom out and you will have concentrate to keep it level. You will spend a lot of time overcorrecting. Gradually, this will become easier as your proprioception and muscle memory improve.
Do this for 30 minutes to an hour, every day if possible. I’d watch a sitcom or two, which makes it a little tougher because your eyes are focusing on a moving target. If that’s too hard, focus on a fixed spot. Starting out on carpet as opposed to a hard floor will make things easier, too.
Once you can stand on the wobble board for more than a few minutes, you can step things up. If you have an adjustable board, you can raise the angle, which will give you less of a chance to recover your balance. You can also move it to a harder surface. The biggest thing to focus on for this period is duration. Extend the amount of time you can stand on one leg as you increase the difficulty. This will continue to build muscle memory and further strengthen your supporting muscles.
After a while, just standing on the board for 10 or 15 minutes at a time will become a little boring. Adding dynamic movement will keep things interesting.
Here are a few things you can try:
- Wave your arms around while trying to maintain balance.
- Raise and lower a medicine ball from your waist to over your head. The weight of the med ball will affect your center of gravity and make it tougher.
- Close your eyes. Once a visual reference is gone, you’ll have to rely on your vestibular system and proprioception.
- One-legged squats. You can also do the classic knee-pop or skate compressions.
- V2 technique simulation incorporating arm swing and knee pop.
- Playing a musical instrument — in my case, a ukulele. The dexterity and concentration required to play will make the balance even more second nature.