Really, have you checked your balance lately, and I don’t mean bank balance. There’s an upside to winter’s dark, chilly days: ice skating, skiing and snowboarding. The crisp air and soft, powdery snow (or sheets of smooth ice) provide the perfect mood boost – and a reason to get outside. Plus, the thrill of speeding down the slopes and pirouetting on ice adds a sense of adventure to your workout routine. But since these winter sports make you move in ways your muscles aren’t used to, you often fatigue faster and are at higher risk for injury. Before you hit the slopes or the rink, a few balance exercises will help you glide by and get into gear. However, these are great tips for anyone working on balance in general, not only to avoid falls but to prevent falls, especially with the icy winter we’re experiencing.
Tips from an Expert:
How to Better Your Balance
No matter what winter sport you choose, increasing your balance and improving your range of motion will help you look like a winter pro. Our bodies use three different approaches to find balance: visual field, body contact with the ground and your inner ear.
Visual Feedback improves your sense of orientation and balance. The more stable your view, the easier it is to balance.
Contact with a firm surface gives you a greater sense of balance; the more uneven or unstable the surface, the harder it is to balance on it.
Loop-shaped canals in your inner ear contain fluid and fine hairlike sensors that help you keep your balance. If balance issues stem from the inner ear, you should work with your doctor to determine the cause. Exercise and therapy can help improve many conditions that cause loss of balance due to disruptions in the inner ear.
It is easiest to balance standing still on a firm surface with your eyes open looking at a stationary object. Increase the challenge by standing on 1 foot, closing your eyes, moving to a softer or more uneven surface, change your focus, head or body position.
Minimum Balance Test
Can you stand on 1 foot for 30 seconds on a firm surface with your eyes open and looking at a fixed object? If not, this is where you start and work before strapping on the skis or skates. Practice makes perfect, so work on this often throughout your day.
Ready to Move Up? 8 Tips That Help:
Here are some ways to progress as your balance improves. Many of these challenges reflect moments where you may lose your balance in winter sports.
1. Stand on one leg with your eyes closed, building this up till you can do it for 30 seconds. (general test for balance when distracted)
2. Stand on one leg with your foot on a pillow, keep your eyes open and build up till you can do this for 30 seconds. (maintaining your balance when the snow shifts under your feet)
3. Stand on one or both legs and looking from side to side. Build the speed while trying to stay stable. (skiing or skating shoulder checks)
4. Standing on one or both legs and with your eyes open, reach out and touch the wall in front of you. As you get more comfortable, you can increase the distance from the wall and reach in different directions. Do not try this with your eyes closed. If you want a more significant challenge, bounce a tennis ball or other small ball off the floor or a wall and catch it while standing on 1 foot.
5. Using masking tape, mark a cross on the floor (+) so there is room for at least one foot in each of the four sections created. Practice stepping from one section to another and holding a 1-foot stance in the new section for at least 10 seconds. To make it harder, increase the bounce in your step until you are jumping to the next section. (stepping over a rut while skiing or skating) Increase your challenge by engaging your eye and mind elsewhere. Bounce a ball with each step, touch your knee/calf, or touch the floor while holding your balance if you find these too easy.
6. Practice walking in a straight line, with feet shoulder-width apart and then moving to heel-toe walking. Make sure to have a steady surface nearby in case you feel yourself starting to lose your balance. Can you do this forwards and backwards? Checking your footprints in the snow is a great way to track your progress.
7. Squats can help improve both balance and lower body strength. Start by doing your squats into and out of a stable chair. Try not to flop down and rise up without using your arms or swinging your torso. Start with a repeat of 5 up/downs and build to 10.
8. Moving to a wall and adding a ball between you increases the challenge. Placing a small ball or towel roll between your legs will ensure you keep your legs steady while going through the exercise (improved ski and skate postures). Closing your eyes, moving your arms or looking about will all make this exercise more challenging but be sure you have the basic squat mastered first.
Introducing Our Expert
There is still plenty of winter out there for the taking. Keeping your balance – makes it fun; build that balance and get out there and enjoy!
If you have any specific concerns or would like personalized questions answered regarding your sense of balance, our expert, Nancy Spence, Certified Athletic Therapist and Osteopathic Manual Practitioner is here for you. Nancy sees her clients out of QuinnRehab in Barrie.
Written By: Jane Laker
Photo Credit: Veronika Kovecses
Let us know if any of these tips helped by leaving us a comment!