November 30, 2007
Part 2: Improving Your Balance and Stability
Remember the first time you put on a pair of cross country skis and headed into the snow? Your balance wouldn't get you past a sobriety check. Balancing on a set of skinny skis seems like second nature for any Nordic sport veteran, but maintaining optimal balance in the off-season still requires a fair degree of diligence.
Balance and stability, like flexibility, are very important to maintaining an efficient glide and stride. Remember that icy hill you fractured your tailbone on while inadvertantly attempting a new free-style trick? Better balance would probably have kept you from looking like Bambi on ice. Like stretching for flexibility, working on your balance and stability can help to prevent injury.
Here are a few pre-season conditioning stretches and exercises to give you the stability, balance and coordination you need to become a better skier.
Not only does this exercise develop balance throughout the ankles, knees and hips, but it also is an excellent stretch for those with lower back pain, as it stretches the gluteus (buttocks) and oblique (lower back) muscles. I used this exercise extensively before and after ACL replacement surgery to help restore knee stability, and to help relieve chronic inflamation in my lower back. Begin by resting your right ankle above your left knee. With your arms stretched out in front, slowly bend your left knee into a squat position, keeping your hip rotated so that your lower back is not hunched forward. Be certain that your foot is held flat on the floor. Hold this postion, with your knee bent no more than 90 degrees. Repeat with the other leg.
"Flamingo" Calf Raise
This simple exercise will increase the stability in your ankles and feet. Begin by wrapping one foot behind the opposite knee. With your arms down to your side, slowly raise your heel off of the floor by an inch or two (there is no need to go any higher). Hold and then repeat with other leg. If you are having difficulty balancing for even 3 seconds, stabilize yourself by placing just one finger on a wall. After you are able to hold for 10 seconds, try again without stabilizing against a wall.