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Learning balance

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
Can balance be learned? I've been hearing and reading the term "proprioception" - did I spell that correctly? In discussing the subject, I've had a few intresting experiences.

First, I balance on one foot - no real problem. Next, I TRY to do the same thing with my eyes closed, and WOW! That is truly something else! It can be done, but, in my case, with much greater effort and difficulty, and usually not for as long as with my eyes open. I'd like to read an explanation of this phenomenon and discuss it in some detail. Obviously, for me, vision contributes enormously to the ACT OF BALANCING. And without the vision, can other skills be learned and practiced to improve that ACT OF BALANCING without the contribution of vision?

Second, at the gym, the "other Lisa" ["Lisahardt" on this web site] who works there as a fitness instructor showed me these sort of flat, circular cushions about eight inches in diameter. Standing and balancing on them is not easy, and balancing on them while doing deep knee bends uses up so much of my muscles that I can only do so many before I fall out of balance.

These experiences are telling me that balancing is a physical ACT which involves certain SKILLS, as much as edging and pressuring skis does.

So, can the act of balancing be learned and improved? And do some people lack the full set of "balance neurons" needed to do that learning?
post #2 of 21
Very, very complex topic! First, I hope Disski gets to see this thread, for she has a pretty unique disability. I don't want to explain it for her, but basically she has no proprioception.

So you might say that she lacks the "balance neurons" as you say. But think about this. She rarely falls when she skis, and she rollerblades in the off season.

I have a suspicion about how this is possible. I need to say straight out that there is no science involved in this thought pattern at all, and reserve the right to be completely incorrect. But my guess is, that her transverse abdominal muscle as well as her other internal stabilizers work over time, in the same way a blind person may have superior hearing.

There are many reasons that people have poor balance. The first one is lack of proprioception in the ankles. In most cases, this happens if someone frequently sprains the same ankle. And the reason someone frequently sprains the same ankle is because with each sprain, they lose more proprioception. And so on, and so on, and scooby dooby dooby.

But to complicate matters more, why did the ankle get sprained in the first place? Often, it is due to some sort of muscle imbalance in the body. As a matter of fact, many of the problems with dynamic balance have to do with muscle imbalances or misalignment.

In the other thread snowdancer mentioned hand position. If the hand position is incorrect, chances are the skier will have poor dynamic balance. But why do they keep going into the same incorrect hand position? Chances are there is a misalignment of the scapula, a muscular imbalance between pectoral and rhomboids, a lordodic lumbar region, etc., etc.

Anyone getting dizzy yet???

So in answer to your question, balance can be improved with practice. But its not only about balance exercise, its also about correcting muscular imbalance and postural misalignment.

BTW, the little round things are called dyna discs, one of the most cost effective conditioning tools for skiing. The Health and fitness section has a thread with various dyna disc exercises.
post #3 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by Lisamarie:
But its not only about balance exercise, its also about correcting muscular imbalance and postural misalignment.
OK, what ABOUT correcting muscular imbalance and postural msialignment? How do you find out if you have it, and what do you do to make it better?

Scooby dooby dooby

[ September 14, 2002, 06:06 PM: Message edited by: oboe ]
post #4 of 21
AH, GRASSHOPPER... For that you need a trainer to make an assesment. This used to be the realm of the Physical Therapist, but more and more fitness professionals are learning how to do postural assesments. We were doing them all day today at my Pilates workshop.

This was one of the things I wanted to cover in my workshop in Utah. a BRIEF psotural assesment, and how misalignment can relate to skiing skills.

Also, for Sugarbush, kee tov and I may do a few things!
post #5 of 21
Thread Starter 
oooohhh. . . . does MarkXS know about that?
post #6 of 21
Quote:
Originally posted by Lisamarie:
...First, I hope Disski gets to see this thread, for she has a pretty unique disability. I don't want to explain it for her, but basically she has no proprioception.
So you might say that she lacks the "balance neurons" as you say.
Yep I'm here - thanks LM & that is pretty much it...
For anyone more curious - get a copy of "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" & read the chapter "the Disembodied Lady"

Quote:
Originally posted by Lisamarie:
But think about this. She rarely falls when she skis, and she rollerblades in the off season.
Ummm - starting to fall a little more now - my Falls Creek instructor thinks about 1 fall per run would be 'nice'. he says my technique is quite strong enough for the terrain we ski - so he wants me to be 'pushing myself' He feels 1 fall per run would indicate being at the limit of my ability - 2 would indicate skiing outside it.Thatis a no no!

Also one reason I don't fall much is that I EXPECT to fall/lose control etc - so I tend to ski well within myself to allow for any loss of control. If I am unsure about ANYTHING I will quite naturally find ANY method possible to lose speed. Including planting rear on snow if it feels like the safest solution.

Quote:
Originally posted by Lisamarie:
I have a suspicion about how this is possible. I need to say straight out that there is no science involved in this thought pattern at all, and reserve the right to be completely incorrect. But my guess is, that her transverse abdominal muscle as well as her other internal stabilizers work over time, in the same way a blind person may have superior hearing.
Wouldn't be surprised - I always seemed to confound the gym instructors with my ability to do tasks such as flys & dumbell press on a physio ball - while being almost incapable of doing a quad stretch - because I found standing on 1 leg tooo tricky. I KNOW I am more aware/more sensitive to sensory input.

Quote:
Originally posted by Lisamarie:
So in answer to your question, balance can be improved with practice. But its not only about balance exercise, its also about correcting muscular imbalance and postural misalignment.

Yep - I am MUCH improved on ability at 20 - just due to YEARS of working on same in the gym/at home.
For those of you who are actually ABLE to do anything vaguely approximating standing on 1 leg without working your guts out at it - get of your butts & work harder at the ski specific stuff & ski better!
post #7 of 21
Thread Starter 
Well, apparently, disski has given us an answer - it IS possible to learn balance, a critical act in skiing. Now my appetite is whetted, and I want more!
post #8 of 21
So I guess you will now be reading the Health and Fitness Forum posts, eh?

There is, of course, a second step involved in this. Once your balance improves, its important to BELIEVE it has improved. If you've had issues of it your entire life, no matter how much you improve, there is a tendency to perpetually view yourself as a "KLUTZ", and stay in your comfort zone.

My classic funny story about this happened at the Bears trip to Fernie. I was talking to Mrs. Skicrazy, and she was commenting on my rather "conservtive" skiing style. All of a sudden some drugged out boarder bangs in to me full force.

He falls down, I stay standing. Mrs Skicrazy yells out "SORRY DUDE!" and we both get thye heck out, lest we somehow get blamed for this. We are laughing are butts off, and she yells out, "DAMN, if you have that much balance, just point the "bleepin" things down the hill and GO!!!!"
post #9 of 21
Since dynamic balance is a primary piece of building a good foundation to skiing can we now accept dynamic balance as a skill required in skiing? Not to zzzz everyone out but Webster’s Collegiate defines skill b; dexterity or coordination esp. in the execution of learned physical tasks. While the inner ear senses balance and preproiceptors (tiny nerve fibers) sensory can be heightened to “feel” dynamic balance it does appear dynamic balance in skiing is truly a skill! In fact we might call it a motor skill.

Have a GREAT day! [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]

JC
post #10 of 21
Proprioception might be defined as the awareness of body position and movement, or kinaesthetic awareness, or a sense of joint position. Proprioception integrates all the sensory systems including feedback from muscles tendons and joints, the visual system, touch and pressure, and the vestibular system.

Balance is more commonly either vestibular or visual in origin. Thus, inner ear infections or lack of visual acuity can cause imbalance. For people who are very visually focused, visual acuity is more important than for those less visually focused. Usually, men use visual acuity to aid balance more than women – men are, generally more visually stimulated than women. So, men should work on blind balance training more than women, at least in theory.

Skiing is a true proprioception sport. In skiing proprioception is not just important it can be life critical. When skiing the super steeps, 45+ degree slopes, the skier must have the ability to understand exactly how his body is positioned with respect to the steep slope, gravity, snow, whether the snow is sliding against itself or not, etc. The skier must also understand exactly how his body is positioned joint upon joint and exert precise muscular tension to contain his body in the very small “safe” balance area. The skier must also have a precise understanding of how his equipment will react to his muscular input and how the equipment interacts with his body, really how the boot/foot react together.

All of this information comes from disparate neural sensors. For example, forward pressure on the boot tongue, ball of the foot or heal of the foot pressure, vestibular balance, visual balance, arm extension to pole plant, “gut sensations” of motion (usually in snow sliding on snow situations), head cant and inclination all mix in the brain to provide a single instantaneous understanding of precise position and the exact muscle tension necessary the ski the slope.

Do skiers need to focus on proprioceptive conditioning? Yes, although if you are skiing the intermediate terrain it is less important than if you are skiing the steeps, bumps, or racing. Good training will dramatically reduce joint injuries, make skiing easier, and make many daily activities easier and more efficient. In another thread, there was a long discussion about martial arts training and its positive affect on skiing. I suspect that it is the proprioceptive component, as much as anything that accounts for this positive affect.

This is the primary reason that it takes so long to become a good skier. It also requires practice and experience to permit the brain to interpret the neural information. I am always amazed that we as humans are even capable of performing these internal calculations.

Now to answer oboe’s question: yes, balance (really proprioception) is learned. Most of us stop learning this skill/art by the middle of our twenties, when we stop learning new skills. A few continue to learn new skills but rely on their previously learned proprioception skills. Even fewer add to and expand their skills. I think this accounts for the large proportion of great skiers who started very early in life and the fact that very few great skiers started after age twenty.

So, how can you improve your proprioception? 1. Use a variety of balance trainers – everything from Bongo Boards to pogo sticks to skateboards to roller blades. 2. Train daily or more often. This is like learning a new language. If you are two it is easy. If you are forty-two it is really hard – work at it. 3. Once you are proficient at the various trainers, try something different. Go blind folded, and then try really loud music, then both. Don’t be surprised if it becomes difficult all over again. 4. Lastly, the only real training is to ski, as much as possible.

Bonus point: Good boot fitting is critical since even the most balanced athlete will have problems if her foot slops around in the boot.

Why does everything I write sound like a damn lecture? Class dismissed!

Mark
post #11 of 21
Not a lecture but an incredibly fabulous post, worthy of the highest hosanahs! [img]smile.gif[/img]

The other thing about training for balance and proprioception, is that you need to keep progressing. If you get to a point where a certain exercise that used to be challenging becomes too easy, it is no longer helping your balance and proprioception.

Example: One of my favorite exercises is a hamstring curl by the cable machine, lying prone on the stability ball. This used to be scary. Now I can do it eyes closed and carry on a conversation while doing it.

I recently started putting the stability ball on the core board. Back to the yikes zone!
post #12 of 21
[quote]Originally posted by Maddog1959:
Do skiers need to focus on proprioceptive conditioning? Yes, although if you are skiing the intermediate terrain it is less important than if you are skiing the steeps, bumps, or racing. Good training will dramatically reduce joint injuries, make skiing easier, and make many daily activities easier and more efficient.QUOTE]

Good post Maddog1959:
As an instructor I must say we need to be careful of how we define levels of need. While the steeps may be where one skiers needs to concentrate on improvement of balance the flats may be where other skiers need to concentrate on improvement of dynamic balance. The “eye of the beholder” as they say. Alas we have come full circle. Dynamic balance is a motor skill we ALL need to improve at any level. I am sure, because I believe LM and I have discussed, a simple way to improve DB is to start on one foot and raise the other, now close an eye, then both, then use a ½ round Styrofoam log, both feet aligned on the flat side, then flip and stand on the round side, then take off your shoes and use socks only, then feet aligned back to back, then close the eye, then bounce a ball at a trampoline and catch it etc. with both feet on the log, then lift front foot, then lift back foot. Please be careful while doing these exercises. Make up combinations of the above. I use some of these exercises with my upper level skiers with and without skis.

Keep it fun and safe but it is very important to develop DYNAMIC balance.

Have a GREAT day!
JC
post #13 of 21
Thread Starter 
I've learned more about this in the past two weeks from you guys than I've learned in my previous sixty years - HOly $h#t!

Here's a weird thing, but telling: I can stand on one foot for a very long time - almost forever - uh, with my eyes open. Try it with eyes closed, and look out! I CAN do it, but it takes a LOT more work and moving around. Yes, it would be great to learn to do this with eyes closed. However, even when I learn to do so [and I shall, I shall], it still shows the value and power of vision - which is a whole 'nother subject.

Vision and visualization - a thread coming soon to a website near YOU!

But hey, Lisamarie, maddog [great moniker for a lawyer], John Cole - and of COURSE, disski, this has been a treat!

You know what's funny? I'm FAR more likely to fall down on the flats than on the steeps - GO FIGURE!

[ September 19, 2002, 06:26 PM: Message edited by: oboe ]
post #14 of 21
Quote:
Originally posted by oboe:
You know what's funny? I'm FAR more likely to fall down on the flats than on the steeps - GO FIGURE!
Hey oboe so is everyone else so don't feel alone on that one!

With your eyes closed you will feel a wobble in your ankle. Why? You are starting to train your nerve fibers. (Notice I can’t spell either!) Give it some time but it will happen, they will become trained. Make sure you are near a desk or chair where you can “touch” to re-balance and also train both sides of your body. NO CHEATING EYES CLOSED! Next try standing on a fluffy pillow with one foot. It WILL come. Keep us posted on your progress, it will really encourage everyone else to work on this to, and make sure you LAUGH once in a while! Life is too short to take it serious.

Have a GREAT day!

JC
post #15 of 21
Thread Starter 
uh, seriousLY, John Cole - seriousLY. It's an adverb, modifying the verb "to take".
post #16 of 21
Quote:
Originally posted by oboe:
uh, seriousLY, John Cole - seriousLY. It's an adverb, modifying the verb "to take".
Shucks I stole it from someone. TJ I think. I thought I was out of those da...... classes or was it glasses. Thanks for the modification. Maybe it was the "RED" I just finished!

Have a Great day (anyway)

JC
post #17 of 21
" For people who are very visually focused, visual acuity is more important than for those less visually focused."

Now that's interesting. As a kid, I had a gazillion balance issues. I was also horrific in any sort of throwing sports. I used to think it was hand eye coordination. But about 20 years ago, I wnet to a sportsmedicne conference that featured Dr. Robert Arnot {who for some odd reason has now become some sort of news correspondent}
It turns out I have some issues with binocular vision.

Recently, the fitness industry has taken an interest in medicine ball training. Many of the exercises involve catching the ball, sometimes while standing on some sort of crazy balance toy. At first, there was no way I would particpate. But a few years of balance training, combined with winter skiing, and Voila! I had very little trouble with it.
post #18 of 21
Oboe,

You said "You know what's funny? I'm FAR more likely to fall down on the flats than on the steeps - GO FIGURE!". Another thread talks about speed and instruction. Maybe your speed is covering up your balance issue?

For me, haven't been able to do anything physical for about 3 weeks...issue of time in my life. Prior to this time I have been able to balance one-footed on dynadisks and toss objects. Yesterday, had problems standing one-footed with eyes closed.

I know I will relearn, but it is a pity that you lose so much. Later when I have time, I will look through my notes from a USSA meeting...something to do with the amount of muscle loss/muscle coordination lost over a period of inactivity.

As said somewhere else, you have to keep practicing at more challenging levels.

There is snow in the air!!!
post #19 of 21
good topic Oboe, When I first began learning Tia Chi we would practice first with eyes open then attempt to move through the patterns with eyes closed...much tougher. Try not only standing but doing an 88 with your eyes closed, brings new meaning to 'awareness'. [img]smile.gif[/img]
It's all fun so enjoy.
Raymond

ps
looking forward to Lisa's class
post #20 of 21
Quote:
Originally posted by John Cole:
</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by oboe:
You know what's funny? I'm FAR more likely to fall down on the flats than on the steeps - GO FIGURE!
Hey oboe so is everyone else so don't feel alone on that one!</font>[/quote]Too true! But the answer to this apparent conundrum is actually pretty simple, and can be analogized to auto accidents.

Where and when are most people involved in auto accidents? Most accidents occur within 3 miles of home and on a very familiar trip such as grocery shopping or driving to work. Why? Because we are so familiar with the activity we can do it "with our eyes closed." The problem quite simply is we let our attention wander and BANG we have the accident, because we really can't do it with our eyes closed.

Skiing the flats is easer than skiing highly challenging terrain but still requires our undivided attention. When we divert our attention that little depression or bump reaches out to grab us and because we are skiing the "easy stuff" we are not ready. Our stance is too tall or we are not centered, and the result is a fall. No amount of balance training will cure this problem although it will help the problem. All that is needed is to focus your attention on the issue at hand. Worry about the bills later, this is time to ski!!!

Mark
post #21 of 21
There is also a neurological basis for this. I discovered it when I first learned the core board. The trainer wanted us to stand on one leg on the board. Being someone who could never get the hang of that Yoga "tree" thingie, I thought "yeah, right, can't do that on stable ground, but you want me to try it on a wobbly thing".

But it was actually easier! What hapeens is, your body's stabilizers generally become more active when they are needed the most. So on a steep slope, your core musculature, adductors and other stabilizers go into overdrive. Once you are on easier terrain, they may relax somewhat.

Unfortunately, they sometimes relax too much.

Here are some things for everyone to think about. If good skiing involves your center of gravity being over your base of support, how do you think a chronic postural misalignment will effect your ability to make this happen? Given that a misalignment in one part of the body will effect the whole kinetic chain, what will happen if:

Someone holds their head too far foward
They hold their head too far back
They tend to "pop' their ribs foward, military style
They are kyphotic {round shouldered}
They are lordotic {sway backed}
Their knees hyperextend [lock]

Just a few too start with! [img]smile.gif[/img]
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