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can we have a moment of balance

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
I guess I have found that there are two basic camps on the balance thing.

1. those that believe balance is sompthing that is able to be tought and improved upon.

2. Those that think that balance is a by-product of proper skill blending, and is sompthing you are just born with or not.

Just to claim my camp I sit squarly in the first group. I am convinced that balance is certaly that can be tought. and is sompthing that occupies, Ohhh 90% of my time teaching students.

So I am curious about what others spend their time on when the meter is running.
post #2 of 24
I think that balance can always be inproved and taught, however certain people are naturally more balanced than others to begin with (key being begin with!)
post #3 of 24
I think you can learn to RECOVER balance. What I think actually happens is that you learn to sense imbalance soon enough to make adjustments that let you return to a balanced state. I don't believe even the most gifted stay in balance at all times. What they can do is recover from a greater degree of imbalance.
post #4 of 24
<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Mike B:
I think that balance can always be inproved and taught, however certain people are naturally more balanced than others to begin with (key being begin with!)<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I absolutely agree with that. My youngest cousin(5 years old) has the most shockingly wonderful sense of balance I've ever seen in a child. I've seen him take a running start on rollerblades and grind the rail I made to practice on, and land fakie. It's absolutely astounding. A good friend of mine had pretty mediocre balance to begin with, and now he's quite good at such actions. So I'd say yes, some is inherant, some is learned.
post #5 of 24
Very, very complex topic. There are definitely some things that can be learned. But, as have been said, some people seem to have an inate sense of balance.
Although many factors influence balance, one of the key factors is the transverse abdominal muscle, the deeper layer of muscle that supports the internal organs, and is responsible for, amongst other things, balance and stability.

Although it has never been proven, I have a personal opinion that professional skiers are born with a more active transverse abdominal muscle.

To complicate matters, recent studies have postulated that injuring any part of one side of your body will cause that side of your TVA to be less active. Thus you will have less balance on that side.

We can get really tricky and talk about uneven leg length, etc. And if you've ever sprained an ankle, you may have less proprioception on that foot.

Okay, more next week. Off to a sports training conference in Miami tomorrow.
post #6 of 24
Balance is something that you are born with. Short of changing the middle ear you are capable of a certain amount of balance. You can however learn to channel the balance that you have. So yes balance can be improved through learning.
post #7 of 24
I think that we all posses an inate sense balance that is a combination of inner ear ability and skill at using muscles to move body parts to react to what the inner ear feels.

We can train muscles to be stronger and faster. As I understand we can also train nerve pathways to work better though pratice and repitition.

Not sure if the ability of the inner ear to evaluate equalibrium can be 'trained'. Any experts out there on this?

1. those that believe balance is something that is able to be tought and improved upon.

2. Those that think that balance is a by-product of proper skill blending, and is sompthing you are just born with or not.

I think your question is flawed because half the answer lies in #1 and half in #2.

Balance is the result of the inner ear feeling somthing and muscle movements in reponce to that feeling. Therefore by getting better at moving, we improve balancing through changing the skill blend.

Rember that skills are the results of musculure movements.

Did not mean to knit-pick. I think I understand what you really wanted to ask.
1)Is balance something you have or not, like eyesite.


2) Balance is a skill that can be improved though training

I feel it can be improved.
post #8 of 24
sorry about the spelling. Should have had that cup of coffee first :
post #9 of 24
My experience is that it can be improved if one is made aware of the personal factors {above mentioned} which hinder it. I have not seen that much sucess with balance ecercises per se.
post #10 of 24
balance, balance, everything comes back to balance. All the movements we teach so often come back to the ability to maintain an acceptable range of out of balance. Once outside that range, all muscles are needed to keep the body upright, and are no longer free to perform all the other actions that making skiing so magic.
I totally agree with Kneale, that you can train the body to recover balance. I'd take it one step further, and say that skiers are constantly moving through balance. I liken it the auto pilot on a ship. It uses a range and goes a little too much one way untill it discovers it, then a little too much the other way etc, etc... untill the minor mistakes and corrections take it to the goal. Those mistakes of out of balance one way or the other are greater in less balanced skiers and less noticable in great skiers. Tomba's well trained proprioceptors may tell him he's way out of balance and he compensates back toward balance and we may just see perfect balance because the degree is so small. Another not as well trained skier may have to get way out before recognizing it and working toward recovering. Skiing and I feel life in general is constantly making adjustments to keep us as close to ideal balance as possible for our situation.

PS: as a new poster, I feel like this forum is a bit of a call down lesson style, and it's my turn to go. Since I'm working on a new skill (creating ski understanding though writing) I'm somewhat out of my confort zone and would appreciate feedback in the positive coaching fashion that I'm sure you all use on the hill.

The reason I make a point of this is that as a lurker to this forum, I 've seen some confrontational writing and difficult feedback. Some of it reminds me of a call down where the instructor is yelling criticism in front of the rest of the class. Is that person going to perform their best? Are they going to learn the most and come back? I think not.

Anyway, lets find balance and do a quality snow dance for Tahoe.


"perpetual" Holidaythrough
post #11 of 24
Balance can be enhanced. Aside from the inner ear, there are two sets of muscles that control where your body is going. They are the peroneals and the tibialis groups. They are co-contractors, ie, one flexes and the other relaxes. They are located on the lateral side of the tibia. The best way to excersize these muscles, is walking a 3/8 inch rope on the floor.
post #12 of 24
Absolutely, balance can be improved--likely up to some kind of genetic/innate maximum potential with which we are each endowed. Some will be able to attain levels of static and dynamic balance that I can only dream of. But speaking for myself, i've found that I've been able to improve my balance greatly from martial arts (judo/jujitsu, no longer practicing though) and learning to play roller hockey. If you can run into someone at full speed on skates and still stay on your feet then you've learned something about balance [img]smile.gif[/img] I feel that it's paid off in my skiing over the past few seasons. I think one can improve one's balance on skis not only by skiing drills but also from other activities/cross-training. Not sure that the best way to do it is to think about the individual muscles that control balance, as I'm not sure that only a few muscle/muscle groups are the "key" to balance, but I might very well be wrong.
post #13 of 24
Thread Starter 
RIck, Love it!! I wish everyone knew that. THis is exactly what I base my alignment process on. how invlved the oposing muscles are in sustaining balance. Finding the spot where the bones work best and helping those exact muscles relax as much as possible. It is soooo good

There is also a little known part of the foot called "the eye of the foot", the sinus tarsi. Have you heard of it? Know what it does?

More later but till then think about the ability to teach to the consious sence of balance, and unconsious or reflex type of balance.
post #14 of 24
Balance on the right part of your tool & it will do whatever you want it to. Not much else matters.
post #15 of 24
Thread Starter 
Ok I am back and now can get into this properly.

Ok consious vs unconsious balance.

Unconsious balance is the balance that all humans acomplish. It is learned from early childhood. This is the balance that the inner ear controls. Basicly our inner ear is always trying to right our bodies. "Right", to our ears is always plumb, up and down, or paralell to gravity. This is where we are programed to be. We very seldom have to think how to remain balanced. If the body leaves this vertical state our brain sends a shock wave thorugh the muscles to regain our happy place. I have found this to be universal amoung my students.

No matter wether we are standing on a sidewalk or sliding down hills on skis our brains and ears try to find this happy place. Problem: when we are sliding down hills we need to be in a different position. perpendicular to what ever the slope happens to be. This position obviously chanllanges our unconsious sence of survival. If you watch most people that struggle with skiing, you will see that they stand on their skis paralell to the trees that they are passing. no matter how steep or flat the terrain. but you cant blame them they are only doing what they "know unconsiously" to do to remain standing.

Consious balance: an Understanding and remaining aware that "normal balance" is totaly different than Skiing balance. We need to over ride the righting instinct that is so automatic that we don't even know we are trying to do this. We think we are trying to lean forward while at the same time the brain and ear are fighting for all they are worth to keep you standing like a tree, (Verticaly).

Anyone see this as a problem that we could do a better job on in the teaching world.

Personaly I teach this before I teach anything else. Without this edging pressure and steering will be futile exersizes.
post #16 of 24
Sense of balance...we are all born with that.At times when skiing we become out of balance.Then we can learn things or techniques to re-establish balance.
We can do things that has our balance refocused elsewhere,eg.on the outside ski.

So we learn balance points and they become a point of reference. So then athletic ability, in part, is the ability to quickly adjust to those things that disturb our balance, or balance points.

The more able, skillful, intuitive, or just able to react without thinking, the more athletic you seem. The more athletic you are.

So Mosh both 1 and 2 seem to be right.It is about balance and re-establishing same. The more gifted can do it naturally in more situations, many of us must train ourselves to do it.

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ November 08, 2001 08:19 AM: Message edited 1 time, by wink ]</font>
post #17 of 24

Thanks, PhysicsMan--

Your addition is significant, too, as it relates to the fore-aft position of the body in balance. Conventional wisdom holds that the "proper" position of a skier, fore-and-aft, is more-or-less perpendicular to the slope, rather than "vertical." This is what Mosh was describing, and for practical purposes much of the time, there is some truth to it. But it is a gross over-simplification that can lead to some very bad advice as well.

As you suggested, in a straight run at constant speed, the skier is at equilibrium with respect to both torques and forces in the fore-aft plane. What "position" would create this balance? Barring the effects of wind resistance, the balanced position would in fact be vertical, not perpendicular to the hill. It is only the consequences of wind resistance that make the true correct position (for a straight run) more forward, roughly perpendicular to the hill.

And of course, there usually IS wind resistance, so the conventional wisdom doesn't usually steer people too far wrong.

Where it DOES lead to common errors is on the beginner slope. With very little speed, there is little wind resistance(unless it's windy!). Since many skiers are straight running in varying degrees of braking wedges (whether they "should" be or not is not the issue here--they are), their proper balanced stance is much closer to vertical, like a tree, than to perpendicular. And when they hit the brakes to slow down, the balanced stance moves even further aft. Instructors who don't understand this very often mislead those poor beginners into a stance way too far forward on their skis!

Other factors, too, affect fore-aft balance. Even the condtion of the ski base and wax (or lack of it) has an affect. A beginner, "gliding" down the bunny slope on typical horrendously waxed rental skis, should indeed be more-or-less vertical for balance!

Of course, the "normal" reality on skis is rarely a straight run. Usually, we're in some phase of a turn. And all the changing forces and accelerations going on make this discussion of the straight run moot. But clearly, here too, it is not really true that "perpendicular to the hill" is good advice!

As we initiate a turn, the body crosses over the feet and moves downhill, into the turn. At this point, and as the feet and skis subsequently accelerate down the hill, the idea of "perpendicular to the hill" is roughly applicable. And this is a critical phase of the turn, one that receives much attention. But as the turn progresses, and comes around past the fall line, it becomes less true that the body should be "perpendicular to the hill." As the skis come across the hill toward the end of the turn, quite obviously the feet must be downhill of the body--the correct "position" of balance here is leaning UPhill, into the turn!

To summarize, the conventional wisdom of "perpendicular to the hill" is grossly over-simplified to the point that it can lead to confusion and bad advice. As we initiate a turn, or any other "dive downhill" (a race start, for example, or a movement off the top of a mogul), it is close enough to correct that it is practical, if inaccurate, advice. And the significant wind resistance that "expert speeds" typically involve also require a more forward, perhaps "perpendicular," stance even in a straight run.

One of my favorite quotes is Albert Einstein's statement that "Everything should be made as simple as possible--but not simpler!" This "perpendicularity" advice is on the borderline between practical advice and "simpler than possible" error. I've used the image of "perpendicularity" very often myself, in my own teaching, with (I think) generally good results. But as with so many things, it is essential to know the limits and potential fallacies of what we are "teaching."

And as with so much "conventional wisdom," this is one more "truth" that deserves a fresh look!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #18 of 24

Good posts, Mosh--and a great topic starter! I agree with your conclusions, but here's something to consider:

The inner ear does not really respond to "vertical"! It senses only acceleration. Think of the disorientation we experience in total whiteout conditions, and the dire consequences pilots talk of when flying without visual references. Gravity still operates in these situations, but what we lack is a VISUAL reference to "vertical" (or horizontal), and a visual reference to speed.

The inner ear's three "semi-circular canals" roughly representing three axes of rotation, sense "angular acceleration" (rotational movement). Other components of the inner ear sense linear acceleration, and can indeed sense "gravity," but only when there is no linear acceleration. (Here is a somewhat technical web site for more information). Combined with a VISUAL reference to horizontal and speed, the effect is as you say--our bodies tend to want to be "upright."

The good thing about this is that any kinesthetic sense of "upright" that we possess helps us maintain balance even under circumstances where "balance" does not mean "vertical." When leaning into a turn (which is a form of acceleration), or speeding up or hitting the brakes, these acceleration sensors help us adjust "balance" accordingly--if we let them!

So vision plays a very big role in balance too. And the visual and inner ear senses must, in a sense, "agree." I recall reading, a few years back, about a high-speed train somewhere in Europe, where the cars actually tilted as the train turned, simulating a banked turn so that, for example, drinks wouldn't go flying off trays when the train turned. Apparently, they had to reduce the tilting action slightly because it was making passengers ill. Their eyes saw that they were turning, but their kinesthetic inner-ear senses didn't match what their eyes were telling them, and people actually got sick! Interesting....

So balance is very complicated. Vision, along with the inner ear, and other kinesthetic awareness (pole drag, for example), combine with experience and trained, learned "balancing movements" to create what we simply call "balance."

It's interesting to note, too, that in at least some ways, we are NOT balanced on skis, at least while we're turning. If balance refers to some sort of "equilibrium" of the forces acting on us, then by definition, turning skiers cannot be in balance! Or--balanced skiers cannot turn!

Turns represent acceleration. Acceleration can only result from "net" or "unbalanced" forces acting on us. The physics definition of "balance" is "The state of a body or physical system at rest or in unaccelerated motion in which the resultant of all forces acting on it is zero and the sum of all torques about any axis is zero" (American Heritage Dictionary). A turning "body" is NOT at rest or in unaccelerated motion!

Who cares, you might reasonably well ask? Well, it's important in this respect: What we call "balance" really becomes simply the ACT of dealing with all the changing forces of skiing so that we maintain an effective stance, control pressure on the skis accurately, and don't fall down!

Clearly, these are things we can improve at!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #19 of 24
<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Bob Barnes/Colorado:
... It's interesting to note, too, that in at least some ways, we are NOT balanced on skis, at least while we're turning. If balance refers to some sort of "equilibrium" of the forces acting on us, then by definition, turning skiers cannot be in balance! Or--balanced skiers cannot turn!

Turns represent acceleration. Acceleration can only result from "net" or "unbalanced" forces acting on us. The physics definition of "balance" is "The state of a body or physical system at rest or in unaccelerated motion in which the resultant of all forces acting on it is zero and the sum of all torques about any axis is zero" (American Heritage Dictionary). A turning "body" is NOT at rest or in unaccelerated motion!

Good thread and good post as well, Bob.

To elaborate on what you just said, a turning skier is *in balance* with respect to torques that might cause him to to fall to the inside or outside of the turn, but *out of balance* with respect to forces (in the same plane) which are pushing him radially towards the center of his turn and causing the turn.

If his speed is constant, he is also in balance with respect to both torques and forces in the fore-aft plane. The former would make him tend to change the angle of his forward lean, while the latter would change his speed.

Tom / PM
post #20 of 24
Anyway, to the topic: balance- teachable or not. In skiing(and most other activities), balance, or lack thereof, is directly proportional to the skiers ability to move fluidly through a wide range of physical motions without tensing muscles to the point of locking them and without bringing into play extra muscle groups to bolster the ones that should be doing the work in the first place. In other words, relaxed fluid strength, as opposed to locked "hard" muscle contractions. This type of movement can only be accomplished by having the strength and conditioning needed to move and flow freely. In this sense, balance can be improved by making the body a stronger, more efficient mechanism able to accomplish more with less effort and tension. Many of the the sorely neglected muscular groups(no pun intended) that will help balance are located in the hip girdle area, the glutes(max and particularly medius), the transverse and lower abs, the hip extensors,adductors and abductors etc. All these smaller and more specific muscles are directly responsible for your centers ability to recover and be controlled in that floating "state of grace" that must be maintained in order to ski fluidly and well.
Another area that can make a huge impact on balance is flexibility. If your hips are tight or stiff, you simply have a much smaller area of motion to relaxedly move and react in. Having a greater amount of give and take in the hips and legs will only promote stability and the ability to react to more diverse challenges, provided the strength to support it is there. It is also one of your best hedges against injury, since bending is almost always preferable to tearing or breaking.

The carriage of the head is also very important to balance. Any other position than upright, level, and relaxed is making balance harder. Any activity requiring balance requires work on head position and motion(think skaters spin or balance beam), I have taught Karate for years and have seen instant results from someone suddenly realizing that their head is slightly off axis and their shoulders were slightly tense.

I think that doing balance exercises with the emphasis on relaxing all the muscles possible except those directly responsible for holding you upright is the quickest path to improvement. Most people are very suprised at how few muscles are needed for support once they've released any extraneous muscle involvment. Two added benefits, the actual muscles you want to work on get the entire work load and therefor get a better work out, and, you use less energy to get a better result while building correct muscle memory.
An excellent way to improve balance is to stop using what you rely on most, your eyes. The more you can make balance internal,i.e. feeling it as opposed to using visual cues for balance feedback, the more solid and secure your base will be and the less you'll be affected by how the world looks around you(whiteout, extreme steeps, off angle fall lines, etc.

Another route to developing strong balance and recovery muscles is to do your normal exercises with one side of your body unnaturally loaded. An example would be everyones favorite- box jumps, a great exercise, now do them with a five lb. weight in your hand extended to the right or left side, remember to stay relaxed! Lunges are a b**** this way as well. Be careful with these as they are potentially dangerous if you are tired or not in top form. Some creativity with this will give you a wide,non-boring group of balance specific exercises to keep the mind occupied.

Across the board, the single most important thing to have a huge impact on balance is your breath. If you don't breath well you don't perform or balance well. If you don't know how to breath relaxedly in a full deep manner you will progress at a much slower pace than you need to in every aspect of any physical activity. Your endurance will suffer accordingly as well, as you'll be taking in a fraction of your lung capacity and fighting yourself to do it.

In order to maintain solid balance your center needs to sink into the lower ab area. If you breathe shallowly or tensely, the center stays up higher in your chest cavity. This promotes a feeling of loss of control and powerlessness, in skiing it's usually associated with timidness or hesitanancy because you feel disconnected to the snow and "thrown" by things. This chest tension will prevent anyone from relaxedly being connected to the snow and reacting in any kind of a timely manner to changing terrain. It will also make you freeze up when an unexpected suprise pops up. Anybody who's gotten out of shape at speed knows that to tense up or hold your breath is to give up any ghost of a chance of recovery, you become a frozen chunk of inertia instead of a finely controlled, interactive adaptive human. You also tend to hit things with more damaging effect when you're tense or stiff, ouch, a few memories surfaced there. Not breathing right at the wrong time can kill you. Breathing right at a "wrong" time may save you. Yoga and martial arts can help this as well as promote balance and a good mindset.

Incidentally, it is also true that how you breathe affects your mindset, both positively and negatively. If you are breathing badly and shallowly your body is automatically in victim/flight mode, usually your mind is in the same space, this is nowhere you want to be to make split second decisions and expect to survive and react to changing balance requirements. Sorry if this feels like beating a dead horse, but most people I meet don't understand how deeply breathing correctly affects even the most basic of skills, let alone complex motor movements required in skiing.

As to the second part of the post. Just like talent at anything, some people are born with catlike agility and reflexes, others not. Simple truth. Another simple truth, talent will get you out of the gate fast but it rarely sees you past the finish line, much less wins the race. Will Steve slow-twitch ever have the agility of the natural catlike Carl? Probably not, but if the question is can he develop his skills to a point that he can compete or keep pace with him, barring severe physical limitations, yes he can. It always comes down to the individual and their dedication and intent to learn and progress. Intelligent work and clear goals can have miraculous results over time. If you are dedicated, fanatically bitten, etc. you will find your own way to where you need to go. Your talent is always augmented and exceeded by putting in the time and work required to take you to the level that satisfies you. If the work isn't put in, all you end up is wondering "what if", or worse yet, "what happened"? In other words, talent schmalent, do what you have to and love the journey. If there's a theme to this post it's relax, relax, relax and let tension fall away from your body, it will be replaced by joy and a new sense of freedom.

breathe deep, go silent, go off

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ November 09, 2001 02:56 AM: Message edited 4 times, by joel ]</font>
post #21 of 24
Nice post Joel.
post #22 of 24

Thank you for saying that about being perpindicular to the slope. Its how I have always felt about that particular tidbit of wisdom but have been somewhat reluctant to say so because I do get tired of being piled on when I say something that goes against "conventional wisdom". But with someone else down there at the bottom of the pile I won't feel so lonely.

This occured to me as I read and contimplated your post. We "balance" ourselves in relation to the forces that we are dealing with. In everyday life that means gravity so we balance in a "perpendicular to the world" way. In skiing the greatest force that I feel is that generated by the ski that I am using to accelerate my mass. Therefore I will orient myself to this force and "balance" perpendicular to the surface of the ski. I think that that concept explains what I see when I watch how a skiers body changes angle to the slope through a turn. As edge angles change the body adapts to that and is independent of the angle of the slope.

As an aside here I have noticed that over the past few seasons i have been using "balanced" less and less and replacing it with the term "centered". For my students balanced means not falling down. I think there's a lot more to it than that and using a different term opens them up to that.


<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ November 08, 2001 04:18 PM: Message edited 1 time, by Ydnar ]</font>
post #23 of 24
Thread Starter 
All this is true and shades of grey in skiing is everywhere. My only point is to recognize that to be able to help skiers imporve we need to understand what is directing their sences. We need to teach to this and nothing of this is spoken of in any psia clinques that I have been to in the last 14 years. If balance is just as important as the othere three skill groups why don't we teach it? It is teachable.
post #24 of 24
Yeah--great ideas, Joel! Martial arts have so very much relevance to skiing! Good, practical advice regarding posture, carriage of the head, relaxation, breathing,.... Thanks!

Ydnar--Thanks for "jumping into the pile" with me! You know--we could spend the rest of the season doing nothing but exploring "conventional wisdom" and some of the many myths of skiing that instructors and lay-skiers alike take for granted.

Mosh--It's in those shades of gray that the real art of teaching may lie, eh? Somewhere along the spectrum between totally accurate (and excessively detailed, long-winded, and trivial) and exceedingly brief (and oversimplified to the point of being wrong) lies the right mix of practical information that creates the desired performance change and optimizes learning!

I agree with you that it can be appropriate to spend time purely on developing balancing skills, especially along the lines of some of Joel's ideas. The difficulty comes, though, when we try to think of balancing on skis as an independent skill, separate from "rotary, edging, and pressure control." Every movement we make affects balance, so it is inseparable from and integral to everything we do. Balance does not come first--it's much more important than that!

Again, Mosh--great topic. Thanks for bringing it up!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
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