|Originally posted by David M:
“A curious thing about balance is that people usually expect to find that balancing is a fairly simple process, since nearly everyone can perform the routine balancing acts of everyday existence, without having think about what they are doing. In fact, the more one looks into it, the more complex and mysterious balancing behavior becomes.”
Understanding Balance – The Mechanics of Posture and Locomotion by Tristan D. M. Roberts.
...Studies done at the University of Calgary’s Human Performance Laboratory have conclusively shown that our feet function best when bare. I did experimental research on balance in skiing back in 1991 with an instrumented device that replaced the ski boot. The device allowed the parameters of constraint applied to the foot and leg to be varied in a systematic manner and the effects on balance measured during typical ski maneuvers. The results were very interesting. When an environment conducive to the natural processes of balance was created all good skiers (including former Olympians) used essentially the same balance mechanisms. Even more interesting was that novice skiers started to use the very same mechanisms after only a few short runs -- with no coaching!
One of the challenges to the balance system that makes skiing difficult is that our vertical reference keeps changing. When it does the brain has a hard time figuring out which way is up. This is called behavioral vertical. If a novice starts off on a flat section of a ski run with both skis flat on the snow vertical will be vertical to the force of gravity. But as soon as that person pushes over the edge and starts down a slope behavioral vertical will change. Until such time as the skier learns to make a positive move to change the vertical reference the righting reflex will override behavioral vertical and try to maintain its reference with gravity. The result will be that the normal balance response intended to restore the vertical alignment will cause the novice to sit back.
Further exacerbating this situation is the fact that constraint imposed on the foot and leg by the ski boot can contaminate the processes that give the balance system information critical to balance. Garbage in, garbage out. In addition ski boots and related equipment typically prevent our feet from establishing the relationship with the snow (the ground) associated with our normal processes of balance. The result is that something we normally perform with such efficiency that it belies it belies its real complexity becomes a foreign, unfamiliar, unnatural ineffective process. Balance exercises will not significantly improve this core aspect of balance.