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A Balanced Workout
By:  Sheila Kealey   (2008/03/22)


Athletes in many sports are incorporating balance work into their training year-round. Since balance is critical to good skiing, most cross country skiers could certainly benefit from better balance.  Poor balance often results in incomplete weight transfer and skis on edge that don’t glide as long as they could.  

Better balance will help you glide longer and on a flatter ski after each push, give you better control of your skis, and put your body in the most efficient position to kick or push. You will also be better able to deal with poor tracksetting, icy, or uneven conditions if you have good balance.  In short, better balance will help you go faster with less effort, which will improve your enjoyment on skis. 

Although some people seem to have an innate ability to balance well, it is a skill that you can improve through practice, according to several studies.  Having spent a good deal of my childhood sitting at a piano bench instead of developing balance and agility through sport, it is something that hasn’t come naturally to me and a skill I am always trying to improve. 

How do you balance?

Your body relies on three systems for balance: your eyes, your inner ear (vestibular), and your nervous system (proprioceptive).  You need at least two of these to balance, but if you challenge yourself by limiting one of these systems, the others have to work harder and improve (e.g., try standing on one leg, then close your eyes, and/or shake your head and see how that affects your balance).  

General tips for training balance

  • Simply developing a greater awareness of your balance is a good first step. Be patient and remember to continually challenge yourself, because that is how you will improve.
  • To train balance most effectively, be dynamic, and put your body out of balance (by moving – and for specificity, in a motion similar to skiing).
  • Don't use your arms and legs to help you balance.
  • Start exercises on a stable surface, but move on to unstable surfaces as your balance improves.
  • The core muscles that support your trunk are essential to good balance. A firm trunk is a solid anchor that allows your arms and legs move more effectively while you ski. Develop a good core strength routine and stick to it.
  • Integrate balance drills into stretching or strength routines, everyday activities, or your on snow or dryland sessions.

Specific drills for snow (you can adapt some of these for rollerskis) 

Skate Downhill

Skating downhill, exaggerate the amount of time you glide on each ski. To make it more challenging, stay on each ski as long as you can, or find a steeper downhill. 

Extra pole push (skating)

On flat terrain or a gradual downhill, use the one skate technique but pole twice for each leg push. 

Heel click (skating)

On flat terrain or a gradual downhill, use the one skate technique; click your heels together after recovering your leg. 

Classic Downhill in Tracks – no poles

Diagonal stride without poles in the track on a gradual downhill. Exaggerate the time you glide on each ski, making sure your weight is entirely over the gliding ski. Move your arms as if you were holding poles. When switching legs, kick down hard then shift 100% of your weight to the other ski. To make this more challenging, choose a steeper downhill. 

Scooter drill (classic)

Remove one ski, put your ski foot (glide foot) in the track and propel yourself forward with your non-ski foot outside the track (no poles). 


Incorporating balance training into your dryland routines is a good idea. You will get the most benefit from activities that require a body position similar to skiing. If possible, do these activities without shoes to better challenge the small muscles and proprioceptors in your feet. You don’t need to invest in a wobble board, since you can easily use your own body or various surfaces to create instability, which is more specific to the instability you will encounter skiing. 

Simple one leg balance.

Stand up and find a relaxed balance stance on one foot. Suck your belly button in as you firm up your core muscles and be conscious of the difference that makes. Focus on relaxing the smaller muscles of your feet and ankles. 


(1) Balance on your leg for about 15 seconds, then bend you knee and hold for 15 more seconds.

(2) Ski Specific: mimic the extended diagonal stride position; bend the knee slightly and swing arms as diagonal stride or double poling.

(3) Toss a ball back and forth to a partner or against a wall

(4) Make these drills more challenging by standing on an unstable surface (e.g., a mat or pillow, dynadisc), and/or by closing your eyes. This will help you get in tune with the small muscles of your feet, ankle, and core. 

Multidirection Jump Steps. Standing on one foot, jump forwards, landing on the same foot, and hold for a count of two, then jump back to your start position. Repeat on the other leg. Repeat the drill jumping to the right and back, then to the left and back. Repeat in the transverse plane, jumping to the 8 o’clock and 4 o’clock position (imagine you’re standing in the center of a clock, facing the 12). Repeat in other clock positions, and add challenges like jumping further, closing your eyes, holding the stance for longer, or jumping into a ski-specific position. 

Swiss Ball Balance Progression: To challenge small stabilizer muscles from the knee up, try kneeling on the swiss ball. For more of a challenge, keep one knee on the ball, but put the sole of one foot on the ball. If you have a safe place to do it, progress to standing on the ball. 

Walking Balance. Balance on one leg, rotate your trunk toward the floor, so that your free leg and trunk are parallel to the floor. Take a step and balance similarly on the other leg.  Take about 10 steps, holding the balanced position longer as you improve.

Interesting Reading. . .
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