Balance is an essential skill for most sports. It is crucial for inline skating. Not only does it help you keep the shiny side up (your helmet - not your bald head), it helps you skate faster, farther and with less effort. Good balance is also a requirement before you can do those cool tricks you see. Whether you are "shooting the duck" or doing a sole grind japan, without balance you'll fail.
Some of us are born with better balance than others, but balance can be learned. We've noticed that beginners who show up with experience in balance sports learn to skate far more quickly than those without. The closer the sport is to inline skating the more the balance "crossover." Of course ice skating and roller skating (inliners call them "Quad" skates), have great cross-over. Hockey and figure skaters usually have no problem with basic inline skating (except for the brake!). Other balance sports such as skiing, snow boarding, bicycling and, yes, even Yoga also have good crossover potential, especially if you do them often.
However, whether you participate in such sports or not, there are other ways to increase your balance skills through simple exercises. These exercises can be performed almost anywhere. Some involve equipment but some of the most effective do not.
Here is a sampling of balance exercises to get you started. You can probably invent more yourself or check out the references at the bottom of this article. Remember, these are exercises to improve your balance. Don't be frustrated if you can't do them at first. Keep trying.
The Tree Pose
This is perhaps the simplest, but most effective, stationary exercise to improve your inline skating balance. Good one-foot balance helps you develop a stronger stroke and an effective glide, letting you skate faster with less effort. It is also the precursor to many tricks. Pretty good for such a simple exercise!
To do this exercise, simply lift one foot off the floor and maintain your balance on the other. Hold the position as long as you are comfortable, then switch to the other foot. That's it! You can do this almost anywhere - while you are reading the paper, talking on the phone, tying your shoes, watching TV or gabbing with friends (they will think you are weird though!). If you have trouble, holding your arms extended to the sides and staring at a point in front of you will help.
Some more advanced variations:
- Do a Quadriceps stretch by pulling your free foot up behind your butt with a hand. Extend your free arm to the side for balance. Try it on both sides.
- Try the Tree Pose. Bring your free foot up to your inner thigh with the knee pointed outward. Start with your arms to your sides. As you improve, try putting your palms together and slowly extending your arms above your head.
A rocker board is a good beginner apparatus. It is basically a wooden platform on rockers that allow it to tilt on one axis. The basic exercises are the two-footed side to side and the two-footed forward-back balance. Stand on the board and balance without letting the edges touch down. I find it is a little easier to balance if I deliberately move the board a bit rather than trying to hold it totally still. Again, it also helps to look a point in front of you and to hold your arms outstretched to the side.
More advanced variations:
- Start with one side of the board touching the floor. Slowly tilt the board until the opposite side touches. Return. Keep the board under control.
- Try the side-to-side and front-back balance on one foot at a time. Great for ankle strength!
The Rocker Board
The wobble board is a more advanced version of the rocker board that can tilt on any axis. Try this if you already have great balance or have mastered the rocker board.
This device looks like a big whoopee cushion! As the name implies, it is made to sit on, but can also be used just like a rocker or Wobble Board. It is very portable, taking up little space when deflated, so you can throw it in your travel bag. Another great ankle exercise.
The bongo board is the ultimate balance test. (Ok, crossing Niagara on a tight rope might be harder!) It is similar to a rocker board, but sits on a roller instead of a rocker. This adds a whole new dimension! Master the bongo board and you might want to talk to your guidance counselor about joining the circus.
Also called Swiss Balls, these versatile tools have become very popular lately as an exercise aid. They can also be used for balance exercises. The simplest exercise is to just sit on it while you work or watch TV. If you plan to use it as a desk chair (highly recommended by some), be sure you get a ball that is big enough. A 65-inch ball is good for most folks. You can also sit on it while weight training. Or try to stand on it. If you plan to do the last two or generally plan to be rough with the ball, be sure to pay extra for a burst-resistant ball.
You should be able to find most of the items listed here in a good sports or fitness store. If you want to shop on the web or by mail order, check out www.performbetter.com or www.fitter1.com. They have a great selection of balance toys and tips on how to use them. My favorite is Rocking Rody, giddyap!
To dig deeper, try this Outside Magazine article from the January 2001 issue.