CoolBoard hands-on: getting in shape for the slopes

Is skiing or snowboarding a sport or leisure activity? The answer is simple: it’s both, but if you aren’t prepared for the sport, it won’t be very leisurely. Preparing your body before you go is as important as having all the right gear. We took a look at CoolBoard, which claims to offer a range of body conditioning benefits, many of which are directly applicable - but not exclusive - to snow sports.

The concept is simple. You take a board, place it across a central object, then you balance on it. It sounds straightforward enough, but just staying balanced on the board is a challenge in itself.

The CoolBoard is constructed from marine ply, lovingly varnished with grip pads at the end. On the underside is a rim that lets you balance on the balls provided without moving off the front or back. It is weighty at 2.8kg, but feels strong enough to withstand the forces you're going to exert on it. In addition to the two sizes of balance balls provided, there is an optional “Balance Disc”.

The Balance Disc is designed to make things easier to get started. It won’t stop you from having to actually balance and put in the effort, but it’s easer to get yourself balancing unaided on the disc. The bonus thing about the Balance Disc is that it is inflatable, so you can change the level of inflation and it changes from flatter to rounder, making it more (or less) challenging. If you’re new to balance boards, then we’d recommend you buy one (£20). 

There is also a choice of balls - the standard inflatable balls will need looking after, but the Pro Balls (which we tested) are more substantial and designed to last a lifetime - a worthy upgrade.

It might seem unlikely that standing will have any real exercise benefits and we imagine that if your balance is perfect, absolutely perfect, you’d be able to stand on the board easily and feel little strain. As it is, you wobble around all over the place and have to constantly correct your balance to keep the board relatively level. 

As a snowboarder the sensation is immediately recognisable, you feel the burning in the tibialis anterior, gastrocnemius and soleus muscles as you try to keep the board flat. If you’ve ever stood on a snowboard and worked the edges heel to toe (which you will have done) you’ll know exactly how this feels. The burning as you bite the toe edge into the ice to stop yourself sliding away is distinctive and feels the same on the CoolBoard.

But beyond that, we noticed the movement up in the hips and core, playing their part in keeping the torso stable whilst the legs moved around. The interesting thing about the CoolBoard is that if you put a snowboarder or surfer onto it, they immediately sink their weight, whereas those who haven’t tend to start off a little rigid, and suffer as a consequence.

But it isn’t just about standing on the board. The supplied guide outlined a number of different exercises that you could try, the CoolBoard Crunch (sit-ups basically, but with the board and ball under you) targets the abdominals nicely. You can even do push-ups, again with the added bonus of having to balance the board - just don't wrap your fingers around the ends if you're on a hard floor, ouch. It certainly makes you concentrate on making very deliberate movements.

We’ve always believed that incorporating exercise into your daily routine, so you don’t notice, makes it much easier. So we found ourselves standing on the CoolBoard playing Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam. You can keep your Kinect or Wii Balance Board, we’d rather CoolBoard and play cool games at the same time.

We’re impressed with the versatility of such a simple concept. Some boards are too slender to be used for other exercises and whilst you could do some similar things with an exercise ball, we like the direct application to snowboarding that the CoolBoard gives you.

A choice of packages is available, the medium CoolBoard we tested is available from £97.99.