Want to reduce the risk of falling, look smooth on the dance floor, and stop tripping or running into random things? Incorporating some balance training may be the answer...
Don't worry, you don't need to be able to balance atop 10 chairs stacked together to get benefits from it.
Many people either think balance is something you either have or don't have. If this was the case, then balance training would be a waste of time. But, the truth is, it is a skill that can be developed and improved. Doing so has a wide array of benefits too, including preventing injury, increasing stability, improving activities of daily living, improving confidence, and promoting body awareness.
First, let's all get on the same page and define what balance is.
The dictionary defines balance as the ability to maintain one’s center of gravity within its base of support. A person’s center of gravity is the point at which their body weight is balanced evenly. Typically a woman's center of gravity is slightly lower than a male’s and it is typically around the 2nd sacral vertebrae. A wider base of support will typically allow for more stability than a narrower stance. For example, doing a squat with a wide stance will be more stable than with a narrow stance. Exercises that utilize both legs are typically more stable than those that are done on just one.
There are two main types of balance; static and dynamic. Developing both types is essential for maximum safety and effectiveness. Both of these types of balance require effective integration of visual and vestibular input, along with proprioceptive feedback. Proprioceptive is your body’s awareness of limb positioning relative to space. When you take away visual stimuli, such as closing your eyes, you force your proprioceptors to maintain balance.
So why should we bother trying to improve balance?
1. It prevents injury, and can help with injury rehabilitation.
Proper proprioceptive feedback is important for maintaining stability. Balance exercises require proprioceptive feedback, and trains the proprioceptors located in limbs and enhances their ability to communicate with the Central Nervous System. When we enhance this communication we increase our ability to maintain balance as we move around in life. This can help to prevent falls or lessen the impact of the damage done from a fall, especially in reference to ankle injuries.
It also helps with injury rehab, because once there has been an injury proprioceptors are damaged and need to be retrained. If proprioceptors are not retrained, it could result in a chronic injury pattern and/or cause other areas of the body to compensate for the lack of stability.
2. Increase stability during dynamic exercises
During a dynamic exercise you must have stability. If you are unable to maintain your center if gravity you will not be able to complete the movement safely or effectively. It can be really frustrating to know that your muscles can lift more, but you cannot keep your balance and allow them to do so. Balance training can improve your ability to remain stable on various exercises and thus allow you to lift more and push harder on them.
3. Improve Activities of Daily Life (ADLs)
Activities of daily living, like squatting down, picking stuff up, or moving things around, are essential for our well being. If we are unable to perform these activities or if we struggle to do them, it is detrimental to our lifestyle. If these activities are done without proper stability they can lead to falls or other injuries. Balance training can improve performance of these activities and prevent injuries from them.
4. Increase confidence and get quick results
Results from balance training can start to be felt in as little as two weeks. This is a very quick result that will positively effect the other areas of fitness goals. Now the other side of the coin is that balance typically peaks after about 4 weeks, so at this point it would become more of a maintenance goal. It is essential to keep it a part of your program design to ensure that the results are not lost. So while you don't need to spend your entire workout out it, don't cut it out entirely or you could lose what you have gained.
5. Promotes body awareness
The type of exercises that are done to improve balance require keen focus on your body. This is important because throughout a program you want to be able to activate certain muscles during specific exercises. Learning how to focus on certain body parts can help with your ability to do this and carry over into other exercises.
So how do we do it?
1. Warmup or Cool down
Exercises used for balance are great to do as a warmup or cool down. These types of exercises can help get the body warm, as well as promote muscle groups to work together during a movement. They are also beneficial in a cool down setting to allow for more movement as the heart rate returns toward its resting rate.
2. Active Recovery
You can utilize them for active recovery during a session or between sessions. You can also put them in between sets of other exercise in order to stay moving and burn more fat. They can also be used between training sessions to promote blood flow and recovery. Many of them can be done at home with no equipment at all.
1. Single leg cone touch
2. Single leg cup place/pick-up
Both of these exercises can be started on solid ground and progressed by moving to an unstable surface (ex: foam pad or BOSU ball).
If you are curious about a particular exercise, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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