Balance Training - Why You Need To and Should Be Doing It
What is Balance Training
Balance is a facet of health that is too often dismissed or forgotten; a person might be consistently challenging him- or herself at the gym, building muscle and strength, and improving cardiovascular performance, and still have poor balance. Because, like in most areas in life, you can’t improve until you challenge yourself—and fitness, especially, is founded on the principles of challenge and adaptation (you can check out Infofit’s principles of training here).
Most people have only a vague idea of what balance training is and how to do it. What is its value? And why should we care?
According to Wikipedia, balance is simply “an ability to maintain the line of gravity…of a body within the base of support with minimal postural sway”. There are different bodily systems operating in relation to each other at all times that are responsible for our capacity for balance, of which the eyes, ears, and nervous system all play an essential part. And perhaps because there are so many systems in play, there seems to be an endless number of ways to mess up your balance. Seriously, give yourself a pat on the back if you consistently manage to stay upright. Twisted ankle ? Ear infection? Weak abdominal muscles? Vitamin B12 deficiency? All of these things can lead to increased instability and compromised balance.
Balance is especially essential for staying active and fully-functional as we age, as studies have shown that if your balance is poor, your overall health is likely to be too (you can check out Infofit’s recommendations for training the aging population here). According to Statistics Canada, falls remain the number one injury-related hospitalization for senior citizens, and 20-30% of seniors fall each year—and these numbers are on the rise. And for many seniors, falls take a devastating toll on physical and mental health. So, why not develop your balance and coordination now, and prevent poor health in the future?
Get the Most Out of Your Exercise Routine
You may not be interested in transforming yourself into an acrobat or tai chi master, and that’s fine. The good news is that if you’re working out regularly and with proper form, your balance is likely better than the average sedentary person. And if you’re already at the gym and working out, why not improve your balance and coordination in the process? Plus, tweaking your routine slightly may be the fresh challenge your body needs to bust through a plateau and to keep your mind engaged and motivated. Read on to get the most out of your exercise routine, improve your balance, and live life to the fullest!
- First, get an expert opinion
Can you identify your own muscular imbalances and compensations? Most people can’t. Every body is different, and that holds true for its weaknesses and misalignments. If you are afflicted with muscular or postural deficiencies that are compromising your balance, such as weak or unstable ankles, even just a few sessions with an elite personal trainer will identify them and design a program that will help to strengthen and correct your balance.
- Tweak your core
If you’re a regular exerciser—or even if you had exercised at some point in your distant past—you are probably familiar with crunches. I doubt anyone could have escaped elementary and junior high gym class without doing at least one crunch. Today, crunches are considered a higher risk exercise as it relates to spinal health, specifically disc herniation and degeneration. The new king core exercise is the Plank and its variations.
Once you can plank effectively, you can adjust your plank to challenge and develop your balance. Try performing the plank with a yoga ball or a Bosu ball beneath your feet or elbows; this will demand the coordination of multiple muscle groups, and the extra element of challenge will ensure that you’re working out that much harder and more efficiently. In fact, performing nearly any body-weight exercise with a Bosu or yoga ball will aid you in developing your balance–push-ups, squats, chest press: the list goes on! You can check out some of Infofit’s videos that will guide you through the proper execution of core exercises.
- Introduce yoga poses into your routine
If you’ve always poo-pooed yoga for not being ‘challenging enough’, you may want to adjust your opinion. Arguably, the number one benefit of yoga is its ability to improve your balance and coordination. In personal trainer-speak, the sustained isometric contractions of yoga develop and strengthen your slow-twitch muscle fibers. And you don’t need to stand on your head or twist your body up like a pretzel to get the balance training benefits of yoga (though that would be pretty cool). And if you want to further challenge your balance, change the direction of your gaze as you’re performing these poses.
- Change your stance!
If you are always performing your bicep curls with your legs set widely apart, or staggering your feet when you’re doing your tricep pulldowns, etc, balance training would have you bringing your feet closer together and narrowing your stance. Or, if you’re feeling particularly inspired, stand on one leg! Many lower body exercises, such as deadlifts and squats, can be modified to better challenge your balance; performing these exercises single-legged has the added benefit of drawing attention to any hidden weaknesses or compensations. Struggling or failing to maintain balance on one side more than the other is likely a sign of some kind of postural or muscular deficiency, and once identified, you or your trainer can add exercises to your balance training program and strengthen the appropriate areas.
- Balance training can combine your lower body and your upper-body exercises
Sometimes, it can get pretty boring performing the same upper-body exercises all the time. Beware! The moment your routine feels ho-hum, and your mind starts drifting as you go through your exercises, you’ll know that it’s time to throw an extra challenge into the mix! And why not maximize your time at the gym by getting the most work out of a routine? As you’re performing your shoulder presses or bicep curls, try lunging, squatting, or performing some step-ups. If this sounds like way too much of a leg workout, simply performing your seated exercises while standing can lead to improved balance and coordination.
Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer (completing) and Infofit fitness blog writer.
Canada, P. H. (2014, April 10). Seniors’ Falls in Canada: Second Report. Retrieved October 04, 2017, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/aging-seniors/publications/publications-general-public/seniors-falls-canada-second-report.html
Wolf, S. L., Barnhart, H. X., Kutner, N. G., McNeely, E., Coogler, C., Xu, T. and Atlanta FICSIT Group (1996), Reducing Frailty and Falls in Older Persons: An Investigation of Tai Chi and Computerized Balance Training. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 44: 489–497. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.1996.tb01432.x