Balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium against the force of gravity. It is a basic skill needed in everyday life. Your body must constantly make subtle adjustments in order to keep you from tipping over. Balance is fundamental in everyday life, without balance we are prone to injury. By getting your right and left sides in sync, we can be less susceptible to injury.
Poor balance can be the cause and/or effect of various health problems – Poor balance is associated with ataxia, or a general loss of coordination. Poor balance can contribute to lower-back pain, neck pain, arm numbness and tingling, as well as chronic ankle and knee pain or instability. People with poor balance can suffer serious musculoskeletal injury such as acute ankle sprains, osteoarthritis, damage to the ACL, and dangerous falls that can cause fractures. Such falls are a significant risk for older people, as their bones are more susceptible to fracture and healing can be difficult, further limiting their mobility and again increasing the risks associated with poor balance.
The Balance Test – Are you left side or ride side dominant? Stand on one leg, eyes closed. Time how long you can hold without toppling or putting down your foot. Switch legs. If both sides are close (30 seconds on each side, or 30 on one and 25 on the other), you’ve got good equilibrium. But if the difference is wide—five to 10 seconds on one leg, up to 30 on the other—you’re out of balance, and may have hip-muscle issues.
Get Stronger with Balance Training – Research shows that balance training can improve strength in the knee flexors and extensors. The largest of these muscle groups would be the hamstrings and quadriceps. Balance training is also a great way to prevent injuries. Static balance exercises are a type of muscular endurance activity. What happens is that in order to hold a position, say on one leg for example, all of the muscles in your foot, knee and hip are activating. They must activate in order to hold you steady. These muscles are usually the stabilizers that do the work.
Anytime you train stabilizing muscles to work, you also strengthen connective tissues and joint. An increase in joint stability and strength equals decreased risk of injury. The body is always looking to find a state of equilibrium. As you age, this process that is controlled by the nervous system begins to slow down. This slowing down process is inevitable, but with training you can prolong the process and live life to the fullest whatever your age.
Practicing balance exercises challenges the nervous system and helps keep the mind-body connection sharp. It also helps to keep the mind and body sharp in the case that balance has to be regained. It has happened to us all at some point — tripping over a parking block or missing that last step. Without any balance practice your response to regaining balance is slow. In the instance that you may be falling, it is crucial to be able to regain balance quickly.
Get Even – Perform the following exercise daily for three weeks, after your workout. Doing them before might tire key core muscles.
Exercise: Core Stabilizer
HOW: Stand with your weak leg on a pillow. Balance for 30 seconds. You can use a light touch on a wall. Repeat three times. Tip: When you can balance relatively easily for 30 seconds, increase the intensity by closing your eyes, which makes it harder to balance.
WHY: Supporting yourself on your weaker leg while standing on an unstable surface forces you to employ an ankle and a hip strategy to balance, and helps your weak leg catch up to your strong one.
As you get more comfortable, you can incorporate leaning movements to further develop your balance and focus on specific goals. For example, taking a single step forward and leaning forward to hold a lunge position will emphasize alignment, coordination and balance. Do the same going backwards and to the side to strengthen all of the muscle groups and to develop more complete lower body balance.
We don’t have to ‘switch the core on’ to provide balance and stability. The design of the body is such that if it’s not switched on there is a bio-mechanical explanation. If your balance on one leg is worse than on the other, it could mean something as simple as a tight calf or a stiff heel.
Balance is something we need for life.
As we get older we need to train a lot smarter in all departments,
and balance is no exception.
Sean Corvin for Peak Performance: Sporting Excellence UK