It’s all about balance, right? Balancing a healthy lifestyle is one thing, and actually including exercises that improve your balance is another. Strength training and flexibility are important to include in your health and fitness routine, however, you absolutely need to incorporate balance to complete the puzzle.
According to the American Heart Association, exercises that improve balance can help prevent falls, a common problem in older adults and stroke patients. Athletes and the general population need balance training as well. If you are considered obese, balance can benefit you since weight is not always carried or distributed evenly throughout the body. If you are off balance, you will notice your body shift while standing or you will have a hard time maintaining your balance when you make a quick, sudden movements.
Adding balance training into routine can not only strengthen your core muscles, it can help you safely get through your workout routine as your body begins to recognize where and what it is doing, and you will be able to control each movement much more smoothly and correctly, reducing your risk of injury and gaining more benefits from your fitness routine.
What is Balance Training
So what is balance training, exactly? Balance training helps promote neuromuscular coordination, or the collaboration between your brain and your muscles. In other words, when doing a walking lunge, for example, and you have good balance, your body and brain communicate with one another more accurately to help prevent you from toppling over to one side or the other. Your balance uses different systems: Your eyes (the visual system) help you orient in space; your inner ear (vestibular system) records rotating movements and accelerations; the receptors in your joints and muscles and the pressure receptors in your skin (together the proprioceptive system) pass on changes in your posture. The body sure is amazing, isn’t it?
Keep in mind, there are two types of balance that we use in our everyday lives:
Dynamic balance: This occurs when you are moving outside of your body’s base of support while maintaining control (performing exercises, running, walking, etc.)
Static balance: When you are sitting at a desk or standing and speaking with a friend, you are maintaining your static balance. This is your base of support.
From here, all signals come together in your central nervous system, sending a message to your muscles. And this all happens quickly without you even thinking about it. Your body is constantly adapting with every mo e. So when you think about it, the way you move and maintain your posture throughout the day is extremely important for keeping that positive communication flowing. You may not realize it, but you are teaching your muscles to respond more quickly to those messages every time you incorporate balance training into your routine. Just like babies do from birth, you are improving your fine motor and coordination skills.
How Often Should I Incorporate Balance Training?
You can add balance exercises into your routine as often as you like! If you find the time to work on balance daily, do it. If you can only find time to add it into your workout routine during the three days you are training at then gym, this will reap great benefits, too. For older adults who are at risk of falls, ideally you should add balance training three or more days a week as well as include standardized exercises from a program to reduce and prevent falls, according to AHA. However, if you feel you are at a greater risk of falling, consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.
What are Some Good Balance Exercises?
You can add balance exercises with or without equipment. If you are very off balance and are at high risk for falling, start from the ground up, literally. Balance exercise can be done on floor (using a soft but firm exercise mat, for example). Deadbugs and bird dogs are some great examples. As your balance improves, (and your doctor gave you the thumbs up!) you can begin adding movements like these into your routine:
One legged bicep curls - Perform a basic bicep curl on one leg. As you improve, you can raise your knee up closer to your chest until it is at a 90 degree angle. Switch legs.
Single arm shelf and lunges - Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in one arm, lunge backwards with the one leg until your knee is brushing the floor, maintaining control of the dumbbell by your side. Pause and return to standing by pressing through the heel on the front foot. Make this harder by pressing the dumbbell overhead as you lunge. Switch sides.
Simple standing on one leg - Stand on one leg as you pull up your other leg in toward your chest, breathing in and out calmly and then extending that leg out behind you. Engage your core throughout the movement and return to starting position. Switch sides.
Single legged deadlift - While holding a dumbbell or even no equipment at all, stare at a focal point on the floor in front of you, slowly lowering your torso to the ground while lifting your left leg behind you. Keep a neutral spine and reach your hands toward the floor. Stop when your back is parallel to the floor. Keep your right knee soft (not locked). Engage your hamstrings, glutes and abs as you slowly raise back up and return your back foot to the floor.
Single leg squats - Standing with feet hip-width apart, shift your weight over to your right leg while maintaining a center balance. Slowly left one leg off the floor and let it lower down in front of you as you sit back into a squat with the opposite leg, keeping your chest up and weight back into your heels. Return to start and repeat, then switch sides.
Tree pose - Yoga anyone? Yoga has tons of great balance exercises, including this one. Stand tall with feet together, and arms outstretched overhead, slowly lift your left foot up to the side of your calf and balance on the right foot only. You can slowly lift your arms more overhead and try holding for 30 seconds. Switch.
As these movements become easier, add more challenge by including a BOSU ball to help engage and strengthen more deep core muscles and take your balance training up a level. If you are wanting to add balance training into your routine and you feel unsure on how or where to begin, get with a personal trainer who will guide you safely and efficiently through each movement and help you to improve your balance and posture. This is one of the many skills personal trainers have to help you incorporate a well balanced exercise regime safely and efficiently.