In this day and age, it’s true that as we find more and more ways to entertain ourselves, many of us exercise less and less. While less activity may predict future problems with loss of muscle mass, reduced strength and the specter of obesity, it also poses more subtle concerns. For example, if we never learn and use proper balance techniques by strengthening our core stabilizer muscles and training our central nervous system to properly react to a variety of movements, we’re putting ourselves at dire risk of injury in our everyday lives. Finding balance in life (literally) is just one factor in living a life of quality activity.
We’ve discussed and written about functional fitness often. Proper balance is crucial to protecting yourself in potentially dangerous situations, from the petty, like stepping off a sidewalk or curb, all the way up to life threatening, and vital for accident prevention. That’s why it’s increasingly important to train core for balance and stability, as well as train using a variety of methods for flexibility and recovery, targeting reactions to prevent an actual fall. Whether you’re young or old, athletic or non-athletic, a busy parent that’s let their fitness goals go by the wayside, an athlete with special needs, or a senior looking to live the longest healthiest possible life, balance training is essential to your lifestyle, whatever your goals.
First, let’s take a look at what balance training does, and how it works. Balance training has two primary goals: to strengthen deep core stabilizer muscles, and to train the nervous system to react quickly and forcefully.
Deep core stabilizer muscles, such as the transversus abdominus, multifidus, and many others, are the small muscles that control minute and precise movements. They’re essential to balance because they make those small adjustments that, at the most basic for example, keep you from falling over every time you take a step.
Your nervous system efficiency, which is also trained by normal compound workouts, is a function of how quickly your nervous system delivers a message to your muscles once your brain sends it, as well as how forcefully your nervous system is able to contract that muscle. Thus, it affects your reaction time and how efficiently your muscles can react, move and respond.
These two aspects make up the majority of what we call our sense of balance. While there are other aspects, such as inner ear health and mental state, those are subjects requiring more compensatory techniques and can’t necessarily be trained away. We’ll be leaving them out for now, but call The Fitness Clinic to discuss a regimen for specialized compensatory training for more complex issues or special needs training programs. We’ve been providing specialized personal fitness programs for over thirty years.
So how does one train their sense of balance? By challenging it, of course! While you could always try it at home by, say, standing on one foot, the best balance training is done with specialized equipment, under the guidance and supervision of trained fitness professionals (as is the case with all types of physical training). While balance training is generally used as a supplement to a more comprehensive fitness program, those with exceptional need may elect to make core stability a higher priority in their program, and even dedicate workouts specifically to improvement in this area.
So what are some good exercises?
You’ll find your best core training on top of a BOSU® ball. A BOSU® ball, for those who don’t know, is half of a large rubber ball — Basically, it’s half of a Swiss ball. The other half is just a flat, hard rubber surface. Because it’s full of air, and one side is curved, standing on either side, curved or flat, will challenge your sense of balance.
There are tons of possible BOSU® ball exercises. The simplest and easiest, for those just starting balance training, can just be standing on the ball at all. As you gain core fitness and find and improve your sense of balance more, you can eventually move to standing on one foot, to doing squats while standing on it, to weighted squats, even to one legged squats (known as pistol squats). Squats on the BOSU® ball are particularly effective at challenging your balance, as you have to fire your large “mover” muscles and your deep stabilizer muscles simultaneously. This has great benefit, because it teaches the two muscle groups to work together, and can therefore help make you immensely stronger as a side perk. Once you’re rolling, have your Fitness Clinic personal trainer demonstrate the BOSU® jump squat! Have them show you several times 😉 They all love it 😀
But – the possibilities for BOSU® balls don’t stop there. Almost any exercise can be performed with a BOSU® ball to add an element of balance training. For example, try laying the BOSU® ball with the curved side down, and then place your hands on either side of the flat side while doing pushups, planks, or side planks.
You can also lay it flat side down and do burpees on it. Your hands will be on the curved side on the pushup portion, and when you jump, you’ll jump on the BOSU® ball as well. This will challenge both your upper and lower body stability in a tough cardio exercise.
Another great tool you can use is the BOSU® ball’s big sister: the Swiss ball. This ball is just a large, inflated rubber ball with no flat sides, and comes with its own set of exercises to challenge your core and give you the balance you need. Since it doesn’t have a flat side, many exercises can become vastly more challenging with it. Try doing a few push-ups with your feet placed on top of the Swiss ball, or even something as simple as sitting or laying on it and trying not to fall off (sitting balance exercises are good for whenever you want to challenge yourself without really working up a sweat).
Including some TRX inspired exercises in your balance focused fitness program can contribute mightily to balance and central nervous system efficiency improvement, and fine-tune your ability to react to slips and trips. The TRX straps can assist in making the pistol squat a fantastic and attainable balance challenge, and mastering the TRX side lunge will make you a balance PRO! Ask your Fitness Clinic personal trainer which TRX-type exercises worked into your regimen will contribute the most to your stability and progress.
Lastly, a note on safety: Although technically anything that puts you off balance can be a balance exercise, it’s very important to train safely, and these exercises are no exception. Nothing puts a halt to progress faster than an injury, so don’t be tight-rope walking curbs where you can fall off, because a rolled or sprained ankle definitely does not improve your balance. Start on a 2X4 or fitness step with a spotter if you are just starting out. The old rule about consulting a professional and being in a specialized fitness center are especially important. Not only will you receive personalized training programs, but a trainer can give you the low-down on what to do as well as how to do it, and when we start a balance fitness program performing new exercises or using unfamiliar equipment, a spotter’s helping hand can be especially useful and reassuring.
With these exercises, ranging from beginner all the way to advanced levels, you have everything you need to live a safer more stable and vibrant life. Integrate them into a full fitness regimen, or just do them a bit on the side to keep yourself spry. Either way, they’re guaranteed to show results; and as long as you play it safe, you’ll be a balance master in no time!
If you’ve started or are still considering a new personal fitness program for 2017, please review The Fitness Clinic articles on resolutions, persistence and consistency, and our guaranteed ultimate personal fitness plans:
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The Fitness Clinic personal trainers can help you stick to your fitness goals and 2017 Resolutions on so many levels. Challenge them to help you fulfill your goals and expectations this year. For a complimentary fitness assessment and a special offer to help motivate you to attack your fitness challenges, call Fred or Nick at The Fitness Clinic gym in the Imperial Square Plaza – 954-491-4969 – Over thirty years of success stories have started here.