Why is Balance Important?
Balance training is important for everyone, at any age. By participating in activities that challenge your balance you are improving your proprioception. Proprioception refers to your body’s ability to interpret and react to it’s position in space. Multiple systems in the body gather information through billions of receptors that communicate to your central nervous system about where your body is and which muscles need to be activated and inhibited so that you are able to maintain your position optimally. The complex system amalgamates information from muscle fibres, ligaments, sensory receptors from the bottom of your feet, your head, neck and your inner ear in addition to visual cues and other sensory cues to fine tune your muscular output and maintain your body position. When the information is too complex or when parts of the system are not functioning optimally the result is that your brain is not able to convey the right information about muscle activation and control and you will lose your balance. You can improve the efficiency of this complex system through balance training which will give this system practice and experience so that you can master challenging tasks. This is similar to learning how to balance on your two-wheeler for the first time or learning how to skate, ski, or to do a cart-wheel.
Benefits of Balance Training?
Balance training should be specific to the activities and tasks that you hope to improve upon. By training your balance you will see huge gains in your coordination, your skill as well as your posture in your desired activities. Furthermore, improving your balance will result in fewer injuries because your reaction times will be quick and your muscular control centers in the brain will be highly efficient.
How do I train my Balance?
There are tons of fancy gizmos and gadgets that are designed to challenge your balance such as stability balls, BOSU balls, balance discs, wobble boards and foam rollers. Although these items can definitely challenge your balance, it is certainly not necessary to go out and purchase these tools in order to start training your balance. In fact, you can turn just about any exercise that you currently do into a balance exercise by incorporating a few additional principles.
1. Close your eyes: you vision gives tons of information to your balance system and by just closing your eyes as you do an exercise you will start to challenge your balance and fine tune the other receptors that gather information about your body in space. Ensure that you can do the exercise safely and have something or someone close by to help you in case you do loose your balance when you are first starting out. Think safety first.
2. Narrow your base of support: When you are in a standing position your legs are your base of support. When you are balanced, your centre of gravity is over your base of support. The further apart your feet are, the easier it is to balance and the more narrow your feet are, the harder it is to balance. Thus, to challenge your balance, try bringing your feet closer together while you are doing standing exercises. You can do bicep curls with your feet touching or squats with your feet close together as an example. As an additional challenge, you may also try doing your upper body exercises with one foot directly in front of the other.
3. Try doing your exercises on one leg: Once you master narrowing your base of support you may try to do your exercises with one leg. Try doing your bicep curls, shoulder press or other upper body movements while you balance on one leg. You can also try single leg squats, single leg calf raises or try moving one leg in different positions as you balance on the other. Remember to practice on balancing on both legs or you’ll end up with imbalances.