Balance Training 101
I encourage all my clients - from my competitive athletes to my clients who simply want to be strong enough to play with their grandchildren - to train their balance!
Balance training is hugely functional. The better your balance, the easier you will be able to do everything - from stabilizing yourself on the subway, to picking up heavy objects, to negotiating uneven terrain to weaving around another athlete on the field.
Why? Balance exercises sharpen the feedback loop between your body and your brain. This loop, also known as proprioception, allows your brain to tell your body to "turn on" specific muscles and allows your body to know how it is positioned.
Therefore, improving your proprioception will decrease your chance of injury and improve athletic activity. For example, if you run, balance training is a must. When you run, your feet and brain need to communicate to stabilize your ankle and safely place each foot on the ground.
How do you incorporate balance exercise and unstable equipment into your training routine?
1. Add a few balance exercises to your warm-up. Since balance exercises wake up your brain-body communication, doing a few will prime your body for movement. This will help you to perform better during the rest of your workout.
Try stepping up and down on a bosu ten times. Or, come to the side of a bosu and do a sideways step-up ten times.
Don't have a bosu, no problem, try the following single balance series:
- Stand on your left leg and lift your right leg off of the ground. Hold for five seconds. Lower the foot but don't touch down. Repeat 3 to 10 times, then switch legs.
- Repeat the above move while rotating your head over and then away from the lifted knee.
- Repeat the above move while closing your eyes for two to three seconds.
2. Incorporate unstable equipment, such as a bosu, resistance ball, foam roller or balance board into your main strength set.
- Instead of doing the bench press on a bench, do the exercise with your head and shoulders on a stability ball, your feet on the floor, and your bum lifted in a bridge.
- Instead of doing push-ups on the floor, put your hands on either side of a bosu, flat side up. Try to keep the bosu stable as you do your push-ups.
- Instead of doing a crunch on the floor, lie lengthwise on a foam roller. Do a mini curl. As you curl, try and lift one leg off of the floor without falling off of the roll.
As your balance improves, start increasing the difficulty of the exercises. Try – within moderation – to work outside your comfort zone. For example, if you've already been doing bench presses with your head and shoulders on a Swiss ball for years, bring your feet closer together to decrease your base of support.