- Written by Kathleen Trotter Kathleen Trotter
Balance training is a crucial — and too often ignored — element of training.
Too often we associate “working out” solely with traditional gym exercises, such as cardio, squats, lunges, weight machines, and stretching … all (obviously) critical, but not at the expense of balance training.
Being able to bench press a certain weight or spend 30 minutes on the elliptical become fairly useless if you fall over putting away the weights or getting on and off the elliptical.
Start to think of balance training as a “nonnegotiable” — the fourth “pillar” of fitness that is as important as strength training, cardiovascular training, and flexibility.
Why? Balance training is hugely functional, in large part because balance and proprioception are intrinsically linked.
Balance training improves the feedback loop (proprioception) between your body and your brain. This loop allows your brain to know where your body is positioned in space, thus allowing your brain to instruct the body to “turn on” specific muscles.
By challenging and training your balance, you also fine-tune your proprioception.
This proprioceptive neurological feedback loop is vital for everything from athletic maneuvers, to fall prevention, to improved posture, to injury prevention and foot strength.
Fall prevention is key, especially as we age. According to the CDC, each year over 300,000 older people — those 65 and older — are hospitalized for hip fractures. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling.
A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada followed up with more than 500 hip-fracture patients a year after their fractures.
Of community-dwelling hip-fracture patients more than 50 years of age, 20% had died, 5% had had a second fracture, and 20% had been institutionalized. The outcomes were even worse for those in long-term care.
Ways to Improve Your Balance
For all outlined exercises, allow yourself to (appropriately) wobble outside your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to let yourself get slightly unstable. If you were training your biceps, you would let your muscles get tired.
Embrace that you have to let yourself fall out of balance (slightly) to train balance — it is the “righting” element of wobbling and then catching yourself that helps your balance get stronger.
Incorporate a few balance drills into your workout warm-up or while you brush your teeth or wait for the elevator. Warming up the loop between your brain and body will help you perform better during the rest of your workout and your day!
Stand on your left leg and lift your right leg off the ground. Hold for five seconds. Lower the foot but don’t touch down. Repeat three to 10 times, and then switch legs.
Repeat step one while rotating your head over and then away from the lifted knee. Repeat step one while closing your eyes for two to three seconds.
Use unstable equipment — such as a Bosu balance trainer, resistance ball, or balance board — within your regular routine. For example, 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-up.
Train barefoot to strengthen your feet; think of your feet as the “foundation” to your balance “house.”
Triangle balance toe lifts: Standing on your right leg, engage your right butt cheek. Make sure your knee is not caving in; keep the kneecap in line with your middle toes.
Pay attention to your right foot. Weight should be evenly distributed between the ball of the big toe, the ball of the little toe, and your heel. Keep your arch lifted.
Maintain this position as you lift your right toes up and spread them. Leave the ball of your foot on the floor.
Lower and repeat 15 times. Then switch sides.
Heel-toe walks: Start standing. Place your right heel on the ground in front of you. Flex through your toes so the next portion of your body to touch the floor is the ball of your big toe.
As you transition to balancing on your right toes, lift your left foot off of the floor. Don’t roll your foot in or out. Balance for a moment.
Repeat by placing your left heel on the floor in front. Repeat 10 times.
Big-toe lifts: Lift your big toe up and down. Keep your other toes still. If you need to, hold your toes down to teach your brain how to only lift the big toe.
If you are feeling overwhelmed — “too busy” to work out, let alone adding balance training to your life — try keeping a “time journal.” Record how you spend your time for two weeks. Most of us fritter away time.
As the famous business adage goes, “What gets measured, gets managed.” You can’t possibly manage your time if you don’t know where your time goes. With awareness brings choice.
If you want to get on top of your health, you have to get in control of your time. Too many of us let emergencies dictate how our time gets used or have no idea how we actually spend our minutes, hours, days, etc.
Time is our most valuable resource — we can’t make more of it.
Kathleen Trotter (MSc) is a fitness expert, nutrition and life coach, media personality, and author of two books, including her most recent, Your Fittest Future Self. Connect with her on social media at FitByKathleenT or through her website, KathleenTrotter.com