Have you ever told anyone that you have terrible balance? Or maybe just thought it, or felt that way? This time of year, with ice and snow everywhere, balance can be your best ally, or your worst enemy, and I want to share something with you: Balance is not something you do, or do not have naturally, and unless you have a non-treatable inner ear problem, you certainly do not ‘have bad balance’.
If you think (like most people do) that some people have good balance and others don’t, think about this: Have you ever seen a baby learn to walk? Do babies have good balance? No. Do toddlers have good balance? No. What about young kids? Yes. Why? What happened? Simple, kids practice balance al the time by putting themselves in places and situations where they are off balance.
You see, balance is a learned skill. It is something we practice and get better at. Here’s the problem: as adults, we stop practicing. We sit in a car, or a chair all day. We use the elevator instead of the stairs, we use handrails, was ‘play safe’ and stop challenging our balance. Then we get hit with a winter storm and wham! Flat on your butt or your back with six months of therapy required to get back to normal.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. At any age, balance can be practiced and improved. As a personal trainer, I use balance in training clients all the time for a variety of reasons: muscle recruitment, posture improvement and fun. There are several tools available to work with as well: Bosu ball, stability ball (used to be called a ‘Swiss ball’), and a dozen other things like bongo boards, inflatable cushions and foam balance pads. All of these are designed with one purpose, to help you practice your balance by doing the one thing most people don’t want to do, which is create a situation where you are off balance. It’s true! We hide our poorly practiced balance from other people, we don’t want anyone to know that we have poor balance, so to run right to an exercise that shines a spotlight on this fact is not what most people do. It is a requirement though — in order to teach balance, you need to be put in a situation where you are off balance. This is how the brain and body reconnect and improve.
One of the most popular devices for this in the past 10 years, has been the Bosu ball – which stands for “Both Sides Up’. A Bosu ball is actually a half ball, on a plastic platform, and by simply standing on this have a ball with bent ankles, knees and hips, you are already on your way to better balance. I have seen balance improve in as little as five minutes. Whatever exercise you can do standing or sitting, you can improve and add a balance component by introducing a Bosu ball or similar device.
Another way that you can work on your balance is to remove your main sense of balance: close your eyes. You can practice slow, controlled movements with weights or body weight exercises and improve balance and awareness by closing your eyes during the movements. Make sure that your training area is safe from sharp objects or hazards of course.
Another way to challenge balance without specific devices, is to perform your exercises on one leg, or one hand. You can also stand on a cushion, or a bed or a chair — anything unstable will challenge and improve your balance.
Try a simple bicep curl using dumbbells and notice which muscles are working. Then stand on a Bosu ball, or a few couch cushions and with your knees bent slightly, perform those same bicep curls and see what feels different. Your core is engaged, your back and legs are working hard to keep balance and hold you steady, muscles in your feet, ankles, hips, shoulders and other areas all jump in to help. So instead of just working your biceps, your whole body is getting a workout. Now when you hop out of the car, and the ground is slippery with winter’s leftovers, you have a much better chance of staying upright.
For a 90 second video on using the Bosu ball, check out this link: http://www.personaltrainersylvanlake.com/?p=664.
Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake. He can be reached at 403-887-7667 or check out www.personaltrainersylvanlake.com for more information.