When we think about moving our body, we often jump to the idea of a gym workout or going for a run. But sometimes the simplest movements can help us to reap the big rewards. Just like strength, cardiovascular and flexibility training, balance can and should be trained. Training balance can help to improve overall fitness, help with injury prevention and improve sports performance. So check out some of these benefits below, and practice standing on one leg today!
Body Awareness – Do you find yourself walking into walls or doorframes? Maybe you’ve caught yourself more often tripping on that step or knocking over your cup of tea? Training balance can help to improve our body awareness in time and space. This in turn can improve our movement by reducing clumsiness and lowering our injury risk.
Co-ordination – Working on your balance can help to improve your co-ordination in everyday life. Just as balance helps to improve your body awareness, it allows you to train your body to work together – connecting the left and right sides of the body from the top of your head, down to your feet. This internal connection of our muscles and systems promotes co-ordination and helps us to then avoid tripping and falling over.
Joint Stability – When we complete balancing exercises we reduce our base of support (area of our body connecting with the ground) to encourage instability. This instability challenges our joints to work harder throughout the exercise to maintain or correct that balance. In doing so, balance training can help to promote stable ankles, knees, hips and shoulders, reducing injury risk to these areas by strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints.
Reaction Time – If you slip or stumble, your body needs to re-balance in time to correct the movement or you will fall. The quicker and more efficient we are at balancing, the better we can correct any over- or under-extension of movement that may have previously resulted in us tripping or falling over.
Strength – When training balance, your brain is challenged and must recruit more muscle to complete the exercise. This is due to the instability nature of the exercise and often cross-activation required from muscles to keep you firm and steady throughout the movement. This recruitment of muscle fibres then transfers to strength training, as the brain records these neural pathways and strengthens these patterns for future repeated movements.
Power – Power is a combination of strength and speed. By practicing balance exercises you will also be improving both your reaction times (speed) and muscular strength throughout such movements. As a result, your power output should see improvement also.
Agility – Agility is a combination of balance, speed, strength and co-ordination. As we improve on all of the points covered above, our agility should also see enhancement. This will largely be shown through an improved ability to recover from slips and tripping up, or better yet, will help to avoid them altogether in the first place.
Long-Term Health – Balance training can help to prevent falls and can reduce injury risks associated with such accidents. As we get older our bones begin to become more brittle (especially in older women who suffer from osteoporosis). A fall, or stumble into a solid surface, can be very detrimental to our health as we age. Broken bones, fractures or joint instabilities can lead to a range of further health complications, particularly in the elderly, as we become less mobile and more inactive. Improving on and regularly practicing our balance gives us another tool to promote long-term health and encourage healthy joints and bones.
Convinced of the benefits but not sure where to begin? Try this simple balance exercise to assess how well you are able to balance, and re-test over time to look for improvements!
Choose one leg on which to balance. This should be the same leg each time you perform the test – however you may like to test both and compare the two.
Without hopping around or moving your grounded foot, stand on one leg for 30 seconds and count how many times you have to touch down to the ground with your other elevated foot.
Repeat the test every few weeks to compare if you number of ‘touch downs’ decreases.
To make the exercise harder, try balancing for 60 seconds instead of thirty, close your eyes and/ or look up towards the ceiling as you hold in position. Each challenge will make the exercise slightly harder and challenge your balance even more.
Want some help with improving your balance, fitness and health? Contact us today.