Wellness Wednesday: Training Concept Series Pt. 3 – Find Your Balance
Published 9:53 am Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Cardio, resistance training, core – all great aspects of physical training that deserve utmost attention and participation along each individual’s wellness journey. Even with the amount of information shared thus far, still, many topics remain in the realm of fitness. Today’s topic: balance. The technical definition of balance is the ability to maintain one’s center of gravity (typically found in the mid-trunk area of the body, at the approximate midpoint of the body) within their base of support. As one’s balance improves, so too does their limit of stability – the area within one’s base of support in which an individual can maintain their center of gravity without falling. Continue reading for a dive into some essential mechanisms, rationale, and general guidelines for balance training.
The body’s ability to maintain balance stems from the interaction between the visual, vestibular, and somatosensory systems. The visual system, via the eyes and occipital lobe of the brain, sends messages to the central nervous system about the body’s current location in space. For example, standing with your eyes open versus closed can alter the difficulty level of balance maintenance, because with your eyes closed, your brain cannot rely on information from this part of the network. Try this (with support and only if able) and notice the difference in stability of the body. The second system within this crucial trifecta, the vestibular system, communicates spatial orientation and head movement information to the brain though tiny sensory receptors found in the inner ear. The vestibular system helps stabilize the body throughout dynamic changes in posture, such as bending down, squatting, or hopping. Finally, the somatosensory system contributes to the body’s stability on unstable, changing surfaces and terrain (i.e. a rooty trail or gavel road), allowing the body to compensate movements for adjustment and injury-prevention. The somatosensory area in the brain processes all incoming information from the body (touch, temperature, and pain), and it then communicates with the primary motor cortex to produce the movement response.
A large part of any training regimen, physical and mental, consists of the motor learning process of the brain, thus, the understanding of this process applies to any training concept, especially that of balance. In other words, as you train to improve balance, physical and mental adaptations take place, leading to: performance enhancement, injury resistance, and increased rehabilitation ability and fall prevention. Research shows that balance training enhances muscular control and lower extremity strength, contributing to overall athletic and recreational performance. This increase in control and strength allows participants to maintain their center of mass within larger limits of stability and helps older individuals maintain the ability to perform common activities of daily living with decreased risk of fall and injury. A recent systematic review showed that balance training reduced the risk of ankle injury by 46% when compared to athletes who did not follow a balance training program (Sutton, 550). While deficits in balance ability may take place for a while after a lower extremity injury, balance training in rehabilitation has shown greater improvements in the use of the rehabbed body part (both during and upon graduation of a rehab program), than that of a program with no balance training.
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Balance training may seem simple in part, especially exercises with little movement, however it makes a world of difference in a person’s fitness goals. Perform these in a safe environment, with outside support if needed from a partner or in a corner, and start simple, progressing as able. After all, even the most extreme tight-ropers did not start on a suspended rope. Depending on your current ability, you may start with holding a single-leg stance on a flat, stable surface, then eventually progress to doing so with your eyes closed. Once mastered, you may then progress to a single-leg stance on a wooden beam (on the ground) or a foam pad for a greater challenge – first with eyes open, then progressing to closed. Or, you may progress from just standing on the single leg, to standing on the single leg while catching a ball and tossing it back. Many options and variables exist on how to properly and safely progress balance training, so check with a Physical Therapist or Personal Trainer if assistance is needed.
Overall balance in life healthily sustains one’s sense of wellness, and no difference exists among balance from a fitness perspective. Balance benefits mind and body, and it should remain a priority training concept in all programs, as it contributes to performance and safety for all levels. Ask your Physical Therapist or contact a Certified Personal Trainer to tailor balance training to your individual needs. As a personal trainer, I would love to help you reach your goals, and you can contact me at 318-990-2254 for a free consultation session. Be well!