Jul 7, 2010

Balance: Either you've got it or you don't

by Will Hughes, BA, NSCA-CPT

While standing, hold your arms out to your side, shift all of your body weight on to one leg, and lift the other leg off the ground. Can you balance without holding on to anything?  Can you move your arms or leg and still stay balanced?  How about can  you close your eyes and stay balanced?

Unless you do this type of activity on a regular basis, you may feel a little unstable or just plain awkward. In any event, your body’s ability to recognize this feeling and respond to it is called proprioception, also known as balance. Balance is essentially your body’s way of knowing where your body position is relative to your surroundings. In unstable surroundings your brain sends signals throughout the body so that you can make the necessary adjustments to remain stable. Commonly overlooked in most general fitness workouts, balance training is a good way to help reduce chance of injury and pain. Having a good sense of balance is also very important when it comes to exercise progressions.

What are we doing when we train our bodies? Most of us are familiar with the phrase “muscle memory”. Muscle memory is essentially your central and peripheral nervous system communicating and telling your body what’s going on around you. In regards to balance training you are training your central nervous system to send signals throughout your body as quickly as possible so that you feel stable in an unstable situation. Essentially we are focusing our attention on a particular area of training so that when we need to focus on other external forces in our sport or everyday lives we can spend as little time as possible thinking about that particular area. A football player has enough to think about during a game than to have to focus on whether or not he feels balanced enough to run, jump, change directions, or tackle another player. So the idea is to train your body to do something so that you don’t have to think about it later.  We're looking for balance to become like second nature.

Here's some simple progressions you can work on at home or in the gym:
1.  Standing on one leg
2.  Draw the alphabet in the air with your free leg
3.  Keep your arms to your side
4.  Add a weighted object that you can move from one hand to the other
5.  Add an unstable surface to stand on with a bosu ball or air max pad
6.  Close your eyes

Once you feel confident in your ability to maintain balance on one leg you could also incorporate balance training in other exercises as a progression in your workout to make them a little bit more difficult/challenging. Take a basic body weighted squat for example. Normally you would stand feet parallel, hip to shoulder width apart, and squat. Now try a single leg squat (split squat or stationary lunge). Feet are now in a split stance with trail leg relatively straight behind you, and feet positioning is still hip to shoulder width apart. Now, keeping majority of your body weight on the front leg continue with your squat. There are even ways to progress further with your squat variations. You can elevate the trail foot, do a walking lunge, do step-ups, or use an unstable surface such as a bosu ball or air max pads.

At Prevail Conditioning Performance Center, we work on balance and proprioception everyday with our clients. 

William has been in the Santa Barbara area since 2002. Originally from Indianapolis, IN William received his B.A. in Mathematics from Earlham College in Richmond, IN. He played 4 years of football at the Div III collegiate level as a wide receiver and 2 years of Track and Field running the 400m, 200m, 4x400m relay, 4x100m relay and triple jump.

William began his path with personal fitness in 2007 when he earned his Personal Training Certification through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.  He is currently striving to work more closely with athletes. He has worked with summer football camps and enjoys working with young athletes to help them direct their athletic development. As well as working with athletes, William also does private training for general fitness, and leads core conditioning group fitness classes.

For further question, contact Will: will@prevailconditioning.com

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