Many of us are familiar with the function of endurance training to cardiovascular health and strength training to build muscle and promote joint function, but few are truly aware of the concept of balance training. You may have seen balance training equipment (e.g. balance balls and stability boards)in gyms and brushed them off as being rehabilitation equipment for injured or older people. The truth, however, is that balance training can benefit all of us more than we expect.
On a daily life basis, the ability to balance is such a natural thing that we tend to take it for granted. In sports, balance is key to performing well, whether you’re running on uneven terrain, skating or engaging in team sports. Balance involves postural control, which affects our body’s ability to recover back to a stable position when we’re knocked off balance. Avoiding falls and injuries would hence be difficult without good postural control.
Balance training for postural control
Studies have found that other forms of strength training like resistance training don’t help too much with postural control, so balance training may be something worth implementing into your regular routine. In balance training, muscles associated with postural control are strengthened to provide stability. For example, the muscles around your joints are trained to contract together which increases joint flexibility and reduces the risk of injury. Your hip and ankles are the most vital areas in maintaining postural control, and this is what the bulk of balance training typically addresses. There are two ways you can conduct balance training for postural control:
Such exercises aim to strengthen your core through “holding” movements like planks, but can be hard to enjoy and do border on the mundane sometimes.
These exercises are much more engaging and stimulating as you get to move around and acgively mobilise your body. You don’t even have to assign separate workout sessions for these; dynamic balancing exercises can be incorporated directly into your current workouts as they generally make for good warm-up exercises.
Pro-tips to ace balance training
- Train your mind in tandem
Good balance can’t be achieved if your brain isn’t in tune with your body’s motion. Scientific findings have discovered that the same parts of your brain responsible for maintaining balance are also related to spatial orienting and memory. Focusing on the mind-body connection is crucial to ensuring that your body is able to function properly within any physical environment, so don't “space out” during your sessions!
- Breathe and be natural
Feeling tense is common when you’re struggling to maintain your centre of gravity on a wobbly balance ball, but don’t let your body get too stiff because you’ll hurt yourself when you fall over. Holding your breath won’t help because in real situations when you lose your balance, your breath will almost certainly be knocked out. Letting loose and breathing normally (into your abdomen, not the chest) is the best way to train your balance.
At the end of the day, it's important to remember that the purpose of balance training isn't to substitute other forms of exercise or to help you stay fitter. It only conditions your body to have better postural control, which will then help you make the best out of your other training modalities while also reducing the risk of injury. Like what fish oil capsules are to a nutrition plan, balance training should be seen as a supplement instead of a wholesale replacement.