As a medical exercise specialist; I work with a lot of people who come to me with injuries. Broken bones, twisted or sprained ankles, dislocations, broken noses, injured elbows and knees, hurt backs, and hip problems. Often these injuries are due to a fall because of poor balance. The amazing thing is most people believe they have good balance. In fact, they haven't, and with a few quick assessments we can prove it.
Poor balance is common in people who do not engage in regular physical activity. Surprisingly, I also see poor balance in avid runners, strength trainers, marshal artists, hikers, cyclists... just about everyone I assess.
As well as reducing the risk of injury, good balance strengthens and stabilizes joints, and creates more efficient body movement. This allows for smoother overall daily functioning, and enhanced sports performance.
Assessing Your Balance in 3 Easy Steps
(Stand beside a wall when doing these assessments in case you need something stable to lean on)
- Lift one leg
How long can you remain balanced, without putting your foot down, or holding onto the wall for support? Did your ankle wobble around a lot? Did it feel unstable?
- Balance on the other leg
How was that? Many people find that they can balance better on one leg than the other.
- Balance on one leg with your eyes closed
How did that work for you? A little harder I'll bet.
If you were able to balance for thirty seconds without faltering, then you are doing pretty well. If not, you've got some work to do.
Did closing your eyes make it more difficult to stay balanced? I bet it did. Why? Because most people mistakenly use their eyes to maintain their balance. As soon as the eyes are taken out of the equation, we often lose our balance, and this is when accidents happen. Let's face it, when you are walking to your house carrying bags of groceries, and you trip on something in the driveway, you don't have time to focus your eyes on the horizon to regain your balance. Nope, it's over, and you're flat on your face.
How to Improve Your Balance
I train people to hone their internal balance autopilot, so when the body feels the slightest sense of instability, it can automatically right itself. This is safer, more functional, and highly efficient.
Practice balance by simply standing on one leg for as long as you can. While balancing, move your head from side to side, and up and down. Never allow your eyes to focus on a particular spot for more than one second. This will force you to balance with your body, rather than your eyes. Your goal is to be able to remain stable for one minute.
When you have reached the Stage 1 goal, you can progress to this next stage. Hold a ball in your hands, and balance on one leg. While balancing, toss the ball against the wall, and catch it. Playing catch with yourself forces your mind to concentrate on catching the ball, leaving your body to focus on balance. This really hones your balance autopilot. It's even more fun to play catch with a friend who is also balancing.
Once you have reached the stage 2 goal, you can advance to this next stage. Begin by balancing on one leg. Hop into the air, and land on the opposite leg. Once you are stable, hop into the air again, and land on the other leg. Your goal is to be able to hop from one leg to the other for three to five minutes without faltering. Mastered this? Then find a friend, and play catch with each other while hopping about the room. Be prepared to laugh, a lot!
You'll be amazed how much your balance improves by practicing just five minutes each day. Have fun with this, and notice how quickly you see improvements.
©2008 Synergenix Fitness Astrid Whiting, author, columnist, Medical Exercise Specialist, CPT.