Better Balance Better Movement

An athlete must be in control of their environment by using their sport skills properly while many stimuli and obstacles are rushing at them. Balance and stability is a necessity for athletes to compete at a high level. Balance according to Chris Hobbs; Importance of Balance and Stability to Mastery of Sport Skills is “the ability to neutralize forces that would disturb equilibrium.  Stability is measured in the level at which one can retain one’s balance while experiencing factors that disturb balance. Stability is defined as “the level of challenge at which one can still balance.” Balance and stability are aspects of sport that may determine whether an athlete is successful in his/her sport.

There are four body systems that are responsible for balance according to an article called The Role of Balance in Sports. The vestibular system is the inner ear. There is fluid in the inner ear that stimulates little hairs and signals to the eye muscles to stay focused while the head is in motion. This helps eye hand coordination. This vestibular ocular reflex can be disrupted by concussions, inner ear infections or age. Vision also affects balance and performance. The fovea in the retina allows us to focus on details which is vital in athletics.

Proprioceptors in joints and ligaments help balance because they communicate to the brain and muscles during any change of direction. This can ultimately have an influence on one’s speed and agility. Lastly, muscle strength and endurance in the hips and core muscles affect balance.  When one is strong in these areas one can fend off opponents, perform for longer and ultimately “neutralize forces that would disturb equilibrium.”

What happens when an athlete is on the move and the opponent is attempting to unbalance him/her. Stability is something that can set an athlete apart in terms of athleticism and quality of performance. According to Chris Hobbs there are four principles to increase an athlete’s ability to stabilize oneself. First, an athlete with greater mass has greater stability. Second, an athlete can increase his/her stability with a wide base of support. Third, an athlete can increase stability by lowering his/her center of gravity. Lastly, an athlete can increase his/her stability by “extending his/her base of support in the direction of the oncoming force”. He/she can brace themselves, getting ready for the contact that is coming his/her way.

There are practical ways to train balance and stability. Dr. Cobb at Z-Health has some great training ideas that may improve an athletes balance. Here are some things that can be done to challenge balance. First our foot position can be altered. This is a progression from easiest to hardest.

o   Wide stance with bent knees

o   Wide stance with straight knees

o   Narrow stance with bent knees

o   Narrow stance with straight knees

o   Staggered feet (one in front of the other) with bent knees

o   Staggered feet with straight knees

o   Stand on 1 leg with bent knee

o   Stand on 1 leg with straight knee

To make this more challenging you can add head movements

o   Move your head up and down

o   Move your head side to side (side bending)

o   Rotate your head to the left and right

To make balance even more challenging try to do it with your eyes closed.

To improve balance, combine these different variations holding the movements for 15- 20 seconds. Perform them for 7-10 minutes 3 times per week.

Variety: The Spice of Life

When it comes to exercise there is not one way to exercise that works for everyone.  Some people love to swim, some love to run, some love to do yoga and some love to do really hard challenging workouts where they are pushed to the max.  There are people that love group exercise classes, some that love to be in a gym and some that use exercise in isolation to reboot mentally.  Whatever you choose, consider the health benefits of your favorite exercises.

Exercise such as running, swimming, biking or hiking that are performed for 2 minutes to whatever extended period of time are considered aerobic in nature.  Your muscles require oxygen to perform these for an extended period of time.  Such exercises elevate your heart rate usually at a steady rate.  Benefits such as an increase in heart and lung strength, improve endurance, burn calories to help lose weight, increase metabolism and various bodily processes, help build muscle, good mental health, increase blood flow to muscles and lowering resting heart rate are great reasons to perform aerobic type exercises.

Anaerobic conditioning is an excellent way to build muscle strength and build muscle.  Short duration, high intensity exercise that is done without oxygen uses more calories while exercising but even better, it burns calories when at rest following the exercise as well.  Sprints or exercise done at a high intensity for less than 2 minutes is a way in which to control weight, male bones and joints stronger, can boost vo2 max (more oxygen available) and can lower blood sugar. Overall, participants report having more overall energy as a result of including anaerobic activities into an exercise plan.

Plyometrics refer to explosive movements that are done with bodyweight or very light loads.  Jumping movements enhance the power in one’s legs.  Exercises such as squat jumps, box jumps or even jumping over a cone side to side are excellent options.  Plyometrics are good for challenging fast twitch muscle fibers, coordination and agility but a bonus...it slows down aging.  

Weight training is another great way to build muscle strength.  In addition, it increases bone density.  Weight lifting helps make carrying out life’s daily activities easier.  When a person increases strength it’s easier to lift, move and carry objects.  Exercises such as leg press, seated rows, push ups, pull ups lunges are great exercises that can be done on either  machine or by adding hand weights for extra resistance.  

Balance and flexibility are important components to all exercise routines.  Balance helps prevent falls.  It is also important to be able to stabilize the body and control its movements. Balance makes movement more easier and more efficient.  Joga is a great exercise that challenges one’s balance and flexibility.  Flexibility keeps the body stretched out, muscles long, and helps stay limber with good range of motion.  The more mobile and stable your body is the more likely one is to prevent injury as well.  

A well balanced exercise program is recommended.  Balance your exercise program with multiple components of fitness to provide more health benefits.  Aerobic conditioning, anaerobic conditioning, plyometrics, weight training, balance, flexibility are only a few of the various components that you can use for your personal program.  Good health is the priority when designing an exercise routine.