As a side note, I’m writing this while traveling 45 miles per hour! That’s some fast blogging.
But I digress,
In the fitness world, there are several categories of performance we generally think about; strength, power, and balance.
If strength measures how many muscle fibers the brain can recruit and power is the measure of the speed and application of that strength from those muscle fibers, then balance would be the efficiency of the communication between brain and muscle.
Balance is the finesse, the dexterity, the application of control over strength and power.
It’s the bread that holds the peanut-butter and jelly together.
It’s what allows the gymnast to perform amazing feats of body strength, it allows the athlete to gain a few extra yards after being tripped up, it helps grandma live independently free of the fear of falling, it helps us keep our joints vital, our muscles spry, and ready for the day.
So, how do we work on balance, where do we start?
With my methodology, our spring board into the world of improved balance relies on Stability the Form Squat and the RDL Balance Drill.
Stability is what allows our body to carry natural alignment, with weight bearing down equally on the muscles, rather than our joints. In a natural upright position with the axial skeleton in alignment, gravity pulls down on us as we have evolved to deal with it. However, with our sedentary life styles, we tend to slouch and front load an unnecessary amount of weight on our spine, hips, and knees which inevitably leads to joint discomfort and issues down the road!
To start correcting stability imbalances there are a couple exercises we can do that are very simple and super beneficial to your body.
The Suitcase Carry, The Farmers Carry, and the Waiters Carry.
In each of these exercises, your shoulders should be back and relaxed with no tension in your arms other than gravity pulling down or you pressing up against it. Stand up straight, and tighten up your core.
Now go for a walk!
Literally, walk a set distance, between 20 and 40’ and take a break in between walks. It shouldn’t feel like you are doing a ton of work, but you should feel your body’s natural alignment fighting against the force trying to unbalance you, thusly, strengthening your muscles in a natural position.
The next thing we should be concerned with is executing a squat to correct and deep form.
To begin practicing this we need a box or a surface that is level with the bottom of our knees and will allow us to sit at the depth of a true 90* angle squat (90* at the knees that is.)
Our weight should be distributed over our heels and if you feel your weight shifting into your toes during the exercise, push your hips back (just your hips!) and you should feel the weight redistribute itself over your heels.
Using the box, we can squat down and stand up aiming for the box so we can get the right depth and train the muscle tissue required to hold ourselves at the depth without the assistance of the box.
Your goal is to squat that depth without taking the pressure off your legs and actually “sitting” on the box. Once you can accomplish this, start practicing squats without the box!
If getting to that depth is just too difficult for you due to deconditioning or some other affliction, use a box that is slightly higher and once you’ve conquered that one, gradually move down to the lower one.
Next up, we have the RDL Balance Drill, arguably this is the toughest of the three. First off, RDL stands for Romanian Dead Lift. It is a style of deadlift that keeps the leg nice and straight while stretching out and firing off the hamstring.
To perform the RDL, we first need to imagine there is a steel rod extending through our spine. We need to maintain posture of the spine and alignment to really get the maximum benefit from this exercise. Next, we will be standing on one foot. We want to bend forward at our hips (not waist, remember, keep that spine aligned) and let our free leg extend back as a counter weight to the weight of our torso, go slow! Speed is not your friend during this exercise. As you start your decent, you should feel your hamstring stretching and firing; this means you’re doing it right! Reach down as far as your hamstrings will allow each time you perform this exercise.
Now, balancing is difficult on one leg, for anyone! One method to make this a little easier as you are starting is to stand near a wall while you are doing it, this will allow you to hold one hand on its surface to help guide you through the motions. As you start to feel more comfortable completing this exercise, gradually start to take weight and pressure off the wall, till eventually, you are not using the wall at all.
These are the fundamentals to balance training and the foundation of my programming.
The next exercise is an activity that you can do for your deep Form Squats and RDL’s once you have mastered them on their own.
Place 3 raised surfaces down, 1 in front of you, 1 to your left, and 1 to your right. Then place a weight (dumbbell, kettle bell, medicine ball) or something you can pick up with one hand onto one of the surfaces. Perform your Squat or RDL and pick up the weight. Stand, and then perform the exercise again moving the weight to a different surface.
For the RDL, just make sure you are using the opposite foot and opposite hand, this will allow you to perform the crossover motion which will really get your hip firing! (the outside raised surface of the foot you are currently balancing on.)
This activity will allow your muscles used for balance and stability to kick in and work harder through the exercises as you are actively changing the direction and weight that is being put against it.
To progress beyond these for increasing difficulty and new challenges, you can add elements in like removing a point of contact (1 leg squats instead of 2) or putting yourself on an unstable surface like the BOSU Ball or for the balance activity with the three raised surfaces and a weight, you can add a fourth raised surface behind you.
So there you have it, balance and some progression.
The take away here, is that balance is very important and is not as hard as you might think to start working on and quickly progressing in. Truth be told, even some of my toughest cases have moved from ground based exercises (even using the wall as support) to doing these same exercises on a BOSU ball in as little as a week!
You too can improve your balance with a little dedication and determination.
Stay tuned next week, I will be releasing an info-graphic to tie into this post that should help make everything we’ve talked about even clearer and easy to use for you visual learners out there!
-Cheers, The Ferret