Would you describe yourself as someone with poor balance or weak ankles? How about injury prone and constant sprains? Maybe someone who plays a sport where you’ve seen people injure their feet or knees? There is no reason it would have to be like that and is a very easy area to start improving by adding just a few habit changes in your day or minor tweaks to any training program. Balance is the body’s ability to right itself quickly during any movement, from standing up from a chair to a fast paced sport like basketball or hockey. It is also necessary for good posture because of the need to stabilize the body when you aren’t moving, like when trying to hold something heavy or standing on your tiptoes.
It seems that balance improvement tends to go to the wayside when training programs are created. You see quite a bit of talk of grip strength but never any foot strength work for anyone but athletes who want to take it to the next level. The American Journal of Sports Medicine published a study that showed balance training improved the lower body’s biomechanics, leading to a reduction in injury rates with their female athletes tested (Myers, et al. 2006). Teens were also shown to reduce their injury rates when working on a home-based balance training program over 6 months (Emery, et al. 2005). Everyone should be doing it regardless of what your activity level is because anyone can easily receive these benefits. From the elderly who might want to ensure they don’t take a possibly life threatening fall and stay active and mobile well into later life, to regular weekend warriors who might want to get better at their recreational sports or keep up with their kids without injuring themselves. The benefits of balance training carries over to everything that you do, because it is required in everything that you do rather than a specific gym exercise like a bicep curl.
The training itself can be scaled very quickly and easily to any skill level. Start off by finding out where you are and creating a baseline for yourself. Take your shoes and socks off, and then time yourself to see how long you can stand on one foot with each side. Try again, but this time standing on one foot with your eyes closed. You might be surprised at how hard you feel your foot working to try to control your balance, or maybe you are uneven on each side, or even not able to stand for more than a few seconds. Improving this over time is as simple as practicing that each day, but there is a massive variety of other methods to fit anyone’s lifestyle or dedication. More advanced methods would be adding tools to balance on (most commercial gyms have things like wobble boards and bosu balls to try to balance with) to your existing routine. Another would be to try harder exercises if balancing on one foot was too easy, such as single leg squats or bending to touch your toes while still on one foot. You could also add plyometric exercises, which are things like jumping up onto a box, over hurdles or jumping for distance. A university study showed that even after just 4 weeks both people with some kind of current ankle issue (flexibility, prior injury, or lack of strength) and regular people just looking to improve their performance, was enough to show notable improvement (Rozzi, et al. 1999).
With just minutes a day spent balancing or adding something minor to your current program you can drastically change your balance and strength. You can decrease your chances of a major injury like a blown knee or sprained rolled ankle while simultaneously increasing your quality of life and mobility. Balance is something you need to use every day whether you like it or not, so why not make sure you can balance when you need it?
By: Ryan Grzech