Thursday, June 25, 2009

Controlled Instability & Balance

Balance is a key mechanism to help any individual perform better and live more safely, as well as functionally keep your mind & body synchronized for daily living. In addition, it is one of the easiest parts of the neuromuscular system to train! Improvement for balance exercises has also been suggested as being one of the fastest mechanisms to adapt within a training program.

Unfortunately, balance is also one of the most underrated mechanisms in any individual's training program, which in-turn makes the person more susceptible to joint dysfunction and injury. Without the sensory skills and feedback to maintain proper alignment of the body throughout different planes of motion, the joint's connecting muscles may become tight and overactive, or weakened and underactive, which may lead to even more imbalances elsewhere in the body. Scroll down below for Tom's post The Hip Bone is Connected to the Knee Bone below for more information on such relationships, or what one of my favorite professors from UCSB referred to as "Interconnected-ness".

When starting a balance training program, please remember to always perform the exercises in a training environment that is as unstable as can safely be controlled, also know as controlled instability. If needed, practice near stationary objects of proper height, i.e. facing a countertop for quick hand support, or in an area free of smaller objects that may be easily tripped on. Many products are available to assist with balance programs, such as half foam rolls, Airex Pads, and Dyna Discs, and can mostly be found at Big 5 Sporting Goods stores, or online. Others may find it's easier just try and progress to balancing on couch cushions placed on the floor. Whatever you decide, try something like this to start off with, before moving onto a more challenging surfaces:

1. Single Leg Balance - 10 repetitions for 10 second holds each repetition

If able to successfully complete, move onto this:
2. Single Leg Balance - with free leg reaching forwards, then reaching to the side, then reaching backwards- one "round" without needing to touch the ground - 5 repetitions of 5 rounds

If able to successfully complete, move onto this:
3. Single Leg Balance - with arms moving from pointing to the ground, to pointing to the ceiling, like a slow-motion jumping jack without the jump. If able to complete this, grab some small free-weights (or soup cans) and attempt the same motion. 3 repetitions of 10 "jacks"

Proper cues for all stationary balance exercises:

  • Do not lock your knee straight- always keep the knee slightly un-hinged as to not restrict blood flow

  • When balancing, draw your navel in and activate your gluteal muscles- this will help!

  • Chose a spot on the ground 5 or 6 feet in front of you to stare at when balancing, not the mirror or any moving objects

  • When performing balance exercises, make sure the knee of the balance leg stays in lines with your toes- any pressure of the knee moving either way beyond the line of your toes may stress your knee

  • Keep your hips and shoulders level, to maintain optimal lumbo-pelvic-hip complex balance

  • Try and keep the arch of the balance foot up! Don't let the foot collapse flat to the surface. Try this by curling your big toe down, and then trying to raise the inside arch of your foot

  • Always be progressive. Trying doing the above routine first as is, then progress to slightly more-challenging surfaces.
If you are unable to perform these tasks, just keep trying! That's the beauty of balance training- unless you know of predetermined conditions or are taking medications that will prevent you from completing these tasks, you will be able to adapt and improve your balance.

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