Have you always thought that you just aren’t someone with good balance and that’s that? Think again. It is totally possible to improve your balance! So how do you do it?
Just like a weightlifter needs to lift progressively heavier weights to get stronger, if you want to improve your balance, you need to challenge your balance by placing yourself in unstable positions. In doing so, your body will develop the reflexes needed to maintain balance in that unstable state. This means that you need to be doing exercises that make you wobble…for if you are not wobbling, you are not being challenged. In time, a given activity that once made you wobble, will soon become easy and so you will need to move on to a more difficult activity.
Safety first: If you’re concerned that you might fall during a balance exercise, always keep your hand close to some type of support like a sink, counter, or sturdy chair. However, when performing the exercises, you should keep your hands just above your security support and only use them when you feel like you may fall. By having your hands just above the support, you will not rely on your hands to steady yourself and instead will use the balance reflexes found in your feet, legs, and torso.
So, let’s begin. For an extensive list of balance exercises I regularly use as a physical therapist for patients, head to https://programs.perfectingmovement.net/catalog
If those exercises are either too easy or too difficult for you, all balance exercises can be made more difficult by reducing the amount of visual input you are receiving. This can be done by performing the activity in a darkened room, with eyes squinted, or with eyes closed. In this way, it will limit the amount of visual input your brain receives and so will force you to rely more on your other systems for sensory input.
Exercises can also be progressed/modified by standing on an unstable surface such as a foam pad, BOSU ball, wobble board or even a slack line, all of which of course will make you wobble more. As always, anytime you are wobbling, you are challenging yourself and are actively in the process of making your balance better!
In this program, I have balance exercises for people of all ages ranging from high-level athletes to geriatrics.
So, are balance exercises for athletes too??
Absah-freakin-lutely…having good balance as an athlete is crucial toward preventing injuries. This is because good balance is essentially having good neuromuscular control. Without good neuromuscular control, one loses control during movement, and so is at a much higher risk of getting injured. Think about it: Running, cutting, sprinting, braking: all of this happens on one leg at a time. Therefore it is essential to have good neuromuscular control on one leg; ie good balance. Squats and deadlifts are great exercises, but they won’t improve your control/balance on one leg needed for activities like sprinting, cutting, running, and pivoting. Therefore, awesome single balance = not getting hurt = being a real winner.
Footwear which can immediately create better balance:
When using a thinner, flatter shoe with a wide toe box, one typically has better balance. This type of footwear is called “minimalist”, or “barefoot” footwear. Xero Shoes are definitely my preferred minimalist shoe brand.
Here are some of the characteristics and benefits of a minimalist footwear:
- A wide toe box which allows the toes to splay, creating a wider base of support.
- A flat sole without support which does not throw off the natural positioning of the foot and ankle.
- A thin sole which places one’s center of gravity lower to the ground to create improved stability.
- A thin sole which also allows one to feel the ground more easily. In this way the brain has faster and more descript sensory input needed to create more rapid and effective balance reflexes.
In contrast, most traditional shoes have thicker soles, motion limiting “support”, narrow toe boxes, and elevated heels. All of this will disrupt the body’s natural sensory and reactive needed to maintain balance.
As a physical therapist, I have had AMAZING success in getting my patients in a minimalist footwear for both reducing pain and improving balance. Once my patients start using minimalist footwear, it is extremely common that they report feeling more balanced and more confident on their feet.
Lastly, it is essential that one learns how to walk with proper technique in order to prevent a loss of balance, slip, or a rolling of the ankle. This is because walking with good technique places the foot more beneath the center of mass so that you have better control. Often people take an excessively long stride where the foot is too far forward from the center of mass. The further the foot is away, the less control you have and so are at higher risk of injury. As a guy who used to constantly sprain his ankle, I no longer do so. What changed? I almost exclusively use minimalist shoes and have improved my walking and running techniques. Here is a great video resource to learn how to walk the right way from PerfectingMovement.Net.
– James O’Brien MSPT, OCS, CSCS, from PerfectingMovement.net
The content of this post does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about your health or a medical condition.