Balance is very important for day-to-day living and extremely important in athletics. Fitness can be focused around balance in a way that improves your overall awareness of your surroundings, and the ability to perform exercises in balance heightens your ability to remain in balance
in your daily activities and in sports you play. Don’t confuse this type of balance with being able to walk a tight rope or perform a routine with perfect balance like a gymnast. Have you ever known somebody who continually sprains their ankle? This person doesn’t befall this pain from simply playing too much basketball. In this example the chronic ankle sprainer seems to have a bad habit of stepping off curbs or stumbling over objects on the floor. This person is not in tune with their proprioceptive system, or nervous system. This “feel” ability is our kinesthetic awareness allowing us to control balance and sense things around us like curbs or toys on the floor.
There is more to balance that just the ability to stand on one leg. Most of the time, individuals who feel unbalanced or dizzy present with a form of vertigo, often from inflammation and fluid in the inner ear. To understand the influence of the inner ear on balance, stand on one leg and tilt your head from side to side. Notice how it affects your balance. This balance problem can’t be solved in the fitness world. A visit to the doctor is needed.
When vertigo is ruled out, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of balance issues. To control balance, the eyes, ears and nervous system work together to provide the brain with all sorts of information about where your muscles and joints are in relation to each other at a given moment. You’ve just read about the importance of the ears on balance, but nothing sends more information to the brain than the eyes. Changes in terrain or objects in your path are all noticed by the eyes, and this notice gives the brain a chance to make adjustments by sending signals to the appropriate muscles to react accordingly.
So how can you improve your balance and be sure your nervous system, eyes and ears are all working together? Here are three simple ways to improve your balance.
- Exercise on one leg. Obviously, you can’t perform all your exercises on one leg, but a lot of them can be performed this way. For instance, take tubing or a therapy band of some sort and anchor it in a door or around a stable post or other piece of equipment where you would normally anchor it. You can do chest flys, rows, reverse flys, lat pulldowns, etc. all while standing on one leg. Alternate legs between sets to give both legs a shot at working. Tossing a ball back and forth on one leg is another great way to work on balance. Exercising this way will give your proprioceptors (the balance receptors in your nervous system) a chance to work. Over time, your body will begin to be in tune more with your nervous system. The ability to remain in balance while performing exercises will make you more likely to stay in balance while you do normal things throughout the day, such as picking up a child or walking along sidewalks with curbs.
- Yoga. Yoga is a tremendous way to work on your balance due to the nature of the type of exercise. Yoga is not just designed for added flexibility. Most of the poses and exercises require balance and thus train your nervous system in an awesome way.
- Close your eyes. The ultimate way to train your proprioceptive system is to take away one of the channels of communication to the brain. In this case the eyes are closed, and all the information the eyes would send to the brain is cut off, so your feel is heightened and required as the only way to stay in balance. To do this, start with raising one bent knee up toward your chest, until your thigh is parallel to the ground. Find your balance with your eyes open first. If this is difficult for you, continue practicing this way on each leg with your eyes open until you can comfortably remain in balance for at least 30 seconds. Once you can balance with your eyes open, it’s time to cut off that communication by closing your eyes. Any shift in foot movement, hobble, or jump to keep yourself in balance is a fail, and you must start over. Time yourself and see how long you can hold this position. You will find it much harder to stay in balance with your eyes closed. Practice this way and your balance will improve in all areas of life as your proprioceptive system begins to work the way it was designed to work.