The question: I have terrible balance. Are there any exercises I can do to improve it?
The answer: Absolutely! There are a ton of great balance exercises, and I encourage you to make a concerted effort to include some in your training. Balance training is hugely functional. It improves the feedback loop between your body and your brain. This loop, also known as proprioception, allows your brain to tell your body to "turn on" specific muscles and allows your body to know how it is positioned.
Improving your proprioception will decrease your chance of injury and improve athletic activity. For example, if you run, balance training is a must. When you run, your feet and brain need to communicate to stabilize your ankle and safely place each foot on the ground.
Since balance exercises wake up your brain-body communication, I like to incorporate a few into a warm-up. Improving the loop between your brain and body will help you to perform better during the rest of your workout.
Try incorporating this balance series into your warm-up:
Step 1. Stand on your left leg and lift your right leg off of the ground. Hold for five seconds. Lower the foot but don't touch down. Repeat 3 to 10 times, then switch legs.
Step 2. Repeat Step 1 while rotating your head over and then away from the lifted knee.
Step 3. Repeat Step 1 while closing your eyes for two to three seconds.
In addition, try challenging your balance by incorporating unstable equipment, such as a bosu, resistance ball or balance board within your regular routine. For example, instead of doing push-ups on the floor, put your hands on either side of a bosu, flat side up. Try to keep the bosu stable as you do your push-ups.
Trainer's tip: As your balance improves, start increasing the difficulty of the exercises. Try – within moderation – to work outside your comfort zone. The key is gradual progression. Be safe, but still challenge yourself. Try closing your eyes or decreasing the base of support. For example, if you have been doing presses while lying on a Swiss ball for years, it is probably no longer a balance challenge. To progress, decrease your base of support by bringing your feet closer together.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.
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