Improve your equilibrium
Balance is the ability of the body to maintain its position with respect to its centre of gravity when all else becomes unstable because of motion, unevenness, or overindulgence.
While working as an archaeologist, I was standing on a stack of buckets lashing a tripod when the buckets toppled over. My left foot landed in a bucket while my right foot became snagged on a fire hose. I lost my balance and fell into the pit.
“Mike, stop showing off,” said the director. “Use the ladder like everyone else.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I was balance training.
Balance is the ability of the body to maintain its position with respect to its centre of gravity when all else becomes unstable because of motion, unevenness, or overindulgence. The body does this by triggering different stabilizing muscles to keep itself steady. Balance involves proprioception whereby sensors in muscles, tendons, skin, and ears monitor our position and respond by activating muscles to maintain our balance.
A fundamental skill
Balance is an important aspect of fitness. Sports medicine expert Elizabeth Quinn states that it is a basic skill that allows the body to respond to changes in the centre of gravity that change with every movement. It governs agility–the fundamental skill for sports.
Fitness trainer John Shepherd states that it is at least as important to train for balance as it is to train for strength and speed. Balance training exercises generally involve making conscious movements that allow the muscles to do what they need to do to prevent us from falling.
Quinn suggests standing on one leg and leaning over to touch the floor, then returning to the standing position. I teach a variation by adding forward momentum. Participants leap forward and land on one foot, hold that position for a few beats, then launch off that foot to land on the other.
Balance boards are useful. They are round or rectangular boards with a hemispherical base. Simply standing on one is challenging enough to balance train. BOSU Balance Trainers (an acronym for Both Sides Up) are excellent for standing or running as they offer an uneven and unstable surface to challenge balance.
Another popular model is the Extreme Balance Board. It provides independent and simultaneous movement through three planes of motion: the vertical, horizontal, and transverse planes. It’s not necessary to perform complicated exercises when balance training. The important thing is to use a piece of equipment that challenges and improves your balance.
Balance training improves agility and prevents falling, but falling needn’t spell disaster. Some falls have a silver landing. After my archaeological avalanche, I emerged from the mud brandishing a spoon that was fashioned 2,000 years ago out of a mountain goat horn.
Get on the ball
Exercise balls are excellent for training balance. Here are a few exercises you can try by yourself or with a partner:
1: Ball crunches
Do crunches with the ball positioned under the small of your back. As you curl up, keep the ball stable. Lower your body, feeling the stretch in your abs. Perform 12 to 16 repetitions. Challenge your balance by lifting one leg or by shifting your position off-centre.
Face your partner and play catch with a medicine ball while perched on the exercise ball. Try lifting one or both legs while throwing and catching to challenge your balance. Repetitions can increase as your balance improves.
3: Ball wrestling
Pair up with a partner and sit on your own ball. With one foot on the floor, push each other with the other foot. It doesn’t take much to toy with balance. This can be a fun or competitive exercise!
4: Kneeling on the ball
Challenge yourself by gradually increasing the time you can kneel on the ball. This is an advanced exercise; increase repetitions slowly as your balance improves. Some people actually stand on the ball but I’d hate to explain what I was doing to the emergency staff as they set my broken arm.