The body is magnificently evolved (or designed) with many systems geared toward balance- the eyes interact with microprocessors in the joints, fascias and muscles of the inner ear, the feet, the neck and the Sacrum (SIJ). Any disturbance or problem in any one part (or with the system as a whole) will impact negatively on balance. Think of an ankle sprain or an inner ear infection and the resultant loss of balance.
Balance is an essential skill and its absence often results in pain or dysfunction. It is also a capacity which is trainable. Balance can improve quickly and have a wide range of positive benefits including:
- Decreasing falls (especially in the elderly)
- Increasing ranges of movement
- Improving muscle tone
Improving “core” function
Improving healing of lower limb and spinal injuries
A baseline test for balance is called the stork standing test and involves standing on 1 leg with the other leg up off floor and bent to 90 degrees at the knee. The normal length time for balancing with eyes closed is 15-20 seconds for an athletic individual.
So how do we train balance. From the ground up there is a process developed by Vladimir Janda which involves first increasing proprioceptive acuity from the foot itself-
This is known as “The Short foot series”
To create a short foot one scrunches one’s toes under one’s foot.
One releases one’s toes while maintaining the height of the arch.
One progresses from the short foot while seated (Unloaded) to standing on the short foot.
Then to standing on 1 leg (Stork standing )
Standing on one leg while Closing one eye and holding for 10 to 15 seconds (repeat on other side.) Closing both eyes for 10 to 15 seconds (repeat on right and left sides.)- while one leg standing on short foot
Once simple standing on one leg with one or both eyes shut is mastered, the progressions involve moving various body segment while on one leg.
Wobble board is a device with the circular 1/2 ball under a flat platform. Initially working on finding the centre and maintaining it. Then consciously moving in all the cardinal directions.
Swiss ball (& bosu)
This was ball or gym ball is a phenomenal device to improve ones balance and core stability. There are many exercises /movements that one can perform on the ball ranging from simply sitting all the way to advanced strength and stability exercises on the ball. A further article will be devoted entirely to training/ moving on the Swiss ball.
A slackfline was originally a device used by rock climbers but has become an activity itself. It combines the challenge of balance while moving dynamically preferably in a beautiful setting.
All the balance exercises/ challenges have the element of fun/playfulness in common and should be “played with” as opposed to diligently practised.