Working with wide a range of clients from professional athletes to office workers and from teenagers to seniors I have noticed that a significant number of them have poor balance. I have always been told that balance issues are more associated with the older generation. With time we lose our ability to move gracefully due to weakening muscles, worsening sight and the slowing down of brain function. In my work I have noticed an increasing number of young people who suffer with a lack of balance and coordination and not as a result of clinical reasons. It just seems to me that a lack of movement and physical activity is making people clumsy.
Balance, as any other skill, is fading if we do not use it, in the same way that you lose muscle strength when you do not train it. In our modern times where we spend most of the day chair bound and exercise is only done for 1 hr three times a week it is clearly not enough to keep our natural coordination and balance, which was needed by our ancestors to survive.
In the case of professional athletes the way of the training is too focussed on vision instead on the quality sensory feedback from the body. In the case of multidirectional sports just relying on vision is not enough to provide enough information to the brain. If the communication centre (the brain) is not sufficiently trained in receiving and interpreting information from other parts of the body balance and coordination will be disturbed.
Lack of balance is leading to an increase in injuries for both athletes and non-athletes. You can actively fight back by doing some activities which improve your balance.
- Stand on one leg
When brushing your teeth for 20 sec or more, your brain will gather information from all of the sensors around the body and with time will learn how to process it and improve your balance. If you want to make it harder then try closing your eyes.
- Take up Taiso classes
Taiso has many health and mental benefits, not just working on muscles but on the brain too and helps to calm ones mental state. Via form training we can improve strength, balance, flexibility and mobility. Our brain is stimulated by learning new patterns, building new neuron connections and reinforcing them by repetition. Natural, deep breathing oxygenates blood, relaxes tension and calms the spirit
- Plyometric / Functional training
This form of training is performed with your own body weight, taking you through different variations of movement in different planes and directions. Improving strength, agility, speed and balance. From my experience this is the best way to improve overall balance in active people.
- Take up dancing
It is a great and fun way of challenging your coordination and balance, going through dynamic stances your body is getting used to changes in the environment whilst at the same time improving your health.
- Martial arts
Martial arts are great for hand to eye coordination and balance as there are often changes of position and alternated use of arms and legs. Performing drills also increases the workout for the brain when memorising a sequence of the moves. Along with all of the health benefits you also learn self-defence and get a boost in confidence.
- Good sleep
This is very often an overlooked aspect. Sleep deprivation will decrease brain availability to process data from our body resulting in lower balance and coordination.
Test your Balance
Three tests to check out your balance.
- Both feet test
Stand on both feet with your ankles touching, arms across your chest and close your eyes. Ask someone to measure the time for you. It is normal to sway a little bit when you are standing with your eyes shut, you should stand for 60 seconds without moving your feet. Now test yourself by putting one foot in front of the other. You should be able to hold this position for around 40 seconds on both sides.
- One foot test
Perform this test somewhere that you can safely grab on to something, for example a door frame. Stand on one leg lifting the other without touching or resting it on the supporting leg. Close your eyes. Depending on your age you should be able to hold the pose for 30 seconds eyes open, 20 seconds with eyes closed for those who are 60 years old or younger. People aged 61 and older: 22 seconds with eyes open, 10 seconds with eyes closed.
- Ball of the foot test
Stand on one foot with your hands on your hips, and place the non supporting foot against the inside knee of the standing leg. Raise your heel off floor and hold the pose—you should be able to do so for 25 seconds.
If you need more information on how to improve you balance through the use of Taiso, Plyometrics or Martial Arts please feel free to join us on our classes or for private tuition.
About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate. Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing.