If you want to get fit, you need to have good balance. Balance is an underrated and vital component to staying healthy, especially as we age. Balance training works your hip and thigh muscles, and as we get older it is what helps to prevent us from falling. Aging also means that our bones become more fragile, so when we do fall we break bones, like our hips or arms. Over 2 million Americans are brought to the emergency room each year as a result of fall-related injuries. Improving your equilibrium through practice and training is your best defense against that.
Adding Balance Training to Your Routine
Most people overlook balance training in their workout programs. It helps you stay stable, but it also improves your core (your back and abdominal muscles) function. Even your posture reaps the benefits. Some people train themselves through yoga or tai chi classes, which incorporate poise and steadiness into their poses and exercise. Yoga especially tests and pushes your limits, as you contort your body and learn to balance on different combinations of your hands, feet, and even your elbows. This works different muscles like your calves, quads, hip flexors, adductors, and glutes so you have control over your body in any environment. If these muscles are left underdeveloped, you won’t be able to depend on them later.
You can perform balance exercises as often as you like, but you should make it at least 2 days a week. When you’re beginning it’s best to keep a friend or sturdy piece of furniture nearby as a safety net. You can practice standing on one foot, heel-to-toe walks, and knee curls. Runners know all about strength exercises like leg lifts and hamstring stretches, but learning to control your body’s internal sense of its positioning and the motion of your joints is just as important, because it can help prevent injury.
Utilizing Balance to Prevent Injury
A study published in 2004 found that volleyball players who followed a balance-training routine over several months had significantly less ankle sprains than the group who did not partake in balance training. Two years later a study on high school athletes by the University of Wisconsin found the same results with basketball and soccer players. The balance helps your body’s proprioception, which means it is aware of your ankle’s relative position to the ground. It also strengthens the muscles controlling the ankle.
It is relatively easy to begin your improving on your balance, because you can start simple exercises by yourself at home at any time. You don’t need any equipment, so you can squeeze practice into any free time in your day. Only athletes who have a history of knee injuries should be wary and talk to their doctor first to make sure they aren’t aggravating the injury. Otherwise, any athlete at risk of turning their ankle can benefit and even non-athletes can use the skill to their advantage to prevent fall-related injuries. You can practice the common one-leg stand, and make your own modifications to challenge yourself, like bouncing a ball off of a wall and catching it while on one leg, or practicing hip extension on your free leg.