It is common to hear people say they were born a klutz and have terrible balance; the truth is that with proper training, improving balance can be achieved in almost anyone. After all, no one is born with the ability to stand on one leg, ride a bicycle or glide across the ice on skates. It was learned from practice
What is balance exactly? Balance is defined as the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling (Merriam Webster dictionary). So what does all this mean in simple terms? It means the ability to use our muscles in concert with our vestibular system to maintain control of our body against the force of gravity. Improving balance can be done with just three to five minutes of training per day and about three to four days per week. Exercise programs for improving balance can be done with little to minimal equipment.
Following are five simple tips to help a physical therapist or personal trainer help a person improve their balance.
First, I feel the most important rule of improving balance is to revise the old rule that “practice makes perfect” to Perfect Practice Makes Perfect. What I mean by this is that it is crucial to perform the balance challenges and exercises in such a way that you do not reinforce the balance error. For example, if you attempt to stand on one leg with your eyes closed and you lose balance in three seconds and you keep repeating this over and over, falling each time, it only reinforces neurologic feedback to fall at three seconds. Provide a situation for success. In this example, stand on one leg next to a wall and use a chair for support and correction at the time of the balance loss. This is perfect practice. And this creates new and improved neurological pathways for correct movement. After enough corrected repetitions, three seconds becomes five and so on. This may seem obvious, but imperfect practice happens all the time.
Second, all drills for improving balance should begin on a stable surface with shoes. Never progress to next stage until the exercise can be done in the easier stage. The progression continues to stable surface without shoes, followed by eyes closed. Then move to unstable surfaces with shoes, and then eyes closed, followed by progression without shoes and then eyes closed.
Third, we examine the actual exercises. Obviously you will need to determine where to start your subject based on their current balance level. If basic standing is a problem, begin with floor exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the core, hip, knee and ankles. Single leg bridges are excellent for this. Progression then move to kneeling and half kneeling positions. There are many excellent exercise software programs for learning and providing balance exercises. (See following two pictures)
Fourth, Begin with simple weight shift balance exercises on two legs using a wide base of support, gradually moving to a narrow base of support. Single leg, with upright trunk drills should be next. (See following two pictures)
Fifth, move to single leg balance exercises with bent trunk to engage the vestibular system. Once these become easy add neck turns to further stimulate the vestibular system. (See following two pictures)
Once basic static balance is achieved, progressions involving movement, simulated sporting activity and moving coordination drills can be added. You are only limited by your imagination in terms of exercises and progressions. Video exercise software programs are excellent tools for exercise ideas and for teaching these skills.
So remember only Perfect Practice makes Perfect and progress according to the person’s needs and ability.