Balance in fitness: WHy and how is it important
Balance is key to everything, including fitness. Find out how you can improve your balance through a crash course and 9 simple workouts!
The word balance can mean many things but in the world of fitness, we often refer to balance as an ability. More specifically, it is the ability to maintain the line of gravity (vertical line from centre of mass) of a body within the base of support with minimal postural sway. Things are about to get more technical here, but bear with us. It will all help in fine tuning your balance.
Sway is the horizontal movement of the centre of gravity. No one person can be fully balanced as sway will occur due to several factors. When you breathe or shift your weight to walk, or be distracted by visual distortions and floor translations, you will sway. This makes sway a perfect measure of balance.
That being said, an increased sway does not mean dysfunctional balance, but just decreased sensory motor control, governed by three main sensory systems:
1. Vestibule system: These are sense organs in your ear that feed our brain information about motion, head positions and spatial orientation to stabilize our head and body during movement.
2. Somatosensory system: This system is part of the sensory nervous system that brings information from the skin and joints for the brain to translate into responses of movement and position of our body.
3. Visual system: This system works hand-in-hand with the vestibule system to stop objects from blurring when our head moves, helping us maintain an awareness of positioning.
Collectively, they make up a kinesthetic awareness, an ability to know where your body parts are in a three-dimensional space. This awareness is important for every move we make as you can react quickly to prevent injuries and accidents.
Which explains why balance training is one of the biggest fitness trends now. Simply put, balance is control. From the time we learn to walk, we are constantly learning how to balance our body to move freely. Once we gain control over our movements, we can run, jump or even twist our bodies.
This importance of balance gets particularly important as we age. Older individuals have a poorer balance due to loss of muscle strength especially around the joints. Compromised vision also leads to slower reaction times, and a common problem of inner ear dysfunction that increases with age, affects balance.
Better body balance means you are more agile, making it easier to move and preventing risks of injuries. But much like muscle mass, it is a "use it or lose it" thing, which means you need to start fine-tuning your balance now.
Here are some simple exercises that you can do to help improve or maintain your balancing abilities:
1. Tightrope Walk
Hold your arms out straight from your sides, making sure they are parallel to the floor and walk in a straight line, placing one foot in front of the other. Pause one to two seconds and hold each time you lift a foot off the ground. Look only straight ahead and try to maintain balance. Take 15 to 20 steps before moving on to another exercise.
2. Leg Swings
Stand on your right leg and life your left leg about five inches off the floor. With your arms at the sides, swing your left leg forward and backward while keeping your torso upright. Do about 15 swings before swinging your leg sideways, right to left, also keeping your torso upright. Again, about 15 swings before switching your legs to repeat.
3. Flamingo Stand
Stand on one leg like a flamingo, for 10-15 seconds and repeat this for five times before moving to the other leg. Ensure that a right posture is maintained while doing this exercise - shoulders, back and head straight.
Walk sideways by crossing one foot over the other in small steps. If necessary, put your fingers against a wall for stability. The smaller the step, the more challenging it is as your base for the centre of your gravity shrinks.
Either using a step or staircase, step up with your right leg and bring your left leg up to end in a standing position. Step back down with your right leg to your starting position. The key is to step up and down slowly, maintaining your weight as centre as possible. Perform 5 steps with each leg, and repeat for 5 rounds. Try bigger steps to make it more challenging.
For more challenging exercises, check out our Workout Wednesday videos!
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