They say life is a balancing act. In fact, our entire lives depend on a certain level of balance — be it by juggling our personal and professional lives, or figuring out a workout routine that marries the perfect level of strength training with the ideal amount of cardio. It’s all about balance; and what better way to develop a more perfect sense of balance than through balance training?
Balance training incorporates a number of weird tools — large, inflatable balls, balance boards, etc. — all to help you work on your stability. What you’re truly training your body to do, through balance training, is to properly navigate and manipulate the dimensions of your body through space. It develops your coordination, and helps teach your muscles to communicate when interacting with your environment.
Say you find yourself in a position where, for whatever reason, you need to navigate some tricky footing (crossing a log-bridge over a stream, field sobriety test?). If you haven’t had any sort of balance exercises since playing hopscotch as a kid, your body’s physical systems will probably have a hard time dealing with it.
It’s like riding a bike for the first time after a long hiatus; you’ll remember how to do it, but you can be damn sure it’ll be a shaky ride for the first few minutes.
Balance is one of the key components in building muscle symmetry as well. Think about when you’re lifting weights — even the bench press is an act of balance, as you need both arms to simultaneously work to push the weight away from your chest. This balancing act requires the coordination and balance of both sides of your body, in unison.
Adding some balance exercises to your routine isn’t all that difficult, either. The exercises themselves are incredibly simple, and many can be incorporated into a cool-down period. For example, single-leg balances, weight shifts, or even a session of paddle boarding can get you started.
Balance is starting to catch-on, too. World-class athletes are using balance exercises now more than ever, and researchers are finding more and more positive results from balance training. An in-depth article about the power of balance was featured in the L.A. Times, showing that the training methods are making their way into mainstream media channels.
That article also digs into how people suffering from a number of diseases or disorders — specifically those that have an impact on stability and agility — are finding welcome relief through balance training methods. Also, as people age, their sense of balance and stability starts to waver, which is a major factor in the huge number of falls seen in the over 65 population every year.
As mentioned previously, balance can be an important element in a lifting routine. But for those who focus more on running or cardio, it can be equally as beneficial. Studies have shown that runners who work balance exercises into their workout routines can lower their odds of a variety of injuries, and even improve coordination and running mechanics.
At the end of the day, the key factors to look at, when considering adding balance training to your regimen, are the overall costs and benefits. Balance exercises require little effort, and can be done literally almost anywhere — even at your desk, or while standing in line at lunch. That means the costs are very low; so low, that there’s almost no reason not to try them out.
As for the benefits, it’s clear that working on your stability can help reduce the chance of injury, improve your coordination, and prepare you for more complex exercises. Researchers do admit that there is a lot of work to be done, and a lot more avenues to be explored. But based on the current science, it looks as though working on your balance really has no down side.
So, try out some balance training moves during your next cool-down. It may help a lot more than you think — and if it doesn’t do anything for you, the most you have to lose is a few minutes of your time.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger