By Niall Ebbs
ACE Personal Trainer, Health Coach, Weight Management Specialist
Balance and Stability are two important factors that we all need in daily life.
Balance is defined by Merriam-Webster as “physical equilibrium”. In terms of health and fitness, this is the ability to remain in control of our bodies when standing, sitting on an unstable surface, or when performing movements or exercises requiring precise and controlled speed of movement. There are two types of balance to be considered – static (remaining balanced while in a stationary position) and dynamic (being balanced while the body is in motion).
Stability, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the strength to stand or endure”. As viewed in terms of an exercise regime, we would see this as having greater core strength/core control when performing movements or when stationary but in an unsupported position. Core strength and control can be increased using many different methods, but ideally should comprise a combination of static/isometric and dynamic movements akin to how the two types of balance should be considered.
Both go hand-in-hand and play large roles at all stages of life, but particularly as we approach old age since poor balance and stability are contributors to slips and falls. The good news is that they are trainable and can be improved quite quickly with regular exercise. There is also a great deal of crossover between the two in terms of exercise, in the sense that working on balance will also assist with improving stability and vice-versa.
Since much of our balance and stability comes from the lower body and core, I will focus on a few ways to make improvements in these areas. Here are some tips for success:
- Use bilateral movements (i.e. two feet) but begin to vary your stance. For example, if you are performing body weight squats try using a narrower stance or a staggered stance (one foot slightly further forward than the other) as this will challenge your base of support more and cause positive adaptations.
- When you have mastered using alternate stances, you can use a little sensory deprivation by closing your eyes while performing the movements to up the ante.
- From here you can progress to single leg movements such as lunges etc.
- Adding weights will further develop balance and stability but also promote strength in the leg muscles. This should not be done until significant improvements have been made without needing to incorporate weights.
- Begin with static/isometric exercises such as abdominal planks, side planks etc. These are extremely effective for improving and maintaining both static balance and stability.
- Incorporating dynamic movements such as ab crunches and back extensions will add strength and muscular endurance and thus enhance stability/core control.
- Introducing stability ball movements adds an external source of instability to be overcome but should not be used until floor/mat-based competency has been achieved.
- Try to avoid using machine-based core exercises, unless directed to do so by your doctor or physical therapist. Machines provide much of the stability that you are attempting to improve and therefore can be detrimental to your efforts.
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