Being part of the Training Department here at Fitness First- Rockville has given us the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the greatest personalities imaginable. For all of our members, we offer the opportunity for a comprehensive fitness assessment. When administering these assessments, I am always surprised at the number of individuals that have been exercising for years and would seem fit, however they have an unbalanced exercise program. This brings us to, in our experience, the most overlooked element of fitness: BALANCE!
Balance, sometimes called proprioception, is communication between your mind and your muscles that allows the body to remain stable. Proprioception is your own sense of where your body is in space. “The term proprioception refers to a sense of joint position,” writes Anne Quinn in a helpful article about balance training. “It is the basic skill needed in practically every sport. From soccer to tennis to rock climbing, changing your center of gravity to match your moves is the key to efficiency in sport.”
Professional dancers and athletes have highly refined proprioceptive abilities simply because their bodies are required to respond to constantly changing forces, surfaces and elements. But balance is an important skill for everyone, especially as we age. Injuries from falls and accidents are a significant risk for older adults. Maintaining stability throughout the course of our everyday activities is a key factor in maintaining health and wellness.
To train one’s sense of proprioception, simply put the body in an unstable position and try to balance. Begin with an easy test like the one used by police officers when administering a sobriety test. Stand tall with arms extended and try to touch your nose. If that is too easy, do it with your eyes closed. Professional dancers often stand in releve (on their toes) and balance with their eyes closed to test their balance. If those exercises seem too easy then begin to incorporate balance training into your strength workout.
Use a balance board or Bosu ball under one or both feet while performing upper body exercises. Another option is to roll up a towel and use that instead. The point is to put the body on a slightly uneven surface to train the mind and muscles to stabilize while doing biceps curls, lateral raises or any upper body movement. You will notice that maintaining balance while moving both arms simultaneously is easier than trying to compensate while moving one arm at a time. Start balance training with easy exercises and gradually increase the challenge.
Middle aged exercisers are perfect candidates for balance training because as lifestyles change it is common to eliminate activities that involve risk or imbalance. While this might keep the body safe in one regard, it limits the body’s ability to to test and therefore train our sense of stability. And like every other sense, the less you use it the worse it gets. By participating in just a few balance exercises a week, all exercisers will improve their chances of staying strong and injury free. As always, see you at the gym!