3 Ways to Improve Balance and Prevent Falls
Staying balanced means staying rooted on our feet. Previously, we've written about why our balance changes as we age, we now explore several fun ways to improve your balance and prevent falls within your resistance training routine. Resistance training is not only important to maintain muscular strength, but is also important to maintain brain to muscle connections.
Keeping these pathways active lets our brains know that these muscles are still there and still working; therefore they can be recruited when recovering from balance disruptions such as slipping on the snow this winter or someone bumping into you at the grocery store.
Utilizing Exercise Tools to Prepare For Everyday Movements
There are different kinds of balancing exercises and tools to use that account for the potential situations that cause us to be off balance. There are also different levels that you can progress to so that you keep challenging yourself.
1. BOSU Drills
The BOSU, an air filled dome that is much like a half a stability ball is a versatile tool that can be turned Both Sides Up It increases muscle stimulation, recruiting motor units that you normally wouldn’t if you were balancing on a stable surface. All of these muscles that are now stimulated are now recognized by the brain and can be recruited to balance should an un-expected situation arise.
2. Down Side Up
Start with simple tasks such as stepping on a off the BOSU from varying angles (front, back, sides). Progress to jumping on an off from these angles. Exercises can also be performed while on the BOSU. You can even walk or run on the spot.
Simple bicep curls, military press ect. can be executed when standing or kneeling on the BOSU. Weight lifting while on a balance device plays with hip, knee, ankle and spine stabilizers because when the weight shifts we have to make small postural changes to maintain balance. Having to keep balance while segregating the movement of another body part stimulates smaller motor units for balance and is mentally stimulating.
Turning the BOSU upside down (flat side up) gives you a flat surface, though this is often more challenging for people to get on off – do what is comfortable and feels safe.
3. Single Leg Movements
Balancing on one leg while doing exercises tests our balance as well. If one leg is stronger, or better with balance than the other, we often favour the use of that leg when completing two legged balancing exercises. Strengthening the weaker leg on its own will be beneficial should you need to use that leg in a real situation. It also forces your core to be stable to segregate the movement of the limbs.
If your balance is already poor start by holding on to a chair or stable post when completing these exercises.
For Leg Abduction:
Balance on one leg, starting with the free leg at the center. Draw the leg out to the side and then back in towards center. Once again, do not counter the movement by tilting your upper body in the other direction.
For Leg Adduction:
Balance on one leg, bring the not supporting leg across your body so that its heel touches the toes of your supporting side.
For both adduction and abduction, leg movement should come from the hip only and the upper body should not move. Keep your pelvis still and level.
As your balance improves try standing without holding on to something. To make it more complex add one or two arms moving in different directions, or move your leg forward and back. See how long you can stay standing on one leg.
These exercises work both on strengthening the balancing leg as well as the surrounding side muscles on the moving leg. All around leg strength and hip stability are important for keeping your knee stable should you be thrown off balance in a real situation.
4. Agility Ladder Drills
The agility ladder works with your balance by challenging your proprioception while giving you the skills to be able to change directions quickly if needed. Proprioception is the ability to sense where your limbs are in space.
If we have better knowledge and control of where our limbs are, we are faster to react in situations that throw us off balance. The agility ladder is a great tool to use to work on foot placement. It welcomes all levels of physical fitness. You can start out as simple as walking in straight line along keeping your head up, and progress to highly complex, fast leg movements. Again, the core should stay stable and make sure that you spine stays nice and tall when completing the agility ladder drills. Let your arms move nice and loosely.
You can easily create an agility ladder with a twelve foot piece of rope laid out on the ground with several similarly spaced curves (like a snake) or keep it straight. There are quite a few agility drills with the ladder as well ones that use cones.
Do what challenges you, but stop before you feel as though you are going to fall. There are many different exercises, progressions and combinations you can make with each of these tools.