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This is why Balance Training Is So Critical For Good Health

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 03 April 2014
Hits: 3009

Balance training, for most people we see when they first come to the gym is often a very difficult task and for most even quite scary. This is especially true with older adults is needed now more than ever! Senior Fitness classes are popping up everywhere as there is becoming more and more a need to improve mobility in function with the older population. But balance and stability training is not just for old people! Sports and Rehabilitation this skill and type of training is critical for achieving success and improved performance or for getting out of pain. The common theme to all of these areas is if they had spent a lot of time developing this skill earlier in life it would not be a problem later on! This does not mean we all have to start standing on swissballs or doing circus stunts. Having a good understanding of what balance is needed for YOU is the key. In this article we will look at what happens when you lose this skill, defining what it means and how you get it back or make it better than it has ever been before.

Statistics predict that by the year 2045 there will be 77 million people older than the age of 65, and that 1 out of every 5 people will be age 85 or older! People are aware of the benefits of exercise, unfortunately they spend more time doing cardio type exercise or things they like to do and less time doing what they need to do. Even people who take up a strength training program can have problems. Because if not prescribed with Functional concepts and trying to improve how you move the program can create more harm than good. (read movement not muscle) It breaks my heart to see an older adult put on machines in the belief that it is safer for them. How are they ever going to learn how to balance and stabilize their body when machines do it for them all the time! So building muscle is not the most important factor, it is building better movements that is more important. Balance training and agility training are part of a good training program that is often overlooked when people go to the gym, yet these abilities are critical to an elite sportsmen.

The Danger Of Falls

We know most people over the age of 75 will have trouble with simple activities such as walking up stairs, walking, lifting things and the most common injury among the elderly is hip fractures. By improving your ability and skills in the areas of balance and agility you can dramatically reduce the likelihood of falls and live a life full of fun and adventure. Here are some scary statistics relating to falls with older adults:

  • The leading cause of injury deaths among older adults
  • Caused 31% unintentional injury deaths in 1999 and are the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma ( 1.6 million treatments, 370,000 hospitalized).

Why Do People Fall?

There are several reasons for people falling and quite often it is not one thing but a combination of many. Factors include chronic diseases, environmental hazards, medication, slowed mental processing, loss of their peripheral system, loss of co-ordination, taking risks and common muscle loss. We like to refer to this most of the time as the “Use it or lose it” theory. The loss of muscle is definitely a significant contributor here, because as you sense the loss in strength and begin to avoid activities, you now begin to lose skills and other essential abilities such as balance, co-ordination and agility. Functional strength and balance go hand in hand, you must be STABLE in order to lift something heavy! Sitting on a machine such as a leg press or chest press will serve no purpose for improving your balance or stabilizers. In fact it will make it worse as the body now thinks it no longer needs the stabilizers to pick up heavy objects or move quickly etc. Unfortunately many of today’s Senior Fitness classes do exactly this!

For a training program to be fully effective it must include some kind of exercises that are trying to improve balance, agility and co-ordination first then require strength. Other abilities to consider are flexibility and to a lesser degree endurance. But if I was to break it down into a hierarchy of importance I would rate Balance Training, especially for older adults as the most important ability to start with and master. Watch the videos below of examples of learning to move are of much more importance than strength.

Balance Training Is Not Just For Old People!

As I mentioned in the beginning, balance training is for everyone. Unfortunately some people do abuse this type of training and circus stunts are not necessary and can be more dangerous than providing any benefit to your training. If your sport requires that skill then do it, but if your life or sport does not require this you fill find that learning how to single leg balance, squat, jump and lunge might be enough for you. It is amazing when I see people in their 20's and 30's come in to do strength training for the first time and just how bad their balance is. They can barely stand on one leg for more than 5 seconds! This person may not have an injury, but they are certainly heading in the right direction to get one.

If you play sports I recommend you read this article "The 8 Must Haves Before Starting A Sports Specific Strength Program" One of the 8 must haves is BALANCE TRAINING. I go into great detail about how to do this and why relating it to sports.

If you don't play sports and are not an older adult I still encourage you to work on this skill. For ALL of the clients we work with in our rehabilitation program for Knee Pain, Back Pain, Piriformis Syndrome and various other injury have a serious balance problem. The lack of stability in their body creates the injuries in the first place and sets them up for a lifetime of problems until this addressed. In particular single leg balance and strength we link to nearly every leg injury. ACL Knee injuries are linked to poor single leg stability and only a strength training program that incorporates this type of training will provide you with the results you are looking for. Good articles to read on this topic are below

Weak VMO & Knee Pain

Piriformis Syndrome & How To Get Rid Of This Pain The Butt

Back Pain & Bulging Disc Treatment Strategies

Below is some videos highlighting the need for balance training in sports and how it relates to not just injury prevention but also sports performance!

Where To Start: Assess Don’t Guess

This is a great quote and in the case of balance testing and programming, very much essential for getting good results as it can tell you where to start. We use many methods such as

· Standing on one leg
· Standing on one leg with eyes shut
· BOSU squats Dome side up
· BOSU squats eyes shut
· Balance Board Squats
· Balance Board Lunge

For great results you need to test in four conditions. We regularly use the eyes closed method as it promotes higher activation of the nervous system which controls the muscles and the body’s ability to react and move . Here are the four conditions we test in

1.    Eyes open stable
2.    Eyes open unstable
3.    Eyes closed stable,
4.    Eyes closed unstable.

What Should A Great Balance Program Include

1. Centre of gravity control- This means that the person has the ability to weight shift as seen in movements such as dancing, golf and gym movements like Woodchop. Multi directional ability is key here. Low center of gravity means greater balance. Watch one of the professional tennis players move across the court and watch how low the get when hitting the ball on the run.

2. Multi sensory Control - This is the ability to have great awareness of touch, pressure, knowing where your body is in space. Not relying on your eyes to move, eg walking while throwing a ball to yourself or with head turns. These are exercises typically using Eyes shut or taking the eyes of a fixed point to create the reflex response

3. Postural correction –Without doubt this is where problems originate. Ideal posture is defined as the state of muscular and skeletal balance which protects the supporting structures of the body against injury or progressive deformity. It is during a state of ideal posture that muscles will function most efficiently. The prone cobra is a great postural exercise that can be performed anywhere. Stretching of short tight muscles along can also have a great effect on improving your balance.

4. Walking enhancement –It is common to see an old person with balance issues and loss of strength shuffle along with slow walking speed, small stride length, varied stride frequency. The usually have a wide stance and at times with significant sideways movement that may produce a lot of hip and low back pain. These characteristics impair functional performance and increase the risk of falling. Exercises for improving gait are at times quite complex but even simple activities such as crawling and progressing to marching exercises can provide great results. Sprinters use a lot of marching and high knees drills to improve efficiency of running techniques to run faster. Use of these techniques can achieve the same result. Another common habit with is looking at the ground whilst walking so forcing yourself to focus on the horizon is a great way to break this habit. Again this can come back to posture so stretching of tight muscles plays a big part.

5. Strength, endurance. Flexibility –Last but not least loss of strength, especially in the lower body is a significant contributor to falling. Exercises such as squats, lunges, step ups are essential in building good skills and muscle development. Multi directional lunges are an excellent choice here, but they must be taught correctly and progressed slowly.

If you are an Older Adult I highly suggest getting our Free Report below as it details everything in this article plus much more to help you understand exercise better.

Conclusion

In conclusion we are all aware of the need for balance training, sports, rehabilitation but especially with older adults. However it must have a Functional approach. Performing crazy circus acts, which may look good will not really enhance function. On the other hand Senior Fitness classes that require people sitting on machines or even isolating muscles with free weights will not improve function. Using exercises that mimic everyday life or sports skills will provide the best and fastest way of improving balance. If you apply a well designed plan built around Flexibility, Balance and stability training, with the goal of improving movement, you are well on the way to improving mobility and living the life of your dreams.

References:Dan Ritchie and Cody Sipe – Training Older Adults, Paul Chek- Scientific Balance Training

If you live in Melbourne and would like to come in for a Free Postural and Movement Assessment fill in the form below and I will get back to you within 24 hours for an appointment time.