Finding your balance, part 2

In last week’s Fitness Solutions Column, I wrote about the importance of balance and how to assess it. (Visit thespec.com and search “Schramayr” if you missed it.) This week, I’d like to give you an idea of how you can improve your balance and include some of the exercises and tips that have most benefitted my clients.

To recap; I wrote about how balance and stability are related to your “functional capacity.” This is your ability to do different things such as housework, yard work, child care and the demands of your job. It also determines how and what you can do in the way of recreation, travel, hobbies and sports. As we age, maintaining our functional capacity also becomes a matter of safety. Falls are a very serious problem among the older population and improved balance, stability and co-ordination can decrease the risk of serious falls.

The 6 assessments that I described last week were broken down into two areas. The first measured whether you could hold yourself stable while balancing and the second was more active, where clients were not only balancing, but also moving their bodies in a variety of ways.

Once you have a good baseline score from the assessments, it’s time to get to work. After a few weeks of incorporating these moves into your fitness plan, I would recommend retesting yourself to see if you’ve improved and by how much. As your scores improve, you can move onto the more challenging assessments that I described.

Here are 5 of my favourite balance building moves to add to your weekly regimen.

1. Single leg hold during active rest. When you exercise, there are natural breaks after sets or at the end of a round of circuit exercises. Rather than resting, get up on your feet and do a 30 second Single Leg Hold while you recover. Experiment with different leg positions. You can simply lift one foot off of the ground, or raise your knee up to waist height for a more dynamic move. You can also hold the “floating” leg straight out to the side of your body for an added challenge.

2. Use resistance bands and experiment with different foot positions. I love incorporating resistance bands into client’s workouts for exercises like chest presses or for rowing moves. As you move further away from the spot where the band is anchored, there will be more resistance and your core will have to flex to stabilize your body. You can alter your foot position from wide to narrow and from staggered to parallel for a variety of balance and stability challenges. An added bonus is that these moves really work your core muscles.

3. Uneven weight distribution. My favourite way to do this is to hold a dumbbell in one hand only while doing squats. With an uneven load, your body will have to work hard to stabilize itself and to co-ordinate movement. Imagine the effort it takes to hold a bag of groceries or a baby in one arm while bending to pick up a dropped set of keys.

4. Do single leg hold exercises progressing from very stable to very unstable. You can do this by wearing shoes on a hard floor, progressing to no shoes, then moving to a soft surface, like a carpet or a lawn, and finally to a very unstable surface like a pillow or on sand. Always make sure you have a chair or partner nearby who can help you if you stumble during this exercise.

5. Walk the Plank! Find a line on the floor or stick a piece of masking tape on the ground. Walk the length of the line “heel to toe” with your arms out if you are unsteady. With my clients, I have them progress to “Walking the Plank” along a 2 X 4 on the floor. It’s challenging to say the least.

My favourite thing about these 5 moves is that they can be modified for all fitness levels. They can be super easy or made to challenge even the most elite athletes. Start slowly and make sure you always have something you can grab onto if you feel uneasy or awkward.

This past weekend was a milestone for me in my return to health and fitness since having shoulder surgery 9 weeks ago. I had a great Father’s Day on Sunday that included my first bicycle ride of the year. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and I rode 30 kilometres from Hamilton over to the lift bridge in Burlington and back. Today, it’s back to physiotherapy and more strengthening and stretching exercises.

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