Balance - We take it for granted.
Watching kids balancing on a curb, we assume we’ve still got it - But do we?
Similarly to muscle, we must use it or lose it.
Balance, or lack of it, is one of the top reasons for functional injuries. It’s an indicator of proper alignment and of a stable core. Without proper alignment, core stability, or balance, we’re much more likely to twist an ankle walking down the stairs, be unable to right ourselves when slipping on a slick or unstable surface, or blow out our knees while carrying in the groceries.
The good news is, we can acquire it through training and practice.
How good is your balance? Let’s experiment.
First, before we get started, I’d like you to look straight ahead and bounce lightly on both feet. Do this five or six times without looking down. Land on your feet and keep them still - don’t reposition them, just let your body stabilize for a moment. Now look down. Are your toes pointing straight ahead, turned in, or facing out to the sides?
Why does this matter? In order for us to properly balance, we must be in proper alignment. If our toes are facing in or turned out to the sides, we are compensating for overactive muscle groups which are pulling us out of alignment. In order to stay balanced, your feet should be hip width apart and your toes should be pointing straight ahead.
Find a wide flat surface. This can be a hall or smooth walkway. Make sure there aren’t any obstructions, such as loose carpet or cracked or raised pavement. With your toes pointing straight ahead, activate your muscles. Contract your thighs, your glutes, pull your navel toward your spine, and lift your arms in the air toward your sides, as if you’re getting ready to fly. Find a steady focal point - a picture on the wall, a sign post down the street - to set your gaze on. Lift your left knee as high as you can, really activating your core and the muscles of your right leg to keep you stable. Can you stand steady for 15 seconds? 30? 60? Lower your leg and switch sides. Chances are that one leg is stronger than the other. This is not unusual and you’ll find this to be true with all of your muscle groups. One side is generally more dominant than the other which is often reflective of past injuries, the kind of work you do, or recreational activities you take part in.
Now that you’re familiar with how stable, or unstable you are, repeat the above, and begin marching steadily down the hall or walkway. This is not a race, and actually the slower you go the more effective the exercise. When you come to the end of the hallway, turn around and repeat. Do this exercise four to five times and practice it regularly. The more frequently your practice the better your balance will become.
If you find that the marching comes easily, or after a couple of weeks when you’re ready to progress, you can add a forward reach to your step. With the opposite arm to the stabilizing leg, reach down to the ground as though you’re picking up a penny. Gently raise your body upright and step forward with the opposite leg, repeating the reaching movement. Again walk the full length of the hall or walkway, turn around and repeat.
Before long you’ll find you have a newfound confidence, a greater sense of stability and independence from guardrails and banisters - Freedom to move!