If you asked a random mix of people you find at the gym, “Where do you think you need improvement in your workout?” you may receive a wide verity of answers. Perhaps you’ll hear that they want to lift more weight, or add more variations to their exercises, maybe even doing more core work. However, it is rare to hear that people feel they need to work on their balance. While balance may not be your first thought when it comes to areas of your fitness or workout routine it is essential.
The general consensus when it comes to balance exercises is that they are for rehabilitation or the elderly. However, that is not the case. If you train for dynamic balance in your routine, it will have a great translation into improving stability and strength as well. Generally, when people think of balance exercises they automatically think single-legged movements, and while this can be true, it can also be so much more. These exercises can be fun, challenging, and take your routine to a new level.
What does a dynamic balance workout mean for you and why is it so important?
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Dynamic balance is the ability to anticipate as well as react to changes in balance as your body moves through space. If we look at that definition as it pertains to exercise, a level of dynamic balance is necessary for nearly every movement and exercise we perform whether in the gym or in everyday life. Thus, its importance is evidently paramount; let’s now examine how we can include dynamic balance into your daily routine and improve your workout overall.
No matter what type of routine you have in place, no matter what goals you are trying to achieve there is always room for these exercises. Not only will these make great accessory work but they by adding dynamic balance exercises into your routine, you will see great benefits to your movement patterns and your performance in the gym.
There are several different exercises that can train your dynamic balance. The balance we are looking to train in most situations is maintaining an upright position during movement and even depending your circumstances you could be looking to train yourself to balance while remaining upright without adding movement into the equation. What will this require? A great deal of core strength, coordination and stability will be recruited and the best part is all of these things can be trained.
- Single Leg
- Split Stance
- Half Kneeling
- Points of Contact
So let’s start with the obvious. Single leg training:
Single leg reaches
To start this exercise you are going to start 1-2 feet away from your object, whether it be a foam roller, or a lower object such as a kettlebell. While maintaining a solid core, keep a slight bend in your stabilizing leg and hinge forward at the hips slowly until you have reached your object. Tap with your hand and while under control, return back to your starting position. You can alternate or complete the reps on one leg before starting the other. Remember to always start with the side that you feel can use the most training.
You want to make sure you have enough energy to map the pathway not only for the exercise but for your body to figure out the most effect way to move and balance through the exercise. You can regress this exercise by using the TRX for a support while you reach forward or progress this exercise by using a weight and performing a Single Legged Romanian Deadlift.
By standing with your legs staggered you are now dividing your body weight and center of gravity over a wider base. By training exercises in this stance your body now has to account for the movement while trying to stabilize to keep you upright. While various movements in this stance can be beneficial, the ones that we will discuss today can easily be progressed or regressed for anyone.
To perform this exercise you are going to need to set up a barbell for a landmine press. Now set up in a split stance by standing with your feet beneath you at hip width distance, now take a large step backward with the foot of your choosing. From here, you are going to perform the landmine press with one arm (or unilaterally). Be sure to brace your body for the exercise.
The more tension you are able to produce the more stable your body will be while going through this dynamic balance exercise. In order to regress from this exercise, simply set up without the barbell and from the same stance, lunge down toward the floor and return to the split stance. This movement will still cause you to anticipate how your body is going to move through space without the added weight and movement of the landmine press. A great progression will be a split stance overhead press. From the same split stance position maintaining tension from the feet all the way through your core, with a dumbbell (appropriate to your abilities) you will now perform a unilateral overhead press.
While this article’s main focus is dynamic balance, we could not achieve that without stability and strength in different positions. The next exercise is going to challenge not only your balance but your core strength as well. Similar to the split stance, a half kneeling position encourages more stability in the hips and forces you to squeeze the hell out of your glutes.
In a half kneeling position you are going to perform a Pallof press. If you find that the constant extension and flexion of the arms in this exercise is causing you too much difficulty, simply hold the extended position (10-20 seconds depending on your abilities). Once you have mastered the press, you can advance to the overhead raise. In the half kneeling position, extent the arms to the end range of the Pallof press; maintaining that full extension at the elbows, raise your arms overhead while maintaining, balance, core control and full extension at the elbows. Only raise the arms until you feel you are unable to maintain the proper form then lower the arms and repeat.
You may not think of the plank as an exercise in which you test or even train dynamic balance. However, after you master a great position in your plank, variations can be added that will most definitely have you training your body to balance. The classic plank is a difficult exercise and should be performed with a straight spine and a great deal of tension in your core. You can then move on to a single limb lift. If you are still challenged with the plank, great! Stay there until you are ready to advance.
When performing the single limb lift, lift one limb (of your choosing) off the ground and maintain tension throughout your entire body so you do not compensate by twisting through your body. Try out different limbs until you find the most difficult and practice there. The final progression is to lift two limbs at the same time, contralateral. This will be the most challenging and require a lot of effort to train dynamic balance.
Dynamic balance can be trained anytime you vary your points of contact on the floor. Try out the different stances and forms discussed in this article; you will be surprised at how difficult regular exercises can become simply from changes the stance you stand in. While there are many variations and ways to regress and progress all the exercises we discussed today, be careful of trying to train your balance in extreme ways.
The BOSU ball can be useful for other exercises but beware when training balance and stability on this tool. It may look cool on the internet but it does not translate into everyday balance in the gym or in real life. Unstable surfaces on the ground do not occur in everyday life, nor do they occur under your feet in the gym.
The only thing you are training is laxity in your ankle ligaments and while you require a certain about of ankle mobility, too much can cause a great deal of instability, injury, and is counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish in this dynamic balance training for stability and strength.