What exactly is balance and can we work on improving it? This is a very fair question about a subject that is critical to how we function but one which nearly all of us take for granted.
So what exactly is it and what can we do to work on it in the same way we train other aspects of ourselves to improve performance?
Balance in the ability to keep our entire body in a physical equilibrium, functioning as we intend, performing as we require – whether that is skiing down a slope, swinging a golf club or just enjoying a bowl of morning cereal whilst perched on a breakfast bar stool.
It is very much part of our day to day activities and is in some way involved in our every movement, yet we are hardly aware of it. But we certainly know all about it when there is a loss of balance!
Our body is permanently adjusting and compensating, engaging muscles and shifting weight as necessary. All of which is far more involved and vital than you might realise.
It is a constant battle with gravity that we must win!
Let’s take a closer look.
What is good balance?
Typical traits of someone who is balanced in an athletic sense:
Dynamic centre of gravity
Body weight on balls of feet
Wide support base with feet parallel
Look at any great athlete – regardless of their sport, two absolutely key elements of their discipline will be timing and balance. And without good balance, there’s no timing.
When we think about our balance, how it aids our movements we are really thinking of Dynamic Balance. Our body’s fight to achieve and maintain balance is a dynamic process. Our muscular system is constantly giving, taking, contracting and relaxing to maintain our position, posture or perform our next movement.
It is the ability to balance whilst in motion and when switch positions.
Two of the essential mechanisms at play here are:
Inner ear. The vestibular apparatus relays information to the central nervous system concerning our spatial awareness. Inner ear problems can have a devastating effect on balance.
Proprioceptors such as the muscle spindle and golgi tendon organ within the muscles and joints. These sense the scale and speed of a stretched muscle and changes in joint angles. These sensors are responsible for the immediate and essential adjustments that are always being made in our balance and to snap us back into position if we are losing balance.
Problems of Imbalance
Weaknesses in frame and muscles will ultimately lead to imbalances and structural issues, this is particularly true of the core. The knock-on effects of a weak core is potentially widespread imbalance.
We all favour one side over another. It’s not always dependent on being right or left handed, but that’s a very typical example. Having a job that is dependent on one particular side whether a sportsperson (think tennis, golf, javelin etc), a labourer who does a lot of lifting, even a new mother who carries her baby on the same side all the time. All of these activities can and will lead to misalignments, imbalances and possibly a multitude of referred pains.
Even something as simple and repetitive as using the same finger to operate your mobile phone all the time. Over a reasonable period of time this will cause physiological changes.
Don’t wait until changes and pains become too extreme. At the first sign you should look to recognise the issue and the cause and do something about it. Don’t just swallow painkillers or wrap on the strapping, Identify the imbalance and the ‘over-favouring’ and work on the structural problem by focusing on the balancing area.
Next time we will look at exercises specifically for balance.
Connect here with Expert Joey Bull.