Ever wonder how it is that some people can seemingly balance forever, and others can’t? Or why we tend to lose our ability to balance as we get older? Or, does having good balance mean that your ability to stabilize is awesome?
OK, that last question was a bit geeky, but I wanted to get you thinking a bit about balance and stability.
For those of you who like to be precise, balance is generally defined as our ability to stay in equilibrium, and stability is resisting changes of condition or position.
Often when we think of exercise or working out, doing some aerobic activity or lifting weights comes to mind. But where would we be without our ability to stand up without falling over, stand up and put on a pair of pants, or even go down a flight of stairs? On another level, how about reaching to make a forehand return in tennis, landing with grace after dunking a basketball, or making a quick adjustment on a slippery surface?
ADAPTING TO MOTION
Our ability to adapt to motion is so endemic that we probably don’t even think about it. But it is an extremely important part of coordination and control of our movements.
So that you can appreciate this even more, let’s niche down and talk about some of the nitty grittys.
- Training for stability does not involve lifting weights.
- You have specific muscles that stabilize you. When they do, in general they are only working at about 30% capacity.
- Stability is really about reflexes. It is not strength-driven, but it’s about activation of your nerves in a coordinated way.
- Therefore, training muscles in an isolated way does not train stability.
- Stability is our body’s way of protecting our joints, keeping us in good alignment, and balancing us (pretty cool, right?).
- As we age, the nerves that go to the stabilizing muscle fibers start to break down, more so than the nerves going to other types of muscle fibers (like the ones that move you). Digression: don’t get me wrong…the muscles that move us also atrophy, but it’s mostly from a different process.
- You can slow this process down by moving! Aerobic exercise and strength training are important, but so is other movement that involves changes in position. When you think about it, that includes a whole lot, especially if you are standing up (If you want more on this, please see my blog, “Standing vs Sitting”).
- To get the most out of training stabilizers, your movements need to be good. What I mean is that tight or restricted movement will inhibit the stabilizing reflex necessary for truly great functioning. Does that mean you should give up if you have some sort of restriction? NO! It means do the best you can, and improvements will happen.
Here are a few examples of how you can train stability (see graphics below). Notice that they both involve keeping yourself in a lengthened position, using your core, and using movement to challenge that position. I did this on purpose to make these super effective, efficient, and focused on alignment.
- Straight arm plank with shoulder taps. Get yourself in a straight arm plank position (as if you were going to do a push-up). Tighten up your core and keep your back straight. Pick up one hand and tap the opposite shoulder, then return it to the original position. Pick up the other hand and tap the opposite shoulder. Keep alternating the taps while keeping your body in a good, non-sagging position. Go for 10 taps, or more if you are able. PS. You can do this with hands on a counter top to make it easier.
- “Star” position with alternating arm and leg movement. Stand tall, and tighten your abdominal muscles. Keeping your arms and legs straight, lift one arm directly to the side, and the opposite leg directly to the other side. Bring them back to the original position, and then lift the other arm and leg. Keep this movement slow and smooth to challenge your balance. Go for 10 or even 20 repetitions of this.
These are a couple of suggestions, but you get the idea. Find other ways to keep your stabilizers sharp (stand on one leg; reach high and low; squat and then lift one leg to the side). You won’t regret it!
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