Balance and Fall Prevention Part V - Avoid These Balance Training Mistakes
By David Drinks
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series so far and gotten some useful ideas out of it to put to use in your exercise routine right now.
The main idea that we’ve been focusing on is that of a complete and comprehensive balance training program. This isn’t just about some cool techniques that you can use to increase your balance. Rather, it’s about understanding how you balance, what limits your balance, and what puts you at risk for a fall.
After understanding how your balance works, you can build out a comprehensive routine to prevent falls and improve your balance.
Before we continue with the last part today, if you missed any of the previous parts in this series, then check them out here:
Now on to week 5!
Avoiding Balance Training Mistakes
To wrap up this series, I wanted to highlight some things to avoid when it comes to balance training.
Just like everything else out there, there’s a right and wrong way to approach balance training. Unfortunately, much of what is available to the average person on the internet and/or social media highlights the wrong way to approach balance training. That’s the first thing that we’ll talk about today.
Avoid Social Media Stunts in Your Balance Training
If you look around on the internet or social media, you’re likely to run across some entertaining and interesting-looking balance exercises. You might see people doing squats on a BOSU ball, or standing on a BOSU ball and waving their arms all around trying to balance. You might even see some crazy stuff, like this:
What’s the problem here? Well, aside from a huge medical risk, trying to copy things that you see on social media or the internet, without giving any thought as to whether it’s a good idea or not, is not a good strategy.
You see, people only post the cool-looking stuff online. In reality, their everyday training probably looks a lot different than that one video they posted.
The problem is that most people like a good challenge. If you see something that looks hard, you often wonder if you can do it too. However, just because something is hard, does not mean that it’s good for your balance training.
One of the main points I’ve been making throughout this series is that when it comes to training for improved balance and fall prevention, you shouldn't just try to do challenging exercises. Instead, you need to focus on the level you’re at right now, think about how your body functions to maintain balance in everyday life, and then start with a challenging but doable exercise.
Again, you should be able to have success in the exercise you’re practicing about 70% of the time. If you fail at the exercise more than half the time, then you’re not ready for that exercise yet!
Another factor that needs to be considered is that of specificity.
Specificity is one of the main principles of exercise program design. It states that what you do in your exercise routine has to be specific enough to your everyday life or to your sport that your training has carryover to those real-life activities.
When it comes to balance training, the exercises you do in the gym need to produce measurable results where it matters. In other words, I don’t care if you get better at standing on a BOSU ball, I care if you get better at standing on one leg while getting dressed. I care if your balance improves so that you can go on a hike without worrying about tripping and falling.
The routine above with the Swiss skier may be specific enough to downhill skiing to carry over to improved balance in his sport (although, that’s debatable). However, I’m fairly certain that jumping from one ball to another, or rolling on a roller across the floor, has just about no carryover to what you and I need to do in everyday life.
Therefore, based on the principle of specificity, the balance exercises you engage in should be done on similar surfaces, and with similar challenges to what you’re going to be facing outside of the gym.
If you don’t often walk across wobbly balls in real life, then why should you train that way in the gym (unless you're training to be on American Ninja Warrior!)?
So, we need to think about balance training from a different perspective than the social media perspective. Instead of finding “cool” things to do, focus on determining what you can and can’t do.
Once you find the cutoff between what you can easily do and what you can’t do at all, you’ll know where to start your training.
Static vs. Dynamic & Functional Balance
Speaking of specificity in your balance training, one thing to consider is the need for less static balance training and more dynamic and functional balance training.
While many people focus on their ability to stand on one leg or in some other static position, this doesn’t always have the best carryover to what you need in regular life.
Most falls don’t occur when someone is standing still. Instead, they occur when someone is moving. They might be walking, turning around, picking something up off the floor, etc.
Because most falls occur during dynamic movements, our balance training should incorporate a focus on dynamic & functional balance, not just static balance.
This is where drills like balance beam walking come into play, and can have greater functional carryover than simply standing on one leg.
Even functional strength training movements like squats, lunges, deadlifts, and step-ups can go a long way in training functional, dynamic balance. These exercises can become especially challenging and beneficial when narrowing the base of support like when doing a single leg deadlift instead of a double leg deadlift.
Other strength training movements that can become excellent balance exercises are upper body movements like a band or cable resisted row or press. You can modify the base of support to have two legs under you, a split-stance, or even a single leg stance while performing these upper body strength training exercises.
The benefit of changing your base of support while performing upper body strength exercises is that you can progressively challenge your balance while also working on upper body strength. The movement at the arms during a pulling or pushing motion increases your dynamic balance as you must stabilize against an outside force.
So, the bottom line in today's article is to focus on functional balance work that improves your real-life balance. It doesn't have to look fancy all the time, but it should be specific to what you need in everyday life.
Find the right mix of challenging, but not impossible exercises. Work within your limitations but push the limits of your balance to improve it and make sure you set yourself up for long-term balance success!
The main point of this whole series was to give you more understanding of where our sense of balance and ability to balance comes from. Once you understand that, you can set yourself on the right track to improved balance.
I've given you some ideas on what to do in your balance training, as well as what to avoid. Now, it's up to you to put it into action and improve your balance!
With that said, let’s wrap it all up by reviewing some of the important points from this series:
Fall-related injuries and deaths are astronomically rising in the U.S.
Balance problems tend to sneak up on you as you age, but losing your ability to move well and maintain balance as you age is not inevitable.
You can learn to develop and maintain a comprehensive balance training program throughout your life by understanding the physiological systems that dictate your ability to balance. We talked about this in detail in Parts II, III, and IV.
Understand that a loss in vision, vestibular function, or proprioception can set you up for a deficit in balance and put you at risk for a fall. However, these aren’t the only risk factors to be aware of…
Losing muscle strength, power, endurance, and mobility can all contribute to a loss of balance and a greater risk of falling.
Keeping these risk factors in mind, you can develop techniques to improve your balance and mitigate your risk of falling.
Just be sure to avoid copying the stunts you see on social media, focus on specificity, and start with what you’re ready for right now.
You can improve your balance and maintain your function for the long-haul! All you need is a plan that starts you at the right place and progresses you in the right direction.
Need help developing that plan? We're here for you! Contact us here if you’re interested in getting started with a Med Gym trainer to improve your balance, get stronger, and move better.