The New Wave of Balance Training
Now you don’t have to be in Maui to catch this new wave in fitness training, and you don’t have to be a big wave surfer to get the benefits of my new favorite piece of training equipment. But before I reveal this cool new training platform, I want to talk about the importance of preparing your body for anything!
Whether you’re training for your first trail running race or simply want to prevent yourself from any unwelcome stumbles or falls, balance training is an integral part of everyone’s fitness routine—no matter what age or what sport you enjoy.
We’ve all missed a step or have felt our ankle buckle and you say, “Whew, glad I caught that one.” Almost one year ago now, I landed on the bottom step of my home for the millionth time and…. WHAMMO-snap-break-tear. In under 2 seconds, I found myself in the dark at the bottom of the landing searching for my cell phone to call my boyfriend for help. My left ankle and leg were broken, and right leg ligaments torn, which led to two months in a wheelchair.
You would think that as a fitness professional and athlete, I’d be ready for anything. The one element I did not mention was that the landing was completely dark so my brain had no awareness of what to do when I hit the bottom. I’m positive had I been able to see my landing I may have had a better chance at recovery.
We rely on our senses more than we realize. Our senses tell our body where our limbs are at all times. If our joints are not strong or flexible enough to react to our environment, it can result in down time or, worse yet, a serious injury. In my case, my eyes could not assist me to help assess and catch my fall. So part of balance training is actually brain training to navigate your body safely through any obstacles that may come in your path.
BALANCE TRAINING EXERCISES & EQUIPMENT
Balance training can be as simple as standing on one leg or as exciting as feeling what it would be like to surf or try the new craze of stand up paddling! My clients can’t wait to hop aboard a surf board or a stand up paddle board with me and practice surfing down the line, but more importantly working on improving their balance—and they don’t even get wet!
There’s quite a few balance training devices that will progress you safely, so best to start out simply. Part of my evaluation for every client involves balance testing. It’s quite a surprise to learn about your own balance, and which leg may be more dominant than the other. I achieve this with a simple piece of hard dense foam roller cut in half. I test all planes of motion with the progression of two legs (stable) to one leg (less stable).
As a client progresses with me, then it’s time to introduce the Giganté! You don’t have to know how to surf or stand up paddle. The Giganté (the first “G” is pronounced with an “h”), made by Indo Board, is a giant inflatable disc that allows for a new way to have fun and improve your balance. It gets all the small muscles that support the hip, knees and ankles to work together while you balance on a four-way rubber platform! And of course, all the while your core is working hard to center and ground you.
Here I’ve got two Gigantés inflated halfway (about 6 inches) with the nubby side up under a longer stand up paddle board. I use the paddle to assist me up to the board and then to mimic my paddling motions. I can also add a weighted body bar. Your ankles and feet may get a little fatigued from tension the first couple of times, but as your brain begins to register the information and send it back to the muscles and nerves that assist you in your balance challenge, each time you get better, stronger and more confident each time!
Balance training, as mentioned earlier, should follow a safe progression. For more challenge, the progression is to remove one Giganté disc, grab a smaller board and increase the inflation of the disc (the disc easily inflates by blowing it up like a beach ball after you remove the pin). Now we’re ready for more action and our balance challenge just got more interesting!
The disc is now inflated up to its max of 12 inches tall. This disc is so sensitive to my every movement—it feels like it’s reading my mind. I need to keep my upper body and feet loose and maintain good posture. As I begin to paddle, the board responds like I was surfing in more intense conditions. Fitness training was never so much fun. My legs also get a great workout!
With the Giganté, I will also sit on it and try to keep my body balanced on it that way—an excellent core workout at the same time. You can also simply lay down on it in a prone position with your arms extended above your head like Superman (or woman)! This is really an amazing test of core strength and balance, and is sure to make you giggle while you wiggle! By squeezing your glutes and legs together behind you, feet off ground and lifting your chest while keeping your head down, you’ll find your center balance point—or what I like to call the sweet spot. Wow, simply amazing.
One thing I’d like to mention: While starting any balance program or exercise, practice your exercise of choice without looking down. That’s not to say don’t look where your feet go for proper placement and body alignment, but in this case, I want to look down the wave or where I’m going. It’s easier on the brain and your performance will improve dramatically. You can also practice your balance moves in front of a long mirror, which I find very helpful.
Make balance training a part of your fitness routines and you’ll be ready for anything!