Login | April 23, 2019

Balance training and devices

Pete’s World

Published: November 5, 2018

Before I get down to business, I’d like to make this disclaimer: I gladly admit that I in no way represent or profit from the products I’ll be promoting in today’s column. Truth be told, I’m just a local coach who doesn’t even have a thimble’s worth of gumption - or interest - in hawking fitness products like some kind of used car salesman.

Okay, with that said I’d like to talk about the importance of incorporating balance into your current exercise routine, after which I’ll discuss a couple of pretty cool balance devices you might want to consider adding to your home gym.

Balance devices? Well yeah, because even in today’s high tech world our health and well being still relies heavily on balance. I’d even go as far as to say that balance is a survival skill we still need as much today as we did back in those dark days of ancient human history. Balance is that crucial.

Yet like everything in life, balance is fleeting. Slowly, insidiously, after the age of 30 our muscles begin to weaken, and that zip to our stride gradually decreases, our pace inevitably slows down, and heck, even our vision takes a turn for the worse. All that collectively causes us to get more unsteady - more unbalanced.

But, aging isn’t the only reason balance skills depreciate. It’s also a matter of “use it or lose it,” just as it is with strength, flexibility and aerobic fitness, where lack of use causes degradation.

Fact is, you can drastically slow down balance losses if you work at it. And that can be huge. Consider the CDC publication, Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged ≥65 Years — United States, 2014, September 23, 2016 / 65(37);993–998, authored by Dr. Gwen Bergen, et al., who stated “Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults aged ≥65 years (older adults).”

What’s more, this study also revealed that one in three adults over age 65 takes a serious fall each year. What I glean from this is that not falling can mean living longer.

Okay, so my solution to this balance issue is pretty simple…incorporate balance skills into your current workout routine without actually adding more exercises. And this can be accomplished with a couple innovative workout aids, thereby allowing you to kill two birds, resistance training and balance training, with one stone.

Now what I’m recommending is adding one of these three devices - the BOSU Ball, Wobble Balance Board and/or Wobble Cushion - to your home gym, and I listed them starting with the most expensive/most versatile to the least expensive/least versatile.

But before you run out and begin exercising aboard one of these devices, I’d highly advise acquainting yourself with your gadget of choice by first going through the following protocol: Stand on the device with feet shoulder-width apart and abs tight, and begin rocking forward and back, then side to side. Get the hang of the contraption.

Once you feel comfortable, and that could take several 5- to 10-minute sessions, perform some bodyweight squats, followed by weightless pressing and curling motions. Only after you gain confidence and demonstrate stability should you begin adding dumbbells to the mix.

With dumbbells and barbells, you can perform the same standing and kneeling exercises––dumbbell presses, front and side raises, upright rows, curls, kickbacks, deadlifts, etc., etc.––on the balance device as you do when you stand on flat, stable surfaces.

I’d advise performing a small selection of “balanced” exercises, maybe like two to three, for a month or so, then rotate to another repertoire of balanced exercises for another couple of months. You can continue this protocol ad infinitum.

Okay, so out of the three devices I’ve recommended I like the BOSU most, particularly because it offers differing top and bottom surfaces, one side completely flat/ one side half a fitness ball. Actually, the BOSU acronym stands for "Both Sides Utilized,” because of the two contrasting balance surfaces.

Versatility is the hallmark of the BOSU. You can use it as a step for aerobic workouts, as a balance supplement for yoga poses, as a balance challenge to traditional body-weight resistance exercise like the push-up, and as an unstable surface upon which to do your weight lifting. It helps to make exercises more challenging, more interesting…and more wobbling.

So rethink your workout, go unbalanced.