The value of providing a balanced approach to programming for our clients.
Even though they may take it for granted, our clients need balance proficiency in many everyday situations. Standing up from a chair, picking up a bag and taking the first step as they start to walk are not possible without dynamic stability.
While balance is a commonly used term to describe the ability to maintain an upright position, postural stability is the more accurate term, defined as the ability of an individual to maintain their center of gravity within their base of support. It can be static as in standing still, with dynamic postural stability referring to the ability to maintain good alignment while performing specific movements, such as reaching forward or walking.
Balance is dependent upon three processes within the body - visual, vestibular (inner ear) and somatosensory (touch). The combined effort of these three systems is referred to as proprioception, the ability to detect your position in space and to correct it as necessary.
Sadly, around third of people over 65 and half of people over 80 suffer fall injuries each year, often significantly affecting their quality of life, specifically their independence. The problem for us as fitness professionals is that we might only associate the problem with the elderly. However, taking a long-term view earlier in life, using a number of simple preventive exercise measures can significantly reduce the chances of our clients becoming another statistic.
Unsurprisingly, studies have established the primary cause of these falls is balance deficiencies (Salkeld et al., 2000), but the good news is that evidence suggests specific programs for improving strength and balance can reduce the risk of falls by as much as 60% (Skelton, 2001).
Research has also shown that rather than muscle strength, the ability to contract the muscles quickly is key to good balance (Mayson et al., 2008). In addition, a 2011 study at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany established that resistance training triggers brain chemicals that enhance neuron growth; however, balance and coordination exercises require higher-level cognitive processes that seem to increase the number of synapses connecting the neurons. This suggest that new and unpredictable movements rather than repetition will be of greater value to improve balance.
Improving balance requires a mix of training methodologies in order to be successful. Embracing exercises that focus on posture, coordination, reaction speed, strength and flexibility can all help to improve one’s balance. Here are a few exercises you could build into your clients’ workouts to help improve their balance:
- Switch squats for single leg squats, offering the option to hold onto a chair with the free hand for support to start with.
- Hopping in multiple planes.
- Sit your client on a stability ball when doing upper body strength exercises, such as shoulder press and bicep curls.
- Put one foot on a Bosu when doing squats or lunges.
- Swap chest press for press ups with one hand on a medicine ball.
- If running is your client’s MO, when outside, discourage them from purely travelling in straight lines, but rather weave between the trees and lamp-posts.
- Add vibration training to a brisk walk or stationary cycle by shaking a Flexi-bar or Body Blade at the same time.
- Have your clients try a tai chi class, as risk of falls can be reduced by as much as 55% (Li et al., 2005)
To conclude, I urge fitness professionals to avoid thinking of balance as a later-life issue, but instead to focus on the high value of it as a preventive tool to keep clients healthy, whatever their current age and activity level - for life!
Salkeld, G., Cameron, I.D., Cumming, R.G., Easter, S., Seymour, J., Kurrle, S.E., & Quine, S. (2000). Quality of life related to fear of falling and hip fracture in older women: A time trade off study. BMJ, 320(7231), 341-346.
Skelton, D.A. (2001). Effects of physical activity on postural stability. Age Ageing, 30, Suppl 4, 33-39.
Mayson, D.J., Kiely, D.K., LaRose, S.I., & Bean, J.F. (2008). Leg strength or velocity of movement: Which is more influential on the balance of mobility limited elders? American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 87(12), 969-976. doi: 10.1097/PHM.0b013e31818dfee5.
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