Balance Training

 In Ankle Health, Exercise, Health

One of the often overlooked parts of a workout plan is balance training. It’s a shame because it is a valuable part of a training program for many reasons. For those recovering from an injury it can play an important role in helping re-establish proper movement and lower the risk of future re-injury. Some people in the strength and conditioning community debate its effectiveness at helping athletes/average gym goers achieve their maximum strength goals, but in my opinion having 10% more strength is not useful if you spend 50% of your time injured or recovering from injuries. This is where balance training can be especially helpful and there are many studies demonstrating this point.

One study had 765 high school soccer and basketball players, both boys and girls engage in a balance training study. Participants were separated into either a control group that performed standard conditioning exercises or the other group that was given a program including balance training. The results were that the rate of ankle sprains was significantly less in the group performing balance training[i].

Another study conducted on participants from 15 high schools in Calgary, some were part of a balance training program while the others received testing only. The study showed improvement in static and dynamic balance in the group participating in the balance program, and lowered the risk of injury over the course of the study [ii].

A study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy concluded that balance training is an effective means of improving both joint proprioception and single-leg standing ability in subjects with unstable and non-impaired ankles[iii]

These studies show how when properly used balance training can help prevent future injuries and lessen the likelihood of re-injury. By enhancing proprioception (the bodies awareness of where it is in time and space) balance training allows individuals to better control their movement. This is an important function in both rehabilitation and performance.

For athletes looking to improve performance strength training is a necessity, but if an athlete is off balance they will not be able to use their strength to its full advantage. Very few sporting movements take place when both feet are firmly planted and supported on the ground. Further in contact sports there is often external forces acting on our bodies to move us off our center of gravity. Improving balance allows us to improve our ability to use our strength unilaterally and when struggling to maintain balance. Further, athletes need to not only improve strength and conditioning in the gym, but by improving balance they can decrease the likelihood of injuries during competition, allowing them to reduce time lost to injury. For athletes attempting to attain scholarships, get drafted or to receive a tryout offer an injury plagued season can be disastrous. Not only will ones “stats” suffer but if a team or university is going to commit time, resources and money to you, they want to know that they can count on you staying healthy (as much as reasonably possible). Repetitive ankle, knee, back and shoulder injuries can decrease the confidence of these organizations in your ability to stay healthy.

Finally, for individuals with movement impairments and the elderly, balance training can help reduce the risk of falls. This is important because as we get older our increase of hip fractures during a fall increases. For the elderly a fall can trigger a series of health related problems including the possibility of a hip replacement. There are many health conditions that can affect our bodys ability to stabilize itself. Unchecked, this can lead to loss of function and/or injury.

Fall-related injuries are a leading cause of injury, deaths and disabilities amongst people over the age of 65. Risk factors for falls include increasing age, muscle weakness and functional limitations. One study comparing elderly women with osteoporosis who received balance training to women who didn’t. It found that the group who received training performed better on tests to establish balance, demonstrating that balance training is effective in improving functional and static balance, mobility and falling frequency[iv].

Another study that examined balance training and its effect on older individuals with type 2 Diabetes found that a program consisting of both resistance and balance training produced positive effects in balance, reaction and fall risk.[v]

So what is the best way to train your balance? Well it really depends on what your goals and needs are. Many people can improve balance by performing exercises in unilateral or split stances vs the normal bilateral stance. By mixing in one or two exercises per session like this the average trainee should see increases in balance and strength. Here are a few exercises you can do if you are a healthy individual/athlete looking to increase both balance and strength:

If you are concerned about past or future injuries such as ankle sprains these exercises can help you reduce your likelihood of injury/re-injury:

For individuals with medical concerns who are looking to maintain or increase their balance this exercise amongst others can be added to your fitness program:

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