Get on the ball for better balance
Do you consider yourself a balanced and stable person? Now you might think I’m questioning your mental status. But what I’m getting at is related to your core stability.
Let’s do a quick test – it will tell us everything we need to know. Stand on one leg then shut your eyes. Whoops – did you lose your balance? Well this article is for you.
As we age, we start to lose something that is vital to our well-being. It is our balance. Balance is the result of correct body alignment.
Our ability to balance is connected to our ability to maintain a position, our ability to move, and our ability to react to movement. Balance is also the result of a strong core.
So how can we halt the loss of our balance and develop a strong core?
First, let’s define the body’s core.
Generally speaking, the core is thought to consist of all the muscles of the trunk. Our core muscles provide support and stability for basic daily activity.
The core muscles also provide support for the pelvis and lower back. Key core muscles include the transverse abdominis (the innermost abdominal muscle), which stabilizes the low back; the multifidus, a muscle deep in the back that works with the transverse abdominis to stabilize the back; the pelvic floor muscles; and the diaphragm, the primary breathing muscle.
A strong core is both your “speed center” and “strength center.” Most movements are started and supported by the core muscles.
For a lot of people, the core is their “weakest center” contributing to low back pain, hip and pelvis misalignment and poor posture. Improving the strength of your core musculature will ensure efficient and effective function in daily movement.
A strong core is essential for maintaining the body’s equilibrium (or balance) when performing most physical tasks. A strong core will also help decrease low back stress by providing intra-abdominal pressure that supports and stabilizes the spine.
There are many ways to improve core strength and balance. One of the best ways I’ve found is exercising on a stability ball. The stability ball effectively challenges the core muscles due to the dynamic nature of the ball’s instability.
While exercising on the ball, the body must recruit extra muscles just to be able to balance on the ball.
Deep stabilizing muscles in the abdominals are recruited as well as stabilizing muscles in the lower back, hips, lower legs and upper body, depending on the exercise. Working on the stability ball increases proprioception (body awareness) that allows us to carry out proper motor function.
Proper motor function results from the firing of muscles both at the optimal time and in the correct order. Thus the ball helps the body produce more appropriate conscious and unconscious movement decreasing inefficient movement patterns that can contribute to injury.
Training on the stability ball should include three important elements: core stabilization, core strengthening and core power. Developing each area will effectively lead to increased functional strength.
Functional strength is simply one’s ability to complete one’s activities of daily living with greater efficiency and effectiveness.
Core stabilization involves challenging the deep muscles of the abdominals and back with isometric exercises of progressively longer durations.
A great exercise for core stabilization is simply getting into a push-up position with the legs on the ball and the hands on the floor.
While in this position, try to “brace” your abdominals against your lower back and hold this position for a few seconds, progressing to longer durations.
Core strengthening involves exercises that are more dynamic in nature, and utilize different range of motion against resistance. Resistance can be one’s own body weight or the use of dumbbells or resistance bands.
Core power consists of movements that are more ballistic and forceful, such as movements that mimic one’s activities of daily living. Use movement patterns that involve different rates of speed and force.
There are myriad benefits of exercising on the stability ball including improved posture and increased strength for daily activities.
The increased balance that results from training on the ball is its greatest benefit. Every activity, every step we take, relies on our body’s ability to be balanced.
Consult a certified personal trainer or take a ball class to learn how to safely and effectively use a stability ball. Our local college offers excellent instructional classes on stability ball training.
The bottom line here is “use it or lose it.” Don’t risk losing your balance as you age. Challenge your core muscles and your balance by utilizing the stability ball. You will become the most stable and balanced person you know.
Eat well, exercise well and balance well.
– Darla G. Mazzoni, an ACE certified personal trainer, can be contacted at email@example.com