I constantly work on improving my balance. As one who has a degenerative disease that affects balance, this is of vital importance to me.
After some thought, I distilled what I know into 6 basic principles that you can apply in order to improve your balance.
1. Think Outside The Box
Now, rare diseases like Ataxia (what I’ve got), Parkinson’s and Huntington’s are said to be incurable by most. As such, the average doctor, physiotherapist or whatever will likely give you some tried and true exercises. Which is fine, don’t get me wrong. But, I believe that is the wrong approach. They genuinely want to help and generally have the best of intentions. However, the idea that someone who doesn’t believe you can be cured will give you the kind of innovative exercises you need is little far-fetched in my opinion.
You may draw an analogy to any great CEO, scientist, athlete or humanitarian. Those that innovate are the ones that break pre-conceived ideas or beliefs.
What I mean to say, is that if you want to improve your balance when others say that’s not possible, you must innovate.
To help me stay on top of this, I choose to work with a mobility coach – Oskar Gut of The Human Vitality Project.
I have found some success and improvement using the varied mobility techniques he has given me. They challenge both my body and my brain.
If you aren’t able to get a mobility coach, don’t worry. I intend to put some videos up with some of the techniques.
2. Challenge Yourself
I sort of alluded to this point above, but the key to improvement is challenging yourself.
There are three fitness precepts which you can think about to keep you in check:
- Specificity – If you want to run, you have to practice running. But, if you’re like me, you’re probably not at the running stage. The idea is that you have to practice the skill you want to improve. To improve my gait when I walk, I have to practice just that. Right now, my immediate goal is to be able to do jumping jacks before next year. So, my friend Oskar Gut has me practicing a break-down of a jumping jack.
- Progressive Overload – In regards to weight/resistance training this means that one must continually challenge their fitness to see improvements over time. You can adjust duration, repetitions, tempo, surface, plane of movement, etc. If you do the same thing every day, don’t expect improvements after a while. You should aim to make small adjustments in your balance routine every 2 to 4 weeks.
- Reversibility – This principle suggests that if you stop exercising for an extended period, your body will eventually revert to a pre-exercise state. Let’s say that you’ve been really working on your balance daily and have managed to work up to 1 minute standing on one foot. Now, if you stop doing that for a few weeks, you would likely see a marked degradation in your ability to perform that one skill. The longer the hiatus, the more noticeable the degradation will be.
3. Practice Anytime, Anywhere
When I was in karate, I was given a tip which I have kept with me all these years. A sensei of mine who worked with me on my kata told me that in order to improve, I had to practice at any time and in any place. I would practice on the bus, in an elevator, at home, etc. As a result, my kata greatly improved and was far better than the average.
And so, the same is true with fitness. Gyms are great, but you don’t have to have access to one to workout and certainly not to practice your balance. Not having access to a gym should not be an obstacle to your workout. That said, you are free to practice balance at home in front of the TV if you so choose or better still at your local park.
4. Test Your Balance
It is easier judge your progress if you set goals.
Set up regular intervals where you will challenge your balance. Regular testing will you to better gauge the condition of your balance and help you figure out what tweaks you need to make in your current program.
Let’s take my goal of doing 25 jumping jacks by January 1st, 2018. I should then set up regular goal posts or milestones where I can test my progress. So, the 1st one could be in a month from now with the goal being 2 jumping jacks, then maybe 4 in two months or whatever.
5. Minimize Sitting
Human beings were designed to be mobile creatures. We are meant to be upright – walking and running. Over the last century, we have become more and more chained to a desk.
“Modern living is unkind when it comes to developing and maintaining neutral feet, with the myriad muscles, bones, and connective tissues empowered and activated into the steel springs that your arches were designed to be.”
Prolonged sitting (whether on a couch or at a desk) weakens and atrophies muscles you will need to maintain your proper upright posture when standing, walking or running. Taking regular breaks to mobilize your hip flexors and other key areas will go a long way towards helping your body remain fully functional.
6. Go barefoot
Another vital point you should consider is training barefoot. We are conditioned by excessive advertising that shoes will make us better athletes and runners, but the truth is that is blatantly false.
In many Asian and African countries and among most indigenous peoples, going barefoot is the norm. In martial arts like karate, muay thai, jiu-jitsu and others, the same is true.
“The high-tech running shoe intervention acts like a cast, rendering lifeless the incredible facilities of your feet. They erode, atrophy, and weaken. The steel springs that your feet were meant to be, with all the remarkable elasticity that is crucial to running fast, running long, and enjoying a lifetime of running, rusts away.” Dr. Kelly Starrett, Ready to Run
Also, keep in mind that at the same time, our brains gather information from direct contact with the ground. This information can then be used for correction of balance and spatial awareness. When we wear shoes, we’re essentially cutting that information off. It’s akin to trying to walk around with a blindfold on. Your brain is unable to gather important information about your surroundings, leaving you to walk into things.
The alternative (as prescribed in the above book) is to get shoes that have no arch support or heel (zero-drop), get rid of the orthotics and go barefoot as often as possible.
When used together consistently, all of these principles should help you improve your balance. The important thing is to practice your balance with consistency and diligence. And be patient. Seeing improvements in your balance will take time.
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