Balancing training is a very important in all sports because all athletic movement relies on the body's ability to stay centered, producing the maximal potential for movement, whether it is to sprint down the soccer or football field or pulling up for a 20-foot jump shot on the basketball court.
Too often balance training programs are ineffective. It isn't because an athlete is not doing the exercises, but more often because they are doing the exercises wrong! Spending hours each week improving balance to maximize the body's potential while reducing risk of injury is a waste of time if done incorrectly, so it is important to know the rules in order for the success achieved during training to translate into success on the field.
Single Leg Balance
Most balance drills are some variation of standing, jumping, or changing direction on one leg. Here are the rules:
- The head is straight and forward at all times. No leaning or twisting side to side.
- The shoulders and hips should be level to the ground. Tilted shoulders or pelvis indicate weakness, tightness, or asymmetry in the core musculature.
- Knees are slightly bent, facing forward. Too often the knees rotate inwards, causing the patella to face more towards the other knee. This position significantly increases risk for ACL tears!
- Foot is flat on the ground with weight evenly distributed
If any of these mechanical rules are broken during the course of balance training, the goal of improving body awareness (e.g. proprioception) is not achieved.
Don't push beyond the limit
Exhausting muscles to increase strength and muscle size is necessary to stress the body to adapt, but the same concept doesn't apply in balance training, the goal of which is to develop sensory-motor processes so that the brain sends signals down to the muscles to maintain balance and body awareness. For balance training to help, here are some rules:
- Dedication is Necessary. Improving balance takes time but not necessarily working to exhaustion. Incorporating 2-3x balance training for 10-20 minutes is usually enough to make a difference.
- Don't Push Through Fatigue. The simultaneous firing of billions of proprioceptive cells is stressful on the brain. Working on balance training to or past the point of exhaustion will only encourage the brain to make bad decisions, much like a poorly written computer program (e.g. garbage in, garbage out). If an athlete is unable to adhere to this rule, my advice is simple: Stop!
- Progression is Critical. So your athlete can stand on one leg for one minute while maintaining perfect form. Great. What's next? Adding different components such as ball toss, standing on a foam pad, squatting at the same time, doing upper body exercises, or twisting with a resistance band against the wall will help the brain to remember to tell the body to move in a more balanced way in space,
Keith Cronin is a MomsTEAM expert and physical therapist in the St. Louis area.
Posted September 24, 2012