Targeting Your Balance For Better Workouts

We all know the importance of balance – it keeps from falling over. It is the essence of everything you do. From everyday activities to those things requiring a little more, if you have weak balance, it does not really matter how strong your arms and legs become!

Balance requires three body systems: vestibular in your inner ear that keeps you level; proprioception or your awareness of your body in space; and visual, which sends signals from your eyes to the brain regarding your body in relation to its surroundings. But a weak trunk, also known as your core, can significantly alter your balance and abilities for physical activity.

Your core muscles, which lie deep within your torso, attach to the spine, pelvis and muscles that support your scapula (the triangular bones of your shoulder also referred to as your “wing”). They include your shoulders, chest, lower abdominals, back and buttocks. Core muscles keep the body and spine stable while creating a solid base of support to generate effective movements of your extremities – your arms and legs.

When there is a weakness in any of these areas, you just may be setting yourself up for pain, fatigue and balance issues – not to mention increasing your risk for injuries!

And while working out is a healthy habit, many weight machines isolate specific muscle groups and are commonly used for “cosmetic fitness”. In other words, you exercise those surface muscles that make you look good. But what do great-looking arms have to do with your balance? Can tight triceps and sculpted biceps really help you enhance coordination, strength or endurance?

Targeting your balance – your core - requires an integrated approach through what is called functional fitness or core training. This head-to toe style of exercise, which works several muscle groups or joints together, often utilizes your own body weight to target balance.

This wholistic approach not only strengthens muscle groups, it enhances coordination, improves endurance and increases agility and mobility, which allows the body to move quickly and efficiently to compensate for changes in your center of gravity. It can increase body awareness, improve posture, increase circulation and boost stamina while promoting a healthy spine.

Functional training, which activates the core, mimics the motor patterns which translate into every task – from normal daily activities to recreational activities and everything in between!

So, what’s so different about functional training? Performing a combination of exercises requires stability and coordination. It can allow for more efficient work outs and make daily or leisure activities much less taxing on your body.

Most exercise routines use a combination of aerobic activities and strengthening. Aerobic activities are those that increase your heart rate for an extended amount of time – great if you’re trying to lose weight and keep your heart healthy. Strengthening activities not only tones your muscles, it helps maximize the efficiency of muscular contractions.

Chances are if you perform regular strengthening exercises, you focus on the major muscle groups – legs, arms, shoulders, back and abdomen. And yes, performing these five major areas does incorporate some of your core. But performing a combination of activities can actually increase efficiency of workouts and allow your body to perform better.

Consider this, you do overhead shoulder presses, great for your upper back and shoulders – and squats, great for your legs, right? But why not combine the two? Think about it – it requires more muscles working in unison! After all, daily activities usually do not require one simple exercise, but rather a combination. You don’t just lift a heavy load off the floor with your arms – you squat first. Then with your trunk, arms and legs working in unison, you are able to stand up while lifting.

Changing your fitness routine to incorporate more functional goals is easier than you think! So you perform abdominal crunches, right? Well, why not try them on an unstable surface, like a stability ball? Or bicep curls on a balance board? Or work your triceps while standing on one foot?

All these exercises have two things in common – they work multiple muscle groups and they require balance! Both are essential for just about every physical activity you perform within the day.

And any traditional exercise can be transformed into a functional one. Exercises usually performed in standing can be made functional just by kneeling or standing on an unstable surface. Exercises performed on your hands and knees enhance your core by placing your hands and/or your knees on an unstable surface.

Effective core training incorporates flexion and extension of your trunk, as well as rotational and diagonal movements where your pelvis is no longer stationary. This recruits more muscles, thus increasing the amount of calories you can burn plus increasing the efficiency of not only your workouts but of regular physical activities!

Balance too shaky in the beginning? Start by standing on one foot and gradually progress to closing your eyes while maintaining balance. Then add a regular exercise while balancing on one foot! You can increase the difficulty level just by balancing barefoot!

Need more challenges? Try incorporating balance boards or stability balls to beef up routine. Looking for something different? Try yoga, tai chi, pilates or martial arts. Need help? Consult with an exercise expert!

Targeting your balance while maintaining proper posture will not only make you look better, it will make you perform better too! Plus it can minimize injuries and pain!

So, why not take your workout routine to the next level?


Sandee Koehler is a licensed physical therapist, certified massage therapist, educator and business owner with over sixteen years in the healthcare industry. Her dedicated career has encompassed pain management, physical rehab and promotion of overall health. Her website, guidinghealth4u.com is designed to provide helpful health and wellness information.


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