Balance is essential for all human movement and movement and is necessary for all activities of daily living. Therefore, it should be considered a foundational component of all programming and trained early in the exercise program once core function has been established. Learn the mechanical principles related to balance and how to manipulate training variables to help your clients achieve not only better balance, but improved fitness and quality of life as well.
Training for Balance, Training for Life
Balance is essential for all human movement and movement and is necessary for all activities of daily living. By definition, balance is the ability to maintain the body’s position over its base of support within stability limits, both statically and dynamically. It is important to realize that, for our clients, the ability to balance can mean the difference between leading an active lifestyle and being sedentary.
To really understand what is meant by balance, consider the following three mechanical principles that relate to alignment and the body: center of gravity, line of gravity and base of support.
Center of Gravity (COG)
This is the point at which the mass of the body is considered to concentrate and where it is balanced on either side in all planes (frontal, sagittal and transverse). For an average person, this point is at the level of the second sacral vertebrae, but changes depending on a person’s position in space and whether or not he or she is supporting external weight.
Line of Gravity (LOG)
Gravity acts on the body in a straight line through the COG toward the center of the earth. The line of gravity must fall within the base of support to maintain balance without moving.
Base of Support (BOS)
This is the area beneath the body that is encompassed when one continuous line connects all points of the body that are in contact of the ground.
How do we measure balance?
Because balance is important to both fitness and overall quality of life, it is important to collect baseline measurements to evaluate the need for a balance-training program. The Sharpened Romberg test and the stork-stand balance test are used to assess static balance by reducing the base of support.
Sharpened Romberg Test
Stork-stand Balance Test
How do we train balance?
Because the body’s COM is located within the region of the core, controlling the COM within the BOS is critical to balance training. Core conditioning and balance training can be viewed as the same thing, so we can follow the three-stage model for core and balance training.
The main area of discussion for programming is Stage 2: static balance, which occurs in phase two of the ACE Integrated Fitness Training® (ACE IFT®) model. Here are seven different conditions that can be changed within static balance programming:
- Narrow BOS (moving the feet closer together)
- Raise COM (raising arms overhead)
- Shift LOG (raising arms unilaterally, leaning or rotating the trunk)
- Sensory alteration (shifting focal point, looking up and down)
- Sensory removal (closing eyes)
- Reduce points of contact (move from two-foot balance to one foot)
- Add unstable surfaces (Airex pad, air disc)
Introduce each of these challenges separately and gradually increase the exercise difficulty. Introduce balance challenges on stable surfaces before moving to an unstable surface. Also, when first moving to an unstable surface, perform the exercise using both feet before progressing to balancing on one foot. When designing static balance-training programs, follow these stance-position progressions:
To help you differentiate between the progressions, here is a graphic of the staggered, split, and tandem stances:
Balance is a foundational component of all programming and should be trained early in the exercise program once core function is established and the client shows improvements in Phase 1—stability and mobility. Increasing balance will not only enhance physical performance, but may also contribute to improved psychological and emotional states through the building of self-efficacy.