What is dynamic balance?
Balance is a seemingly straightforward term used within the fitness industry that is, in fact, quite complex. On one hand, balance is a simple concept that refers to the ability to hold a specific position. Balance is often trained with exercises that require the individual to maintain stability and control a stable center of mass over an unmoving base of support (e.g., single-leg stand). If daily-life activities only involved slow-motion movements with limited ranges of motion, then static-balance exercises would be an extremely effective way to train. However, during many of life's activities, balance occurs by having to control a moving center of gravity over a changing base of support, commonly called dynamic balance. The gait sequence is an excellent example of dynamic balance because the body has to transition and control its center of gravity from one leg to the other when walking or running. Because most of our clients have the ability to walk (and, in fact, many of them run as part of their fitness program), it is easy to see why dynamic balance is an important skill to consider when designing exercise programs.
How do I train for dynamic balance?
This is the point where balance training can become extremely complex. Ideally, dynamic balance requires that both the right and leg sides of the body allow symmetrical range-of-motion of the mobile joints (ankle, hip, thoracic spine). Symmetrical joint motion maximizes movement efficiency of the body. Optimal mobility of the hips and thoracic spine allows proper counter-rotational movement of the arms and legs. Training for optimal dynamic balance while in motion requires training both sides of the body to work synergistically. Specifically, the left hip has to work with the right shoulder and the right hip has to work with the left shoulder.
In this context, helping a client achieve optimal balance requires you to identify strategies to strengthen both sides of the body at the same time. When David Weck developed the BOSU® Balance Trainer in 1999, he created a tool that is well-suited for enhancing coordination by improving symmetrical strength in the human body. Asymmetry occurs when one side of the body is stronger than the other. Using the BOSU Balance Trainer can help the weaker side improve and "catch-up" with the stronger side.
What are some exercises to help improve my clients' balance?
Here are five of my favorite exercises using the BOSU Balance Trainer to help clients improve dynamic balance.
Plank Progression – Improves balance one shoulder at a time.
This exercise begins by increasing the synergistic strength of the shoulders, core and hips and then progresses to strengthening each shoulder joint independently. The result is a strong and sculpted shoulder complex.
- Start in a standard prone plank position with both elbows on top of the dome; hold for 30 to 40 seconds
- Progress to one elbow at a time; add a rotation
- Progress to one-armed plank with a hand on top of the dome; add a rotation
Lunge Progression – Creates symmetrical hip mobility.
Placing the foot on top of the dome creates instability through the hip—use this motion to enhance range-of-motion of the hip joint and ultimately increase hip function and strength.
- Place the top of the left foot on the dome and the right foot out in front of the BOSU
- Keep the right foot firmly pressed into the ground and push the top of the left foot on to the dome (the idea is to try to lift the right foot by pushing down with the left)
- Hold for an isometric contraction, starting with 20 seconds and progressing to 45 seconds; alternate with both legs
- Progression: Use a medicine ball in a lifting sequence, start by lifting from the left hip (when the left foot is on the dome) to the right shoulder; perform six to 10 reps and alternate sides
- Progression: Close the eyes (this is much lot harder than it looks)
Diagonal Lift Sequence
Place foot on dome and use the leverage of hip position with ball movement to improve hip mobility. Placing the front foot on top of the dome enhances mobility of the front hip, engaging the muscles of the hip rotators to control unwanted motion. Using this exercise on both legs increases range-of-motion, improves strength and enhances balance.
- Press the left foot on top of the dome with the right leg behind your body. Press both feet firmly into the ground to anchor your bod—this downward motion helps open up both hips and improves range-of-motion.
- Hold the medicine ball in front of the right hip (move the ball from the trail leg to the opposite shoulder). Lift the ball upward in a diagonal pattern from the right hip to the left shoulder, while maintaining stability through the core. Complete eight to 12 reps and alternate sides.
Overhead Lift/Shoulder Mobilization With BOSU® PowerSTAX
The PowerSTAX is a new product for the BOSU Balance Trainer that will be available in the spring of 2013. The PowerSTAX is designed to provide a stable base for the Balance Trainer, but can also be used as a weightlifting tool since the water in the base (used to create stability and increase resistance) becomes a dynamic, shifting load when used in an exercise. Using an unstable load like water increases the challenge, requiring more strength from the shoulder muscles and greater mobility from the glenohumeral joints.
- Place a Balance Trainer dome-side down in a PowerSTAX base. Stand on the flat surface, maintain stability and press the PowerSTAX overhead. Keeping the PowerSTAX level during the overhead lift requires additional strength and stability.
Sandbell Catch-and-Toss While Standing on Platform Side
Catching and throwing a weight from an unstable position requires a tremendous amount of core strength to maintain dynamic stability. This exercise can be done with a standard medicine ball, but for an additional challenge a Sandbell (from Hyperwear) is recommended.
- Place a Balance Trainer dome-side down in a PowerSTAX base and stand on the flat surface with the left foot slightly forward. Work with a partner to throw and catch a Sandbell, first from the right side and then from the left.
This sample workout provides an excellent example of how BOSU founder David Weck has evolved the both-sides utilized concept of the balance trainer into a whole new way to train the body based on a greater understanding of the structure and composition of the myofascial system. The both-sides utilized concept is an almost perfect way to describe dynamic balance, which requires both sides of the body to work in a coordinated fashion for efficient and effective movement. If you're looking for a way to challenge your clients and help them experience results, take another look at the BOSU Balance Trainer.