Balance is one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of a fitness or exercise program. That is, until an injury, health condition or general aging forces us to pay more attention to it.
In the context of fitness and health, balance is the ability to remain upright, stable, steady, and controlled while standing, walking, jogging, running, or engaging in any dynamic maneuver (like hiking over uneven terrain).
Just like speed, strength, power, endurance and flexibility, balance can be trained and enhanced through proper exercise. In any balance training program, it’s important to consider the type of balance training you’re doing and the surface you’re doing it on.
Static and dynamic balance training
Balance training can be organized into two types: static and dynamic.
Static balance training involves holding a single position (for example, standing on one leg) for a set amount of time. This type of balance training is usually the starting point in any balance program, as it involves little movement and is generally safer.
As balance exercises progress in intensity, dynamic balance training is implemented. Dynamic balance training involves training balance while moving. Because how we move in life and sport is most often not static, dynamic balance training more accurately simulates the challenges and variability we experience in everyday life.
An example of dynamic balance training would be lunging to pick up a weighted ball off the floor, standing back up on a single leg, and quickly turning to toss the ball to a partner.
Balance training surfaces
Static and/or dynamic balance training can be done on different surfaces to achieve different benefits. The three main categories of surfaces are:
- Even Surfaces (wood flooring, carpet, rubber gym flooring, sidewalks)
- Uneven Surfaces (hiking trails, hills)
- Unstable Surfaces (balance pads, balance balls, a wobble board)
Static and dynamic balance training on an even surface
Since even surfaces offer the lowest amount of challenge, this is where most individuals will begin with their balance exercises. Starting here with static, non-weighted exercises such as single leg balance holds and hip hinge single leg balance holds will help build a foundation.
Progressing to dynamic balance exercises like walking and lunging variations on even surfaces will add a greater, more functional challenge. Here, resistance in the form of dumbbells, medicine balls and other weighted tools can be added for increased strength and balance demands.
Dynamic balance training on an uneven surface
Throughout life, most people spend a fair amount of time standing, walking, hiking, jogging, or running on even and uneven surfaces, so from a “functional” standpoint it makes sense to focus balance training efforts here.
To train on any uneven surface, people would normally have to venture outside to the nearest park, hill, or mountain; until now. OPTP recently released an innovative new balance training product called CobbleFoam.
Each CobbleFoam board is 16” x 16” and features foam blocks of varying heights that create uneven terrain to stand on or traverse across. The CobbleFoam board/s simulate the uneven surfaces we encounter in everyday life and can be used safely and comfortably in your own home. Many health professionals also use CobbleFoam in their clinics, gyms and studios.
Conducting any static or dynamic balance exercise on an uneven surface like Cobble Foam immediately increases the benefits of the movement. Due to the variability of the uneven surface, the brain and muscles will be engaged at a deeper level to keep the body upright and balanced. In addition, the deep intrinsic stability system of the foot-ankle-knee complex will be activated to a much greater degree, building strength and joint integrity.
Last, unstable surfaces like balance pads and balance balls are also effective options for building better balance. Because most of these tools are light in weight, pliable and filled with air, they create an ever-changing surface to stand on. In theory, this instability builds communication between the brain and feet, thus improving balance. Unstable surfaces should always be used in conjunction with a static object that can be grasped and used for support, to avoid a potential fall.
CobbleFoam: A highly effective approach to improving balance
To make balance exercises even more functional and life-like, combining an uneven surface like the CobbleFoam board/s with other fitness tools like weights, steps, balance pads and hurdles to develop an “obstacle course” is a highly effective approach to developing and improving balance.
Incorporate static and dynamic balance exercise for the greatest benefit
In summary, people can engage in static and/or dynamic balance exercises on an even surface, uneven surface, or unstable surface to improve their body’s ability to remain upright, stable, steady, and controlled. While even surfaces and uneven surfaces like CobbleFoam are most functional, the greatest benefits will be had by engaging in both static and dynamic balance exercises across all three surface types. What is your favorite type of balance training, and why?