In the previous post on balance I defined what balance is, why it is important, and what affects it. I discussed the fact that balance is trainable and that training should be systematic, progressive, and safely challenge “limits of stability.” One challenges limits of stability by performing exercise in an environment which is unstable, but also safe. I.e. a single leg balance is a great exercise, but don’t perform a single leg balance in a place where you will hit your head if you fall. It is important to note that as with most exercise, “challenging” is relative to the person in question. An exercise which may challenge me could be exceptionally easy to someone else. Difficulty can be added in balance training in several ways.
Duration is one of the more intuitive methods of making an exercise more challenging. This can be done by adding repetitions or if the workout is timed, by increasing one’s time goals. I.e. hold for 45 seconds as opposed to 30 seconds.
Instability- Another method is by increasing the demands of the environment in which the exercise is performed. An example of this would be to perform a single leg balance on an Airex pad as opposed to the flat ground. By making the surface more unstable, the proprioceptive demands of the exercise are increased.
Plane of motion- A third method is to change planes of motion.
There are three planes of motion that we use to communicate exercise. Though we never truly move in only one plane at a time, they are still useful concepts. The three planes are “sagittal,” “frontal,” and “transverse.”
Sagittal motion is front to back. Envision someone climbing a flight of stairs. The movement of their arms and legs would be in the sagittal plane. Sagittal plane of motion is the one that is most commonly trained at the gym. Think, bicep curls, tricep extensions, squats, lunges, running. Because these are very common movements, the body should be more adept at performing them than motions in the other two planes and thus sagittal plane is a good place to start training balance.
The next commonly trained plane is frontal or lateral. Frontal plane would be out to the sides, or parallel with the front/back sides of the body. An example of this would be shoulder flys, or side lunges. Once a reasonable level of stability has been built in the sagittal plane, one can progress by beginning lateral movements. A single leg balance with extension would become a single leg balance with lateral extension.
Finally the least trained plane of motion is the transverse. This is turning or crossing the body. This is also, unsurprisingly, the plane of movement that one is most likely to become injured in. We see this for example in ACL injuries. When an athlete plants their foot and tries to change direction they are at an increased risk for a knee injury. An example of a transverse movement would be a cable rotation, or an oblique crunch. This should be the final plane of motion that one begins training in, as it is the most difficult. This is also the training that will do the most for injury prevention.
Stay tuned for Balance part-3, as I will hopefully have my recording device and software operating and will be able to show some specific exercises. Please feel free to leave feedback or ask any questions.