As kids, we’re typically extraordinarily active when playing. We’re growing, exploring our motor skills and movement; often playing games that require hopping, skipping, jumping, leaping and/or balancing on one foot. However as we approach adulthood, (depending on our recreational or exercise-related pursuits,) we move around and play less, which can result in some loss of balance and coordination. Programs that replicate an “adult recess” experience have grown in popularity in recent years as workout programs such as P90X, Insanity, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and many others exemplify this approach. The variety and pace of these types of workouts appeal to many exercisers who feel like they offer the perfect counterbalance to an inactive workday; and one of the key aspects to this type of exercise is the integration of balance and coordination along with strength and endurance.
By combining these exercise components and thus demands on the body, we are asking our body to respond by recruiting more stabilizing and neutralizing muscle activity. Some academic and industry studies have suggested as much as a 40% or more increase in muscle/muscle fiber recruitment when an exerciser performs a strength exercise, such as a standing cable chest press, combined with balance by standing on one leg. Most exercises may be modified to include the integration of balance, coordination and core strength along with the isolated muscle group of primary focus—(i.e. the chest in the aforementioned cable press.)
As is the case with all movement, balance requires good CORE engagement and stability. While the two go hand-in-hand, they are slightly separate actions at the starting point of an exercise. As kids, we don’t even need to think about these things; they just kind of happen as we move and test our body’s abilities. As adults, however, we need to focus and use cues to help get our body parts working together and in the proper order. The first step before performing any exercise regardless of the type, is what is often referred to as “the drawing-in maneuver,” which consists of pulling the navel in towards the spine and slightly upward. This tightens the lower abdominals or Transverse Abs (TA) and helps recruit the other helping muscles, including the hips, lower and middle back, obliques, diaphragm and the magical medial glutes. Once drawn in, these muscles should be held firm (not as tight as you can, but firm without release) throughout the exercise while still breathing, vs. holding your breath. Most can perform this successfully after practicing for a few minutes.
Next comes the balance recruitment pattern, which starts with the medial or middle glute that functions as a stabilizer in conjunction with the other muscles in the core. Standing on one leg with your knee slightly bent, “fire” the medial glute by tightening the “hip” or “butt.” - be sure not to lock the knee with your leg straight. Instead, keep a little flex so that you can move up or down slightly to increase or decrease balance/stability. Sitting down slightly will help re-stabilize if you wobble. Keep the other foot ready to “kickstand” or put the toes down to help you balance as you build your strength and endurance and slowly you can begin to integrate a little balance into other exercises. Coordination can be added by using two arms for the chest press example and alternating one arm then the other. This is just one example of one progression. Fitness Professionals such as instructors and Personal Trainers spend countless hours dreaming up various combinations of compound (combined) exercises and ways to challenge balance, coordination, stability and other components of our fitness that we often either neglect, forget about, or simply have not had the benefit of learning from an expert. As always, seeking expert guidance - even for a check in - is a great way to further your skills and develop new ones. See you at the clubs!