We all know the general components of a workout: cardio, strengthening, and flexibility. But an often-overlooked aspect of physical fitness is balance. Training our body to rapidly make those split-second adjustments to accommodate for a crack in the sidewalk or getting bumped by another player can be a ‘make it or break it’ for injury prevention.
In order to understand how to challenge our balance, we need to know how our body keeps us grounded. We use three major systems to keep our balance: our visual system, our vestibular system (or inner ear), and our proprioception system. The proprioception system is our body’s joint position sense; it tells our body where we are in space.
With this in mind, the first way to challenge our balance is to eliminate or skew information coming from one of these systems. If standing on one leg is getting to be easy, try standing on one leg with your eyes closed (eliminating vision) or standing on one leg on a cushioned/unstable surface (skewing the proprioceptive system). To challenge the vestibular system, try incorporating head turns while keeping your eyes fixed on a target.
The next thing to consider is the width of your base of support. When we place our feet far apart, we have a very large base of support which gives us more “wiggle room” before we lose our balance. Think about a lineman about to take a hit—he widens his feet apart and squats to lower his center of gravity to be as stable as possible in anticipation of an external force hitting him. Conversely, if we narrow our feet—standing with feet together, feet in tandem, or standing on one leg—we place a larger challenge to our balance as that stable base is much smaller.