Balance, or wobble, boards are flat platforms set on half-spheres that require constant muscle engagement in order for you to balance on them. Using one can be more challenging than it first appears. Balance boards exercise numerous muscles to keep you aligned, not just the major muscle groups you target with exercise. The effort to stay balanced improves proprioception, your awareness of movement, posture, shifts in equilibrium and the orientation of your body in space.
Better Sports Performance
Training for balance using a balance board improves agility and helps you to change directions quickly. Strong balance could give you an edge during those quick volleys on shifting sands in your weekend beach volleyball game. Better balance helps finetune your coordination -- think of backing up to get your racket on the ball, twisting to return it over the net and racing across court to keep the ball in play. Your reaction to rapid changes is speedier and surer; good balance is a plus when you're sprinting for a zigzagging toddler at the pool or swerving to avoid the puppy that just dashed in front of your bike. Enhanced proprioception will stabilize you in yoga poses and keep you upright and gliding serenely around the ice rink. Secure balance lets you tackle adventurous fitness activities with less risk of injury.
Knees and Ankles
If you tend to turn your ankle in sports or dance, a balance board could help. A study of volleyball players published in the "American Journal of Sports Medicine" found that training on a balance board significantly reduced ankle sprains, especially in players with a history of ankle sprains. However, those participants with a history of knee injuries were more susceptible to knee problems after using the boards. The conclusion suggests that balance board sessions may strengthen your ankles but may not be worth the risk if you have experienced prior knee injuries.
Balance and Your Brain
A well-developed sense of posture and balance is a foundation for focus and attention, organized speech and verbal comprehension. Gross and fine motor skills and the coordination of both hemispheres of the brain depend on vestibular processing -- your perception of the world around you and head and body alignment. Work on the balance board to strengthen vestibular processing is used for sensory integration therapy, a field developed by Dr. Jean Ayres to improve learning for people with sensory integration disorder. Clinical research by Ayres and others found that balance work helps with coordination, eye control, concentration and language development. Dr. Frank Belgau, an early pioneer of linking certain kinds of physical activity with brain development, found that balance activities improve brain function. Balancing challenges activate and build neural networks helping you to learn more efficiently and succeed academically.
Exercises: Easy to Challenging
Stand on a balance board barefoot and try to keep the edges from touching the ground for one minute, gradually increasing the time. Rotate the board in a circle without letting the edges touch the floor. Balance with your arms wide, then up. Try easy knee bends and work up to squats. Toss a ball up in the air or against a wall and catch it. Balance on one leg. Do all the exercises with your eyes closed. Slim your waist by holding a moderately light dumbbell in front of you with both hands as you balance on the board. Contract your core and twist as far as you can to the right and the left. Boost your balance board gains by taking up snowboarding in the winter and surfing or skimboarding in the summer.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .