Life is a balancing act. You balance time, money and emotions, with hopes of finding equilibrium. As a savvy fitness enthusiast, you try to balance your workouts to target all aspects of fitness. But despite your vigilance, you might fall short on actual balance training. A program to develop unsupported balance will enhance athletic prowess and allow you to maintain grace and elegance, even in high heels.
Balance and Proprioception
The word "proprioception" describes your body's ability to sense its position, analyze the information input and respond with the appropriate movement for maintaining balance. You use proprioception when you climb a staircase without looking down. Your body's proprioceptors control balance, coordination and agility. The princess in the "Princess and the Pea" fairy tale had excellent proprioception, because she was able to sense a pea at the bottom of her mattress. To test your princess-worthy proprioception, stand barefoot on the floor and place a piece of tissue paper under your feet. Close your eyes and march in place for one minute. When you open your eyes, note how far you have moved from the paper.
Foot and Ankle Exercise
An ankle sprain might cause you to repeatedly sprain an ankle on the same side, and that gets old after awhile. This happens because every sprain diminishes ankle proprioception. Since most movements begin in your feet, a foot and ankle training program is needed to break this cycle. Start with a series of 20 heel raises, followed by 20 toe raises. Then, walk forward and backward on your toes, and forward and backward on your heels. Take 10 steps in each direction.
If you are a balance training newbie, begin with single leg balance exercises on a flat surface. When you can hold a position for 30 seconds, try the same movement with your eyes closed. Once you master the eyes closed balance hold, progress to standing on balance training equipment, such as the balance board, wobble board, balance disc or half ball. Start with a two legged balance, then try a two-legged balance with eyes closed. Gradually build up to one-legged eyes open and eyes closed balance exercises. Use a spotter when you first try these exercises.
As indicated by the amazing feats of a tightrope walker, a narrow base of support increases the unsupported balance challenge. If you are not quite ready to work out with Cirque du Soleil, the tandem walk has similar benefits in a safer training environment. The exercise involves walking across the room, placing the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of the other. When you complete the forward movement sequence, try the same movement traveling backward. If you ski or snowboard, your instructor probably talks about for/aft balance. Make the tandem walk snow sport specific by adding a for/aft drill. As you take a step, pause for a moment and shift your weight toward your toes and toward your heel. Then, find the sweet spot at the center of your foot, and take another step forward.
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.