Our short feet provide a base of support for our tall bodies. It's a wonder we can balance at all with this precarious set-up. Sometimes we don't, and our inner klutz strikes at inopportune moments, such as when we step up to the platform to make a speech at the annual company meeting. Postural stability saves you from injury and embarrassment. If you don't have it, there's an exercise for it -- a few, in fact.
Postural Stability Components
Balance relies on your ability to keep your center of gravity over your base of support. Movement -- especially in response to external forces -- requires postural adjustments, which realign your body's center over those tiny support pedestals called feet. How skillfully you perform these adjustments depends on your proprioception, or positional awareness, kinesthesia, or movement awareness, and agility, which helps you process feedback and respond quickly and effectively. Inaccurately sensing your center of gravity's position relative to your base of support, along with slow and uncoordinated movement responses to external stimuli, impair postural stability.
If too much wine did not instigate the balance blooper, you need postural stability exercise. Start with basic proprioception exercises, like the tandem stance. Stand on a level surface with one foot in front of the other. Hold the position for 30 seconds, then switch sides. When you can hold the position without excessive sideways sway, try it with your eyes closed. Once you master the static tandem stance, try the tandem walk, sometimes called the field sobriety test.
It's hard not to notice the silly-looking, side-to-side weight shifts of the runner with a wobbly gait. Don't be that runner. Chris Johnson, a physical therapist specializing in runners' injuries, recommends slow-motion marching drills. Stand upright with your hands behind your head. Maintain an upright posture as you bend one knee and lift it to a 90-degree angle. Lower the leg and repeat with the other leg. Then, continue with the alternating knee lifts and progress across the room. When your foot hits the ground, shift your weight forward toward your big toe. This will transfer your center over your base of support. Continue for 30 seconds.
For an athletic warm-up, you can try a method called BAPS, for balance and postural stability. Designed to prevent injuries and dress-rehearse sport-specific movements, these exercises enhance dynamic strength and flexibility in balance. Dynamic implies that they're performed with movement. The walking lunge, for example, mobilizes your hip flexors and wakes up the muscles in your butt, hamstrings and quads. The exercise is done in the same manner as the slow-motion march, but you perform a lunge as you lower your leg. Maintain an erect posture and always keep the front knee aligned with the center of your foot.
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.