Balance and co-ordination are fundamental skills which can affect the way we train and progress throughout our journey to optimal fitness. Balance is the ability of the body to maintain correct posture through effective stabilisation during static and dynamic movements. Proprioception refers to our sense of spatial awareness and ability to perceive joint and muscular actions. 1Simply put, good balance equates to increased control during movement and research shows that proprioception training can increase balance and co-ordination by more than 50%.2
Balance can be affected by a range of factors including neurological and neuromuscular impairments and disease as well joint instability and biomechanical factors. As we age, the function of our sensory systems declines which, in conjunction with loss of muscle mass and strength can increase the risk of falls and injury. The inclusion of targeted exercises and drills is often overlooked during training however without postural control and stability, our capacity to perform fundamental movement patterns is significantly reduced. An effective training programme however, can increase balance and co-ordination through a combination of specific core stability and proprioceptive exercises.
The following 4 exercises can help increase proprioception, balance and co-ordination – plan to set aside around 15 minutes each day or as often as possible for progressive improvement
N.B – Aim to perform the exercises without footwear and ensure you are free of distractions and clutter in the surrounding space.
1. Heel to toe walks
To begin, find a focus point at least 1 metre in front of you, maintain the distance of this focus point as you walk in straight line placing the heel of your foot directly in front of the toes of your other foot so they are touching. Repeat for 10 steps, then turn around and begin again. Keep your shoulders relaxed during the walk, and aim to maintain an upright posture, use your arms out to the side as needed – but keep them actively engaged with tension. To progress – increase the distance of your focus point; increase the number of steps to 20; bring the arms in closer to the body or hugged around the chest; perform with closed eyes.
2. Single leg stand
Begin next to a chair or wall for support if needed, shift your weight onto the right leg foot ensuring your thigh muscles are actively engaged and knee slightly bent in the standing leg, lift the left leg up 3-6 inches off the floor and hold for 5-15 seconds. Repeat 5 times each leg. To progress – lift the leg up to a 90 degree angle, keeping the knee high throughout; increase the hold length by 5 seconds each time; slowly turn the head to the left and right during the hold; perform the exercise with closed eyes; vary the surface by using a cushion, wobble board or bosu to stand on.
Begin on all fours in a tabletop position (on a mat or padded surface). Keep the head in line with the spine and focus on a point on the floor in front of you, engaging the core, slowly extend right leg and left arm simultaneously, hold for 5 seconds, then return to start position. Repeat with left leg/right arm for 5 repetitions each side. To progress: repeat the exercise with eyes closed, hold the extended leg and arm for 10-20 seconds.
4. Cross leg-swing
Begin using a wall or chair for support, shift your weight to the right leg and swing the left leg across the body with a pointed foot as far as possible then swing back to the left to it’s furthest range of motion. Repeat 10-15 times on each leg maintaining an upright posture with the core engaged. To progress: perform without support; with the eyes closed; on an uneven surface/wobble board/bosu.3
[iii] Hupperets, M.D., Verhagen, E.A. and Van Mechelen, W., 2009. Effect of unsupervised home based proprioceptive training on recurrences of ankle sprain: randomised controlled trial. Bmj, 339, p.b2684.
Alison Jones has over 10 years experience working as a professional aerialist. Combining this with her background in contemporary dance performance (BA), she brings a unique, whole body perspective to training. Ali has coached aerial arts and fitness to a wide range of clients, including working with the cast of a major Bollywood show and is currently completing an MSc in Strength & Conditioning. Whilst her passion lies in all things upside down, she firmly believes it’s never too late to relearn a handstand.