Balance is a core pillar of overall fitness.
Although flat abs, toned glutes or a muscular upper body may often be perceived as what “fitness” looks like in today’s society, skills such as balance (along with flexibility) are actually highly under-rated and incredibly important to support lifelong fitness.
Although it may not be the most glamorous aspect of fitness, balance can’t be overlooked when it comes to daily exercise routines.
Balance helps reduce the risk of falls, injuries and encourages better overall stability. This is useful for exercise and sports, but also just everyday living, particularly for those of us who want to live an active life.
Unfortunately, as we get older, bones become more brittle and one bad fall can spark complete disaster for mobility and health. This can also have indirect negative complications on things like mental wellbeing and social isolation.
So, if we’re all in agreement that improving balance is worthwhile for us all – how exactly do we go about it? How can we train ourselves to have better balance?
Well, along with personal recommendations from a physiotherapist, there are general exercises that help develop and strengthen muscles required for better balance. These exercises engage the stabilising muscles in your body (particularly your feet and legs) so you are prepared for any obstacles thrown your way.
Balance pads are a piece of physio equipment that everyone should buy. They are relatively cheap and provide the perfect base to perform and perfect an array of balance training exercises.
What is a Balance Pad and Do I Need One?
A balance pad is not necessary to complete balance exercises, but it does enhance the training and force all muscles to help add support and stability to your body. This is key for developing better balance.
Balance pads are thick pieces of foam that allow your body to sink into it, meaning the muscles are required to engage to prevent you from falling. This means performing a basic squat on a balance pad is suddenly much harder than on a hard floor, which helps strengthen important stabilising muscles.
Wobble or balance boards offer a similar benefit, but engage wider muscle groups, such as your core to add stability. Balance pads, on the other hand, rely on much more subtle movements in your feet to add stability. Wobble or balance boards also require quite a good level of balance to even stand on them, making them not ideal for those recovering from injury or with naturally poor balance.
Benefits of Using a Balance Pad
Balance pads offer a range of benefits, including:
Unsurprisingly, one the main benefits of balance pads is their ability to improve balance and stability.
Balance pads force stabilising muscles to engage, helping to strengthen them. Particularly for those who spend a large proportion of their day sitting, spending time strengthen these supporting muscles and ligaments is worth its weight in gold when it comes to avoiding injury.
With better balance and stability, you are likely to find exercise, sports and daily activities a lot easier. From bending down to pat a dog, to reaching up on your tip toes to grab a tin from the cupboard, all these activities can be complemented with improved balance.
Balance pads aren’t just useful for improving balance, they can be used for all sorts of exercises and workouts. Something like crunches can be enhanced by using a balance pad to reduce pain in the lower back.
One of the great benefits of improving balance (along with flexibility) is better posture. This helps mitigate unnecessary strain on joints and helps prevent backpain, an all too familiar condition for over 50s.
Balance pads are commonplace amongst physiotherapists due to the effectiveness they offer at helping combat injury and aiding recovery. The soft surface and imbalance the pad creates is perfect for aiding sports related injuries and slowly integrating stabilising muscles back to full strength.
Balance Pad Exercises
The following exercises leverage the balance pad to help improve balance, stability and muscle strength.
One Legged Stand
For one legged stands, step on the balance pad and raise one leg in the air. This will put all your weight (and balance) on the remaining leg in contact with the balance pad.
Once you’ve got in position, hold the one legged stand for 30 seconds and repeat with the second leg. Do this for a few sets or as required if you are following a balance training routine.
Stand behind the balance pad and lunge forward, placing one foot on the balance pad. Once your foot is on the pad, lunge down.
Repeat for each leg.
For an alternative, you can also try a reverse lunge, whereby you stand on the balance pad to begin with and lunge backwards off the pad.
Stand upright on the balance pad, with legs shoulder width apart.
Squat down slowly before returning to the starting position. Depending on fitness level, you can squat all the way down or just half way.
For an advanced alternative, try one-legged squats.
Starting on all fours, place your hands on the balance pad, roughly shoulder width apart. Lift your knees off the ground so you adopt the starting position for a push-up. Bend your elbow and lower your chest to the pad before returning to the starting position.
If this is too challenging, keep your knees on the ground and perform a “half push-up.”
Stand next to the balance pad before placing one foot on the pad and lifting yourself up. Place the other foot on the pad before stepping down again. Repeat this for both legs.
Start on all fours before placing your forearms on the balance pad. Lift your knees off the ground so your core is engaged.
Hold for as long as you can.