Balance is an essential component for an athlete, but it is not the most worked. A good sense of balance is essential to maintain control during sports activities. It is governed by a complex whole in which muscles, joints, visual system and the vestibular system must work together to help you stand, walk, jump or even run safely. Working on your balance means training in a practical way, that is to say, that helps in everyday life. It is also an excellent way to protect yourself from the naughty effects of “old age” because as you get older, you tend to increase your risk of falls (and loss of autonomy).
Balance is also an essential part of rehabilitation protocols following injuries, and we find this component in many physiotherapist programs in particular to find mobility. And balance can be worked on! To do this, you need to create situations that test your systems, for example, by:
- following yoga classes online, which involve specific postures (pigeon, tree, half-moon, warrior III etc.)
- adding specific bodybuilding exercises such as the pistol squat, the single-leg deadlift or the lateral sheathing
- improving your proprioception, for example, by having fun on a slackline
- doing exercises on an unstable surface such as a Swiss ball or a BOSU
- confronting you with the beam that traumatized you during PE when you were young
But you can also practice at home with a balance board.
WHAT IS A BALANCE BOARD?
You have inevitably already seen it at your physiotherapist, perhaps following an umpteenth ankle sprain?
The balance board (also called the balance board, Freeman’s board or proprioception board) is a platform made of wood (or sometimes plastic) whose base is intentionally curved to make it difficult for you to stand up.It is an unstable, oscillating surface on which you must try to stand (or sit) with your feet on either side of the board. To push the challenge even further, close your eyes. There are many other exercises to do on this type of plank, which we will detail below.
HOW DOES OUR BALANCE WORK?
It seems normal to us to stand upright. Still, the sense of balance is a complex whole made up of the visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems. First, your visual system provides the brain with information about where your body is about your surroundings. It is why it will be more difficult for you to balance if you close your eyes; you will have difficulty due to your inability to know where you are. It is reason enough to monitor your vision regularly.
Your vestibular system is located in your inner ear (in part called a labyrinth); it provides your brain with information about the position of your head. The two vestibular structures (one on each side of the head) act as microscopic levels; they are filled with fluid, and as you move and turn your head, the fluid rushes to one side of the vestibular structure and activates the nerves that are there. These nerves communicate with your brain, telling it where your head is. Injury or deficiency in your vestibular system can cause dizziness or spinning sensations when you move your head. Finally, your proprioceptive system is a group of nerve endings located in your body’s muscles, tendons, and joints.
These nerves communicate with your brain, telling it when and how a muscle is contracting, as well as information about how you feel about the position. Injury, surgery, or neurological disorder can affect your proprioception, causing your balance to decrease. In summary, equilibration is a function in which information from peripheral sensors will allow our brain to perform a motor command enabling us to position ourselves in space.
WHY DO THE BALANCE BOARD?
Improving your sense of balance can help in your daily life and with the practice of your sport. No matter your age and activity level, having a more stable and more robust foundation is always a good idea; it is all the more true as time does its work.
TO STRENGTHEN ITS PROPRIOCEPTION
The proprioception is consistently in our body without anyone noticing. It is like a 6th sense which designates the perception, conscious or not, of the position of the different parts of the body in space.
We generally become aware of this when we lose this 6th sense, “you are missing only one being, and everything seems depopulated”! Poor balance is the main sign of poor proprioception. Balance training directly improves our 6th sense, making us more able to control our body in stressful situations. In the event of a fall, for example (a missed curb), your proprioception will allow you to correct your balance and readjust yourself rather than crashing to the ground. Like me, endowed with magnificent (or not) hollow feet, you want to develop your proprioception!
TO REDUCE YOUR RISK OF INJURY
Regular training on a balance board will also strengthen your joints, especially in the ankles.
Strengthening your ankles is always a good idea, especially if you are a sprain-prone runner. Work on the balance board will also prepare a runner for trails requiring many downforces, for example, in trail running. Some exercises that we will see below will even increase ankle mobility.
TO IMPROVE YOUR SPORTS PERFORMANCE
It is particularly true if you practise a sport like surfing or skateboarding, but the balance board is far from the preserve of riders! The benefits of on-set training will be directly applicable to all sports. What athlete would not benefit from a better ability to perfectly control their movements or improve their level of agility and mobility (to quickly change direction, for example)? Training on a balance board will develop these skills and some kinesthetic awareness to master your body control in a game situation.
FOR MUSCLE STRENGTHENING
Believe it or not, training on a balance board will involve stabilizing muscles to ensure good balance, and your abdominals will not be outdone. Your abdominal strap is the heart of your every move; they’re the ones that connect your upper and lower body, after all. By strengthening this area called “core” (a set made up of abdominal muscles, deep lateral stabilizer muscles and erector muscles of the spine) by the ‘Ricans, you make yourself more potent and more coordinated.
Working on your sense of balance means developing the strength of your “core” because keeping your balance on an unstable platform forces your core muscles to be constantly called upon. It could potentially help minimize your lower back pain.
The key to functional strength is to work the body’s muscles as a whole, which includes all those little (too) often overlooked stabilizing muscles.
THE BEST BALANCE BOARD EXERCISES
If you are new to the balance board, you may want to make sure you have a wall nearby for extra support on your “first steps”.
To practice in a safe environment:
do not exercise on a slippery surface (avoid parquet floors)
keep the training area free of obstacles to avoid falling on objects
do not make sudden movements or sway; move slowly
STAND UP: THE BASE
The first exercise is to keep in perfect balance, standing on your board:
1. Stand on the board with one foot at each end of the board.
2. Keep your spine neutral and keep your torso straight.
3. Shift your weight to maintain your balance to prevent one edge of the board from touching the ground.
You will see that already; it will take you some time to practice before standing 30 to 60s without one of the sides of the board touching the ground.
To work on your ankle mobility, tilt the board forward until it touches the ground, then backwards. Continue this slow, steady, controlled motion back and forth, then tilt the board side to side, shifting your weight from your left leg to your right leg. Finally, combine the two directions to make 360 degrees on the board (left, front, right, back.)
To go further
To make the task more complex, try to keep the board balanced by closing your eyes. Once you’re in complete control, try standing on one leg. You can also ask a training partner to throw a ball at you while you are balanced on the board, which you will need to grab at chest height.
Ok, now let’s get to the heart of the matter!
The following exercise you know perfectly well is about the squat. But have you ever tried squatting on an unstable surface like a BOSU or a swing board?
It is an exercise that we see a lot in the process of rehabilitation following an injury.
1. Standing on the board in balance, squat down as deep as your ankle flexibility and balance allow.
2. Hold this position for as long as possible.
Notes: You can either hold the squat for about 30 seconds (or more) or do sets of 15 to 20 repetitions. Either way, the board should never touch the ground; your movement should be slow and controlled. Finally, the knees should not point towards each other at any time. To take it a step further, why not try a one-legged squat on the plank? Be careful; it’s pretty tricky; make sure you have a solid balance beforehand and work in a safe environment (no obstacles around in the event of a fall).
The sheathing is an excellent exercise, but it has a significant flaw in its basic version; it is relatively easy! So you have to quickly switch to less stable variants to make it enjoyable.
Among these, the sheathing on the balance board is a must!
- Get into a classic sheathing position, hands (or forearms) on the balance board.
- Hold, keeping your body perfectly aligned.
- Lift one leg and try to hold the post for more challenge. Repeat with the other leg.
You can also put your feet on the board rather than your hands, in which case try to hold up by raising an outstretched arm in front of you!
PUMPS IN IMBALANCE
We have already seen this kind of work on push-ups with the TRX or gym rings. You can also do it on kettlebells, but it’s a bit messier.
Here, the exercise remains safe while making sure to recruit the small stabilizing muscles. It is yet another form of advanced sheathing.
Try to keep your elbows close to your body, even if the hand surface is not significant. Note that you can place your feet high and your hands on the board or your feet directly on the board. Vary the possibilities.
The chair is an exercise that you may have been traumatized by as a child, yet it is an excellent isometric exercise for working the quadriceps. How about making the job even more difficult by positioning your feet on your balance platform?
For that :
- Place your feet on the board, then your back against a wall located about 50 km away.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and slowly slide your back along the wall until your thighs parallel the floor.
- Adjust your feet so that your knees are directly above your ankles (rather than your toes).
- Keep your back flat against the wall for 20 to 60 seconds while resisting the instability of the board.
During the whole exercise, do not place your hands on your knees!
BRIDGE IN INSTABILITY
The bridge is a relatively challenging exercise for the glutes in its basic version, so imagine an unstable surface at one of the contact points (the feet).
- Lying on your back, your feet are resting on the balance board; your hands are on the floor next to you.
- Raise your buttocks towards the ceiling and fully extending your hips. Contract the buttocks as much as possible in the high position.
- Slowly descend and repeat 10-15 times. Do five sets.
Notes: You can go even further by extending one leg in front of you when you are in the high position.
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR BALANCE BOARD?
There are different styles of balance boards.
his type of balancing plate generally rests on a fairly stable base, which makes it relatively quick to master. This kind of tray is ideal for physiotherapy or balance work for the elderly.
ROUND BALANCE BOARD
Also called an oscillating board, it is THE classic, round one with a hemisphere located in the middle of the surface for only contact with the ground. More challenging than the previous version, this board will be perfect for physio work and athletic balance training. It is probably where you should start. Models like the one above typically offer a surface area of 40 centimeters and a maximum operating weight of 100kg.
More expensive, this type of board is also more fun and difficult to master! It often comes in 2 parts with a skateboard type board (without wheel) and a tube. The game’s object is to place the tube under the board and maintain balance by swinging on it. The more expansive surface and the roller removable leave more room for creativity, and the range of movements is unlimited! This type of board is by far the most versatile, ranging from rehabilitation to improving general balance and sport-specific training with the practice of “tricks” (especially board sports such as longboarding).
BALANCE BOARD FAQ
Can we practice every day?
Yes, you can do 10 minutes of balance exercise a day without worry. Do you work standing at your desk? Place a balance board under your feet! Add a balance challenge with this StrongTek balance board. Made from high-quality hardwood plywood, this sturdy board helps stimulate your core and improve your agility, reaction time and endurance.
Absolutely, some balance boards are even specially designed for children. The development of balance and coordination begins at an early age. Many children lack the basics of body awareness, coordination and balance necessary to complete tasks that were second nature to previous generations. Training with balance boards is an ideal way to help children build confidence in this area.