If you ask someone what balance is, they will likely give you a gentle push and say it’s just that – the ability to stay in position without falling (and if you did fall, you definitely need to read this!) And while that’s correct, there’s also a bit more to understand about this essential skill as an athlete.
Balance in sport however is one of the key physical components of fitness. It’s vital whatever standard or level of sport. It forms one of six skill-related elements, along with; coordination, agility, speed, reaction time and power. Together, they combine to help us in everything we do, from competitive sport, to walking and staying steady.
But what exactly is balance and how can they help us improve our performance on and off the field? In this article, we look further at balance, what it means to athletes and the right exercises everyone can undertake to improve their overall ability.
What is balance?
The ability to stay upright and in coordinated control of our body and its movement, is better known as balance. It’s something that draws upon on main senses, including our ears and eyes.
According to the BBC, balance can be defined as “the ability to maintain the body’s centre of mass above the base of support.”
Unbeknown to many, balance in sport can take two forms. The first is dynamic balance; this is the ability to keep a center of gravity in spite of changing base of support. Along with explosive power, it’s considered a physical predictor of athletic ability and success.
The other type is called static balance; as the name suggests, this is the ability to maintain equilibrium when stationary.
Why is balance important?
Most of us already know the benefits of having good balance in day-to-day life, but this also extends into daily sport too. Good balance in sport means you move with greater efficiency and with better control.
Dynamic balance is especially useful for competitive sport, since it means one has more control over their center of gravity in an ever-changing environment.
It can also help with overall coordination, this is useful in sports where you might need to suddenly change tact or direction, particularly in ball sports like; tennis, hockey, netball and football. While in endurance sports, balance will enable you to perform harder, longer and stronger.
As a notable benefit, having superior control over your balance, will also help reduce the risk of injury too.
Testing your balance
The most common way for checking balance in sport is the standing test. There are various tests to choose from, probably the most popular is the ‘Stork Stand Test’. This involves standing on the toes of one foot for as long as possible without falling, while the other leg is propped on the inside of the opposite knee. To mix this up, position one leg on a beam, this is better known as a ‘Flamingo Balance Test’.
To test dynamic balance, a sports coach can help provide a balance board, this also tests agility at the same time. During the demonstration, the athlete stands on the balance board with toes pointed out and heels apart, with an ambition of keeping balanced for as long as possible. The best out of three is usually the benchmark score, from which to base it moving forwards.
Athletes may also attempt walking tests. The ‘Beam Walk Balance Test’ is where the athlete walks along a gym beam and back.
Improving your balance
There are many balance-specific workouts that can be integrated into any workout and training programme. This will focus on strengthening the muscles that maintain your posture and help strengthen the core.
Special attention should be paid to exercises that strengthen and tone oblique’s and muscles that support the surrounding area, such as lower back, glutes and hips. Look at that improves stability, such as a Swiss ball of Bosu half-circle too.
Balance exercises don’t have to be overcomplicated and can be low-intensity too. They can be as simple as standing with a weight on one leg while raising the other, to integrating knee lifts into steps. Some athletes try and make it part of their daily routine and training programme, for instance forgoing the use of hands when standing up and sitting down on a chair.
One sport that is known for its many balance enhancing benefits its Tai Chi. This ancient Chinese martial art is well documented for its wellbeing properties, as well as being a great self-defence tool. It utilises meditation with physical actions to bring body and mind in harmony. As the discipline targets all the main components of our bodies for remaining upright, it is a great overall workout for balance. It can help with flexibility, range of motion and strength. And as your sports coach will tell you, it’s great for improving reflexes too.
A happy benefit associated with Tai Chi is also improved stability, which may in turn result in less falls and injuries in sports people.
As one of the key physical components of fitness, it’s important to pay attention to balance in sport.
Complementing one’s overall fitness, agility and ability, balance plays an important role alongside coordination and power. As such, it’s important to include balance exercises into workouts and training programmes.
The benefits are many, including being able to maintain your position, reach to new ones with ease and operating more fluidly with better control and efficiency. Last but not least, it can help in preventing injury too.