What Are Balance Boards?
Balance boards, or wobble boards, are nothing new, but if you have not been using one as a regular tool in your fitness training, it could potentially be the core strengthening tool that you have been looking for.
The premise is simple and is something that you can use in the privacy of your home. All that you would require is enough room to stand in. Sounds too good to be true, right? That’s because it is. Balance boards come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The kind most commonly found in the average gym consists of a solid board, wide enough to stand on, with a dome-like shape beneath it. The ‘dome’ is sometimes a springy substance or inflatable. Standing on the flat side as your weight shits the board off-balance.
Benefits Of A Balance Board
Balance comes into everything. In fact, it’s something you may only realise when an affliction causes you to lose your balance. While this may seem like something that occurs naturally, your ability to balance comes from training and the strength of the muscles that help you to stand upright. Primarily, your ability to stabilize yourself comes from your core and leg strength.
It’s not just exercise equipment for body training, but mental training too. Balance boards are used in therapy to restore your body’s equilibrium by challenging your brain to work harder to keep you balanced on the board.
The foremost benefit of balance boards revolves around the proprioceptive system. This is your subconscious awareness of your body’s positioning and movement. Your proprioceptive system keeps your body at work via the many receptor nerves in your muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. Your brain responds to signals sent by these receptors, which may come as the result of muscle tension and changes in your standing and stability. When a change is sensed, signals are sent to your muscles to contract.
The proprioceptive system is affected by age. While your reaction times may weaken with old age, your muscles do too. If you have suffered an injury then this may not be able to play its role as effectively in helping you to balance. As a result, you may suffer further injuries. For example, if you have an injured knee, you may be able to stand but if the knee is not as strong as it was you may unconsciously rely on other muscles to keep you upright. After a prolonged period, this may place extra strain on your opposite leg and auxiliary muscles, not least you back as your spine is not equally supported.
When using a balance board, the feeling of sudden movements that suggest you may fall cause you to react. By making this practice a part of your routine, you can hone and improve your reaction times in general.
It is for this reason that balance boards are recommended as effective therapy for old people and those that have experienced the likes of a broken leg, as it helps to improve their proprioception while strengthening other muscles that contribute to balance.
By challenging your balance system, you will also strengthen your core muscles, which helps to correct poor posture and can be the perfect antidote for anyone that spends too much time sitting during the working day. It may be considered lighter exercise, but your posterior chain, lower back, glutes, quads, hamstrings and ligaments in between are put on alert, all working together to keep you upright.
Balance boards have also been proven to help with developmental conditions that affect coordination and cognitive and sensory skills.
Balance Board Exercises
The beauty of balance boards is their simplicity, which affords you a myriad of potential exercises. To begin, the standard, most basic (yet not as easy as it looks) exercise, is to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your arms out to assist with your balance. You can test yourself at first with minute long sets. This can be advanced with the use of added weights in each hand and longer length sets.
Beginning in the standard position with your feet apart, keep your arms straight out ahead of you so that you engage your core as opposed to arms for balance. Squat with a slow, purposeful movement, contracting your core, glutes, hamstrings and quads to stabilize yourself.
Standard lunges are a great way to not only strengthen your hamstrings and quads but also work your core and strengthen your balance. Because you exercise one leg at a time you can be sure that you are evenly training both sides as opposed to favoring one stronger leg to carry the other. Add to the mix a balance board and the exercise will put the smaller muscles to work too.
Want to advance? Try a combination of the previous two with one-legged squats.
Side To Side
When you begin to develop, attempt the standard standing position but engage your leg muscles and core to move the board from side to side. This should be an intentional movement from one side to the other so that the board’s edge touches the floor. Experiment slowly, pausing upon each touch and again in the middle. Better yet, count to three as you lower from the middle to one side, then back up again. This should keep you from rushing and staying aboard by luck. It’s not the rodeo, it’s a slow and steady challenge to keep balanced.
Close Your Eyes
Closing your eyes has a considerable effect on your balance in general as you lose your sense of perception and any anchor points to keep you still. Using a balance board with your eyes shut will mean that you train your proprioceptive system like never before.