Balance training is an effective method to improve the stabilisation forces around the joints to improve dynamic balance and joint stability. This is crucial if you had a previous knee or ankle injury. It is one of the most neglected areas of fitness and a contributing factor for repetitive injuries. Usually, balance training is done on a single leg on unstable surfaces to enable the body to adapt to the unpredictable forces, which happen during running or contact sports. Balance exercises involve little or no joint motion. They should not be done if you have any active inflammation and swelling in your joints.
How will it help me?
Balance training has been shown to reduce the risk of knee and ankle injuries in contact sports and improve running economy for regular runners. A well controlled trial published in the British Medical Journal (Hupperets, 2009) had shown that an unsupervised 8 week home-based balance training programme was able to reduce the recurrence of ankle sprain in acutely injured athletes. These beneficial effects lasted even after a year on follow-up in the study.
What follows are some balance exercises to improve your dynamic balance. These exercises are best done with a wobble cushion or foam. If you don’t have access to a wobble cushion, you can substitute it with a rolled up pillow in the initial stages. Remember, it is not about the repetitions but about control of the movement. Master the correct form first, before progression to the next stage.
Stand on one leg on the wobble cushion / rolled up pillow for 15 seconds. Repeat for 10 – 12 times on each leg
Stand on one leg. Gently sway from your waist front and back, side to side for 15 seconds. Don’t bend your back, hips or knees. Repeat for 10 -12 times
While standing on one leg, pass around a small object (water bottle/ mobile phone) around your waist, in clockwise and anti-clockwise direction
Standing on one leg, throw a ball against the wall or ask your training partner to throw at you. Again, avoid bending your back, hips or knees.
Arrange three cones/ plastic cups in front of you. Try to gently touch each with your big toe without leaning forward or transferring weight.
Important Safety Points
Here are some essential points about balance training
- Before starting any of the wobble cushion routines, warm up for at least five minutes by performing some gentle range of motion exercises for the ankle and calf stretches
- It is not about the reps, but rather about developing co-ordination and technique while maintaining upright posture.
- Perform all wobble cushion exercises when you are relatively free from fatigue since these exercises require focus and co-ordination from the nervous system.
- Don’t begin your balance exercises until you have recovered from a strained ankle or knee. There should not be any active symptoms of inflammation (such as swelling and night pain) and you should have been given the all- clear by your treating health care professional.
Perform at Your Best,
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Hupperets et al., 2009. Effect of unsupervised home based proprioceptive training on recurrences of ankle sprain: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2009;339:b2684