One of the most difficult problems for a lot of people is that they have trouble balancing. Whole workouts are predicated on doing little more than teaching people how to be aware of their body’s relation to the ground, and it is a staple skill for dancers and other athletes to be able to find their balance instantly.
Balance isn’t an unknowable force, however. It is a part of how we move through the world that you can enhance, becoming more graceful and agile as well as improving your physical health.
What Balance Is
A person’s sense of balance, despite what you may think, has little to do with their feet and legs. Instead, balance originates in the inner ear where something called the vestibular system exists. The vestibular system is your body’s way of telling how close to the middle of every point of contact with the ground your center of gravity is.
The first step in improving your balance is to become aware of your vestibular system, paying close attention to how your head feels in various positions. While this is difficult at first, eventually it becomes second nature to feel where you are in relation to the ground and your center of gravity.
There are a number of exercises that can be used to improve your balance, but few are as good as using backyard trampolines or indoor rebounders.
Perhaps the most obvious reason goes back to what balance is: your perception of how close to even your center of gravity is between all of your points of connection to the ground. Trampolines, rebounders, and anything with a stretched membrane work by making the ground deform and retract slightly based on your movement. This allows your body to naturally start to gain a sense of the unconscious shifts necessary to maintain that equilibrium. Just walking on these can help you learn to adjust your body position to compensate for changes in the terrain.
But, of course, what good is a trampoline if you don’t jump on it? The jumping provides another strategy for learning how to balance. In this case, the up and down motion helps your body adjust in anticipation of a particular terrain. While you are in the air, you are making calculations that you don’t even realize and learning to adjust your body position in slight ways to land safely and even increase your height. Our instinctive understanding of observed physical properties tells us that the best jumps happen when your center of gravity is poised between points of contact with the mat, what we might otherwise call “perfectly balanced,” and trampolines give you a chance to learn to control that as well as a measure of how well you’re doing.
Have you ever seen a ballerina’s abs? They tend to be highly defined and very, very strong. Much of balance comes from having strong core muscles, a term referring to the muscle groups in your torso like abs, pectorals, and even shoulders.
Since most people’s center of gravity is in their torso, having a powerful core provides an opportunity to make tiny balance corrections by engaging your stomach or back muscles. Doing core exercises like crunches and planks can significantly improve balance. Try to avoid sit-ups, though, since they can not only hurt your back, but also work your hip flexors more than your core.
Learn to Juggle
This seems a little strange, but learning to juggle can actually help improve a very specific kind of balance: neurophysical balance. This is how your brain and your body work together to keep you from wobbling. Learning how to juggle helps you get a sense of how tiny movements can have large effects on a system as well as teaches your body how to keep the center of gravity between points.
The other benefit is that is can be a very impressive party trick.
Gaining Balance Carefully
Like with any other skill, it’s important to recognize that you will not become a master over night. It will take you several hours on the trampoline or throwing apples in the air. However, if you’re dedicated, you can improve your balance significantly.