Most people are familiar with common balance exercises such as standing heel to toe, or standing on one leg. These exercises are examples of what are called static balance exercises, and while static exercises should be part of a successful balance training program, so too should dynamic exercises. Static exercises refer to exercises where we try and hold a position that challenges our balance, ie you stay still. On the other hand, dynamic exercises involve trying to balance while we are on the move. As the majority of falls happen while people are moving, dynamic balance exercises are essential to include for a complete approach.
Dynamic balance exercises follow similar principles to static balance exercises in that you provide a challenge to your base of support or reduce your points of contact, or alternatively reduce the involvement of the visual system to try and challenge what is called the proprioceptive system. This system relies on the position based information it receives from receptors within the muscle, tendon, joint capsule and ligaments to determine what the body needs to do to stay upright.
Factors to consider for effect dynamic balance exercise
There are a couple of key factors that must be considered to ensure that dynamic balance exercises are effective:
- Generally the faster you perform the movement, the easier it is to maintain your balance. For maximum benefit, perform the exercise at a slow and controlled pace.
- While safety is the number one priority with balance exercises, you still need to aim to provide a challenge to your balance within a safe environment. If you perform the movement and your body is easily able to balance without any wobbling, it is likely that you need to increase the difficulty of the exercise to provide the challenge and stimulus that your body needs for improvement.
- Only modify one aspect at a time when you are increasing the difficulty of an exercise. If you reduce your base of support or reduce your points of contact, make sure that you keep your head position neutral until you get used to the change.
Examples fo dynamic balance exercises
Let’s explore a few basic dynamic balance exercises that you can include in your balance program. Before we do, please make sure that you perform any balance exercise in a safe environment where you have support nearby and that is clear of obstacles.
Heel to toe walking
Imagine that you have a straight line or a tight rope on the ground directly in front of you. Step forward with one leg and then step again with the other leg, keeping the feet straight and making sure to line up the heel of the front foot so that it is millimeters away from the toe of the back foot. Continue to walk this way for between 6-10 steps, depending on how much space you have available. If you find this is easy, you can try to do the same thing while looking to the sides or walking backwards. Safety is paramount, so make sure that you have appropriate support nearby if you decide to increase the difficulty of this exercise.
Calf raises. Calf raises can be done with a focus on strength or on balance. To focus more on balance, try to do the movement without holding on and with lower repetitions. Stand with your feet around 15-20cm apart and raise the heels so that you body moves up vertically. Make sure that your ankles don’t roll out or in when you do this. Aim to perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions. If this is easy, try doing the same movement on one leg only.