Active Seniors

When it’s good to be unstable

Many people want to be “stable”. Whether it is on their feet so that they don’t fall, or in the muscles that support their joints. However when we exercise, some of the best benefits occur when we are unstable.

A study published in 2015, looked at the differences in muscle activity when a person exercises in stable vs an unstable environment. The study compared a standard pushup exercise, to a pushup on a suspension trainer. Suspension trainers are a set of non-elastic straps that are anchored to a non-moveable object. As the straps are freely moveable, they create some instability during common exercises.

The results of the study showed that exercising in the “unstable” conditions led to more activation of the trunk muscles and the shoulder stabiliser muscles. These muscles have an important role in reacting to ever-changing conditions. The greater the activity of these muscles, the more adaptable they are to uncommon stresses, and therefore the more resilient they become. Many falls and injuries occur as a result of people losing the ability to adapt and react quickly.

Introducing an unstable environment into your exercises is a safe and effective way to gain the benefits of muscle reactivity. Using tools such as the TRX (a brand of suspension trainer), a swiss ball, a foam roller, a balance board and a foam pad can all create an unstable environment. As with most exercises, you do get the most benefits from pushing slightly beyond your comfort zone. Of course these options do increase your risk of fall, so it is important that you talk to someone who can advise you on what is best suited to your skill level.

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