Fit&Happier Workout of the Month: Strength & Balance Training

Fit&Happier Workout of the Month defined:  These are 30 minute general fitness workouts designed to offer a complete and balanced approach to strength and cardiovascular training in the most efficient way possible.  Strength training workouts will each feature a different form of resistance, or load, so that you can choose the type of resistance based on equipment availability and your preference.  These will offer full-body strength training and muscle toning with base exercises appropriate for beginners and progressions for those more experienced in strength training.  Cardio workouts are designed to get the most calorie burn possible in the time allotted.  Combo workouts combine strength and cardio training into one, efficient, full-body, calorie-burning workout.  All workouts conclude with flexibility training as no workout is complete without it.  Click on the exercises to link to step-by-step written and video instructions provided by ACE Fitness.

Yoga Balance

Balance Training in Practice: Balance training is actually a subset of exercise.  It’s used as a way to progress traditional strength training without increasing load or repetitions.  It’s a component of sports training where balance is a part of the necessary skill set, such as in figure skating, gymnastics, surfing and skiing.  It’s also an important aspect of mind-body training like yoga, tai chi and other martial arts disciplines.

Balance Training for General Fitness

We can easily see why balance training would be vital for the surfer, figure skater or yogi.  But, you’re probably asking what possible purpose can it have for the average person exercising for general fitness, pleasure and well-being.  The truth is, balance training has two important functions for all of us:

Brain Health: The reason balance training is integral to mind-body practices is because balance truly is the result of an intertwined relationship among the brain, eyes, inner ear and moving extremities.  And, while all movement is directed by the brain, equilibrium and balance are much more complex than the relationship between the brain and, say, the legs when walking.  In fact, this relationship isn’t yet fully understood.  Scientists and doctors aren’t quite sure, for example, why some people suffer from motion sickness and vertigo and others do not.  Even harder is determining the exact source of either phenomenon and how to treat or prevent it.

But, even for those not suffering from equilibrium challenges now, it could become an issue later in life.  Balance and equilibrium are negatively affected in the same way as memory, deductive reasoning, fine and gross motor skills and speech in dementia and stroke patients.  So, just as we are often told that exercising our brains in the form of brain games and puzzles may help to ward off Alzheimer’s, balance training is a physical way to exercise and “strengthen” the brain as well as the body.

Better Strengthening: Strength training is a progressive exercise regimen.  Meaning, to continue to realize gains in strength and muscle toning, one has to progress the difficulty of the workouts over time.  The most obvious way to progress strength workouts is to increase either weight or repetitions.  But, how boring is that?  Are we really going to be performing 2 sets of 16 repetitions of biceps curls with 5 pound free weights two times a week at age 30 and then still be performing the same exercise at age 35 but with 15 pound free weights instead?

Adding balance challenges to traditional strength training exercises does two things.  First, it progresses the exercise because the body has to engage muscles away from the targeted muscles in order to maintain balance and stability.  This means you’re working, and strengthening, the stabilizing muscles like the core as well as the targeted muscles.  The targeted muscles are also getting a more efficient workout because they have to share energy output with the stabilizing muscles and they, therefore, fatigue faster.  Remember, the purpose of strength training is to work the targeted muscles to fatigue within a set.  Incorporating a balance challenge allows one to reach fatigue in the targeted muscles faster without needing to increase the weight resistance or number of repetitions.

Secondly, this is a mind-body exercise, not just a physical exercise.  One needs to concentrate to balance train.  While you can veg out (and be bored to tears) performing traditional strength training reps, not so with balance training.  It makes strength training much more complex and, as a result, more interesting and enjoyable.

How to Balance Train: There are exercise tools specific to balance training.  The most common are BOSU trainers, stability balls and Airex Pads.  If you have any of these tools available to you, I have previous Workouts of the Month using a stability ball and summer or winter sport workouts using either an Airex Pad or BOSU trainer.

 

BOSU trainer and Airex Pad.

BOSU trainer and Airex Pad.

But it isn’t necessary to have special equipment to balance train.  This Workout of the Month uses a series of exerciser-created balance challenges within a traditional strength training workout to strengthen and balance train.  One can create a balance challenge in any strength training routine by making the base of support smaller (move feet close together, perform single leg exercises or perform on toes), shifting the center of gravity (twist or shift torso position, move arms) or removing or changing visual input to the brain (close eyes or move head).

Strength & Flexibility Workout with Balance Training

Concept: Use equilibrium challenges within traditional strengthening exercises to simultaneously train balance and strength for general fitness.  All exercises will strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the core (abdominal and back muscles) along with the targeted muscles of each exercise and improve balance.  The base exercises are for those new to balance training.  Progressions are offered for the more experienced.  External load (such as holding free weights, medicine balls or resistance tubes and bands) can be added while performing these exercises for additional challenge.  Be sure you can perform the base exercise, and each subsequent progression, with excellent form for the maximum recommended repetition amounts before adding load or progressing to the next level.  I recommend using a padded, no-slip surface such as an exercise mat or area of wall-to-wall carpeting.  Check your surroundings, you should have enough unobstructed space around you to allow for full range of motion of arms and legs.  Perform this workout 1-3 times per week, allowing at least 48 hours before repeating this workout. Tip: To assist with the most challenging balance exercises, remember to spot your eyes on fixed point throughout the exercise.

Warm-Up: 2-5 minutes of high knee marching, swinging opposing arms to shoulder height as you lift knees to hip height or any other form of moderate cardio movement you choose.  The goal is to raise your heart-rate slightly before working your muscles.

Strength Workout: Perform the following exercise circuit in succession with no rest between exercises:

  • Squat with feet side-by-side: 20 repetitions or to exhaustion. Targeted muscles: hips & legs. Progression 1: Single Leg Squat (work both sides for equal reps); Progression 2: Squat on Toes (start with feet further apart and progress to side-by-side)
  • Quadruped Hip Extensions: 20 repetitions or to exhaustion each side. Targeted muscles: Glutes & shoulders. Progression 1: Bird-dog; Progression 2: Bird-dog with Elbow-Knee Touch: lift right arm and left leg for the bird-dog position; pause; bend elbow and knee under body so they touch beneath your abdomen; extend them out straight again to bird-dog position; return to start position; repeat on opposite side.
  • Standing Gate Openers: 20 repetitions or to exhaustion each side. Targeted muscles: hips & thighs. Progression 1: Inverted Flyers
  • Forward Lunge: 20 repetitions or to exhaustion each side. Targeted muscles: hips & legs. Progression 1: Lunges with Twists; Progression 2: Glute Activation Lunges
  • After performing each exercise once, rest for 1-2 minutes and repeat the circuit (squats through lunges) for a second set of each exercise.  After performing the circuit twice, perform the flexibility workout.

Flexibility Workout: Hold each full body stretch for 20-30 seconds and breathe deeply throughout the stretches:

Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.

Previous Fit&Happier Workouts of the Month – January: Body Weight Strength Training; February: Resistance Band Strength Training; March: Free Weight Strength Training; April: Medicine Ball Strength Training; May: Strength Training with Stability Ball

Check back for these upcoming Fit&Happier Workouts of the Month – July: Functional Training (Strength); August: Interval Training (Cardio); September: Schoolyard Play Workout (Combo); October: Outdoor Cardio & Strength Combo; November: Timed Circuit (Combo); December: HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training-Cardio)

Click on the link to view previous Activity-Specific Workouts of the Month: Hockey & Cross-Country Skiing, Snowboarding & Figure Skating, Golf & Softball, Distance Running, Racquet Sports, Swimming, Waterskiing & Surfing, Cycling, Rowing & Desk Jockeys, Track, Field & Court Sports, Throwing & Pitching, Dancing, Downhill Skiing

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2 comments

  1. […] Previous Fit&Happier Workouts of the Month – January: Body Weight Strength Training; February: Resistance Band Strength Training; March: Free Weight Strength Training; April: Medicine Ball Strength Training; May: Strength Training with Stability Ball; June: Strength & Balance Training […]

  2. […] Training; April: Medicine Ball Strength Training; May: Strength Training with Stability Ball; June: Strength & Balance Training; July: Functional […]

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