“The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man. “
One of the ways I have been helping people move better is by using the balance beam. Now, let me start by saying that the balance beam is not the be all end all. It is just a useful tool. And, it is an easy way to help people start improving their motor control (upgrading their software). And, people seem to really like it, because it is different than what they are used to doing in a fitness setting. Most adults haven’t been on a balance beam in decades, so it is a fun challenge and something they can quickly improve on. And, added stability leads to improved performance. All people can benefit from moving better.
When I attended the Functional Movement Systems training, I was blown away by one of the stats I heard. Half of the people (that’s right 50%) 75 years or older die within 6 months of falling. Now, there are various theories on why that is. But to me, the startling part of the statistic is that falling is essentially a death sentence for elderly people. Now, as you look at how falls occur, it is through a steady deterioration of movement quality, especially in the gait. As people age and stop moving better, their strides become shorter, and then they become wider and shorter, until finally they begin shuffling across the floor, never having less than 2 points of contact on the floor at all times. This is trouble. When we don’t lift our feet, it is a matter of time before we get caught on something and fall to the ground, especially because our legs haven’t been used to leaving the ground. Losing the ability to walk is essentially losing your independence at the most basic human level. So, while movement has been largely overlooked in the fitness world, it really is critical to the quality of our lives.
Too often, as I work with people who sit at a desk all day hunched over a computer, I see issues developing in their hips and T-spine. Because this loss of mobility happens gradually over time, people oftentimes don’t even realize they are more stiff, and don’t move as well, until they get a shoulder injury reaching for something or have constant low back pain because their lumbar spine is moving too much to compensate for a lack of mobility in the hips or T-spine. Life happens and sometimes sitting for long periods of time is unavoidable. So, we must try to combat life, and counteract its effects. This means we need to not only move more, we need to move BETTER. If we have mobility or stability issues, and we just get stronger, we are essentially adding strength to dysfunction. This puts us at even greater risk of injury.
However, I am getting sidetracked. The point of the post is to say get on a balance beam. If you can’t find a balance beam, find a raised surface somewhere and just practice walking on it, keeping your eyes up. Once you master it, speed up, or try walking backwards. You would be surprised how much more difficult simply walking backwards can be. There are more progressions to the beam that I can discuss later, or send me an email and I will send you the progressions.
Besides improving your ability to balance on the beam, working on the beam can also work your core muscles and improve overall motor control and stability. We use it mostly as part of our warm up, but I have been seeing guys sneak over in between classes to get a few extra passes on the beam. Again, you don’t need an actual balance beam. We made one out of lumber we got from Home Depot. And, honestly, just find a narrow raised surface and give it a try.