Monday, June 28, 2010

Why Your Balance Training Program Doesn't Work

One of my clients walked up to me yesterday and told me about his experience with another trainer in Florida. My first reaction was "...oh boy, here we go."

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this conversation, let me explain. I am in a tough position. Most of my clientèle have homes in Connecticut and Florida. Some are retirees---and when I say retired, they are not necessarily seniors--that are just well off enough that they were able to retire much earlier in life. We call them "snow birds". I'm sure you've heard the term before to describe people that live down south for 6 months out of the year basking in the sun and playing golf all year 'round.

Several times between the months of May and June, I meet with clients that are returning for the season. And each year,  the same conversations take place which usually begin with, "My trainer down in Florida says...."

I cringe as soon as I hear this. Because I know its another myth, fable, or down-right error that I have to clarify, expose, or unravel. Don't get me wrong--there are some pretty good trainers in Florida. But, when you are working with golfers---the story changes a bit. Here's how and this will explain the conversation I had.

Most golfers still believe that they need to stand on Dyna Disks, BOSUs, and balance boards to "improve their balance". Most golf professionals and trainers STILL promote these gadgets to "heighten proprioception" and "work on balance". And most golfers eat it up. Golfers will stand on a balance board and try to "separate the hips from the torso", in hopes of gaining a few more yards on the green. Most of these trainers or golf pros are young, skinny hopefuls that [I don't think] have ever lifted a chalk covered dumbbell in their life. When prompted,  they will espouse the fact that these gadgets will improve balance and prevent falls--especially in the older population.

Poor balance is caused by a multitude of factors including cognitive impairment, visual disturbances, and decreased reaction times. However, skeletal muscle weakness--in particularly in the lower-body--has become a more evident contributing factor in people that suffer falls. Let's face it...getting old is a degenerative state the body eventually reaches. With degeneration, weakness inevitably happens. Sad...but true. This process can be combated with resistance training (or strength training). Undertaking a program that consists of progressive loads a few times a week is more beneficial than standing on a BOSU for 5 minutes. When muscles are weak, the nervous system is dormant. Reaction time decreases because neural communication has become altered.

Think of your nervous system and reaction time as a smooth flowing 4 lane highway. There are over 220 cars on a 1.5 mile stretch of highway at 5 o'clock on a Monday evening. If there are no impairments (car breakdowns, accidents, rubber-necking), the ride is smooth. However, if there is an obstruction or disturbance of the flow, the traveling cars begin to slow down considerably and most drivers begin to act precariously.

With muscular weakness, the nervous system has collected dust and has rusted. Without progressive load,  there is no neural stimulation. Without neural stimulation, there is a decreased proprioception and decreased reaction time. With muscular weakness, certain intrinsic muscles cannot create rigidity and stabilization for joints. Therefore,  when there is a change in the walking surface, the brain is signaled at a slower pace and the muscles cannot react efficiently by bracing or reaching out to grab an object [to prevent the fall].

Does balance training have its place in a program? Absolutely--but it should not be the forefront and its not using the gadgets I mentioned previously.  Balance training should be supplementary to a good strength training program. Keys to a good strength training program include:

progressively overloading muscles
multi-joint exercises
closed chain
single leg training
spatial awareness drills (visual.auditory)

If you want some good ideas on creating a sound program that includes all the above components in a time-effecient fashion, check out the Moving More Muscles DVD.


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