Perfecting balance and coordination
Updated: Nov 4, 2018
Two simple steps to perfect balance and coordination
We all know how important balance and coordination are to health in general, and how helpful it is to train those for running. Here are two simple steps you can take to make quick progress on both balance and coordination by only making tiny adjustments to your daily life.
Step 1: observe how you move
Both balance and coordination are mostly governed by the link between your nervous system and your musculo-skeletal system (muscles, bones, and everything in between). For simplicity, I will refer to this link as the mind-body connection. For this reason, observing how these two systems are connected is a necessary first step. So here's what you're going to do: observe how you move. More precisely, how your stand, walk, climb up and down stairs, and sit down and get up.
When we stand, we tend to have more weight on one leg than the other most of the time. How much time are you spending with more weight on your left leg? One your right? Dead in the middle?
We also tend to angle our pelvis towards the less-weighted leg. Is this your case? How much? Is it the same on the left and on the right?
How much time do you spend on each foot? Are all of your steps the same duration, or is your left step longer that the right one (or vice-versa)? Are you bouncy of perfectly flat? Do you have a bouncy left step and a flat right? Are you falling forward each step? Are you shuffling forward? Are you cautiously taking every step? You get the idea...
Also, how long does your heel stay on the ground? How hard is your foot hitting the ground? Where does your push-off come from? Little toe? Big toe? Uniform across all toes?
When you climb up stairs, do you "jump" onto the next step? Do you "pull" yourself up from the next step? How does your foot contact each step? Are you putting your whole foot on each step or just a part? Which part?
When going down stairs, when does your heel come off? What part of your foot touches down first? Are you putting your whole foot on each step or just a part? Which part?
Standing up and sitting down
How do you stand up from a chair (or the floor)? Do you use you hands? Do you use momentum? Do you use one side more? Maybe one side of your upper body and the opposite side of your lower body?
How do you sit down? Do you fall onto your chair? Are you holding on to the armrests or your desk? Can you sit all the way down to your sofa without acceleration?
Note that these observations will be at their most useful if they're free of judgment. Sure, some ways are better for your health and some are better suited for specific situations, but for now, we just want to know where we're at, and at the same time start to reinforce the "body to mind" direction of the mind-body connection by practicing it.
Step 2: choose how your move
Now that you have a better image of how you move, you can start making decisions, which might lead to changes.
A big signal for less-than-ideal coordination is a strong difference between both sides. I'm not saying that you should be perfectly symmetric, but you should be able to step with the right and left leg in the same amount of time (provided the floor is more or less regular). See which side you can slow down a tad, and which you can accelerate a bit.
It's also a signal for imbalance in strength or control. If you stand on one leg a lot (or with your weight mostly on one leg), try to balance that out by doing the same on the other side. If you sit with your weight mostly on your right and holding on to your desk with your left hand, try all three other combinations, plus the symmetric one. Do you go down the stairs facing your left diagonal? Try the right? Try facing forward.
Balance is all about control. Work your ways towards sitting in a chair without any acceleration and without help from your hands. Same for sitting on the floor when chairs are easy. To get there, just sit down very slowly, and notice when you "fall". Try to "fall" as late as possible. This will naturally train your balance very effectively! For one-legged balance, going down and up stairs without acceleration is great! When this is easy, do the same two steps at a time (up and down) then three (only up). When going down stairs, try and keep your heel on the upper step as long as you can. This will develop your ankle mobility, strength and control, as well as hip strength and control.
Take a look at this video https://youtu.be/vh6g0Dr0VNU
Just remember for all these movements: your knee is not a weight bearing joint, but a wight transfer joint. The strength comes from your hips!
Explore one-legged balance
When you stand on mostly one leg, go all the way and stand on only one leg. In addition to that, there are many situations in which you can train on legged balance. Here are some of them.
Putting on socks and shoes: see if you can put your sock on, then you shoe, and then lace it, without putting the foot down.
If you go camping, when you get out of the shower, maybe you can extend the previous one to underwear, trousers and shoe on one leg, then the same on the other (again without putting your foot down).
When you're confident enough, wash each foot thoroughly under the shower, using both hands, so you have to balance with the other foot on a slippery surface.