By Miguel J. Ortiz
When it comes to stabilization training, we tend to naturally think of balance exercises. Taking it to the next level is tricky because most of these exercises aren’t regularly practiced and are sometimes used for “fun” challenges. This has caused the majority of people to only perform these exercises at certain times instead of adding them to their regular routine. So, for the sake of progress and ensuring quality movements, I want you to keep it simple and start small. To do so, we must understand the benefits of this type of training. We have to understand when to add it into a program and why one should implement stabilization-focused movements.
Balance exercises require a more attentive mindset and that can improve three important areas of the body. Your brain is among them, according to author John Ratey. He wrote the book “Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.” I was fortunate enough to be a part of a workout program that he was involved in and there was a great deal of balance. Here is what he had to say, “While aerobic exercise elevates neurotransmitters, creates new blood vessels that pipe in growth factors, and spawns’ new cells, complex activities put all the material to use by strengthening and expanding (neural) networks.”
Short exercises like these increase your Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which is like “miracle grow” for the brain. It allows people to remember information better and an improved attention span.
The next area it can improve is your heart. By activating more muscle groups, your heart must work slightly harder, depending on the exercise of course, to get oxygen and blood to the area. The third area of improvement are your joints. Stabilization movements require you to be exactly that, stable. So, don’t think that jumping around on one foot will strengthen your ankle as much as standing on one foot (stability) for a certain amount of time will. The reason being is because the muscles in your joints work like cables on a bridge. When you look at them you can see that they are strong and holding the bridge, but they don’t move. Keep in mind you can add movement, but that goes into advanced levels of deceleration, acceleration and control throughout the movement.
Let me get back to keeping it simple.
So, when should someone add this into a fitness program? I recommend adding it in the beginning because it can be a great warm up to whatever other training you may be doing. Balance training increases heart rate, helps brain activity and stabilizes the joints. It’s a fantastic way to warm up specific muscle groups before training them. Even something as simple as push-ups on a BOSU ball can help increase shoulder stabilization, depending on how much you prevent the BOSU from moving. Doing a glute raise on a stability ball before squatting can help glute/hip activation and can help ankle stability for future strength movements. Plank holds on a stability ball can increase core muscle activation. The list of potential exercises is endless. Simply put, you’re working more muscles and burning more calories while improving brain and heart activity.
Finally, the most important reason for stabilization training is injury prevention. The number one reason athletes are required to do balance training is for this exact reason. Adding some simple and very effective stability training to your routine will not only spice up your workout, but your body will thank you down the road.
Miguel J. Ortiz is a personal trainer in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a member of the National Personal Trainer Institute and a Certified Nutritional Consultant with more than a decade of professional experience. He can be found on Instagram at @migueljortiz.