In an effort to improve your balance you’ve looked around at the local gyms and rec centers and even searched online and found lots of different ‘balance toys’ guaranteed to improve your balance.
What we mean by balance toys are products that are marketed at improving your balance. Most commonly by changing the surface that you stand on. These range from half balls, squishy pads, surf board looking contraptions on a roller, or wobble boards. There are at least a dozen new balance toys each year that hits the market claiming to fix your balance for good if you only buy their product.
THEY DON’T WORK!
How can that be, you ask? The people at the gym or on the commercial have such great balance.
The SAID Principle vs. Balance Toys
There is a irrefutable law called the SAID principle. SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Everyone loves acronyms. In layman’s terms, you will get better at exactly the thing you work at. Makes sense if you think about it.
If you practice the piano you will get better at how you practice. Here’s where you will think or say the common mantra, “Practice makes perfect”. There’s a HUGE problem with that saying though. It’s false. Just practicing will not make perfect. If you practice the piano and you practice a drill or passage of a song incorrectly over and over you will not magically play it right. You will have practiced it so much incorrectly, that you will perform it incorrectly.
Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
What does this have to do with balance?
We live in a 3-dimensional world. Almost EVERY SINGLE TIME we hear of an older adult falling, or a senior fitness personal training client losing their balance it was not on a bosu ball, or squishy surface. It usually happens because they are distracted and there’s some sort of movement/motion, especially at the head or eyes.
All of these ‘balance toys’ are gimmicks. You can get better at doing those very specific things-the SAID principle. But don’t expect those improvements to transfer to real life because you aren’t training for real life. You are training for the circus.
Most people and trainers do these exercises or give their clients exercises because they think it will be cool, or help, or they notice they are wobbly on that surface-so therefore it will work your balance. It comes down to a lack of knowledge of what makes up your balance and the best ways to train and improve your balance that will transfer to real life scenarios.
Now there is a time and place for these ‘balance toys’. These devices are best used if you’ve had an ankle injury (sprain, strain, operation) to wake up your brain and your proprioception. When used for this purpose, these devices have a place and can help strengthen muscles/ligaments/tendons after an injury to stabilize your foot/ankle joints. Outside of this realm-in my opinion-it’s an utter waste of time.
A Better Way to Balance
I don’t want to focus on all the things you shouldn’t do. So let’s talk about better balance exercises you can do that will transfer to your life. Here are 3 easy exercises that don’t require ANY equipment or device.
- Walking with head motion. Try walking in a straight line (the narrower your stance, the harder) while moving your head side to side, or up and down, or if you are feeling particularly adventurous-diagonally.
- Walking a tightrope with 1-eye closed.
- Lateral sways. Stand in a stance that will challenge your balance. Reach as far as you can to one side-regain your balance. Then reach all the way to the other side, without losing your balance.
These will definitely challenge you and they simulate walking and talking and daily tasks that usually lead to a fall.