Aging is a part of life, and with it comes the loss of balance. The activities we performed as kids no longer come easy. As the signs of aging appear, some people will hire a personal trainer to help them lose weight and improve their strength. Those clients often do not realize that their success will depend on more than just cardio and strength training. Balance and core training, which can start at any age, are essential to their program as well. By incorporating the balance training equipment described below into your clients’ exercises, you can make their workouts more interesting and challenging, and their goals more achievable.
Stability balls. Stability balls come in a variety of sizes, weight limits and burst-resistance levels to meet the needs of different users. They can accommodate all kinds of individuals and are suitable for anyone wanting to develop balance and build core muscles. Workouts that incorporate stability balls activate and strengthen the core muscles where normal training often falls short. With a stability ball, you can perform a total-body workout that includes cardio, strength and flexibility exercises while building the muscles that are important to balance. The ball also can double as a chair to help build stability while working at a desk.
Balance pads. Who would have thought that a piece of foam would make it into the fitness industry? These foam pads are great for training because not only are they easy to carry but they also perform wonders on the joints. Training on foam balance pads can improve balance, ankle stability and strength. Use them to perform squats, lunges, push-ups and one- or two-legged balance moves with comfort. The pads are typically two or three inches thick and come in different sizes and shapes to suit the needs of all users.
Balance boards. These wooden boards provide versatility in balance training. They come in a variety of levels, so you can choose the degree of difficulty. Some boards have a side-to-side range of motion, and others have a full range of motion. Balance boards are great for proprioceptive training and rehabilitation exercises. Use them for double-leg training or single-leg exercises such as lunges or squats. For those who want to get creative, they can try performing core training moves on a balance board.
Balance discs. These air-filled discs provide many training options for different skill levels. They give you the option of training on a variety of surfaces—flat or rounded, smooth or textured. Use the flat and smooth surfaces for less instability and the rounded and textured surfaces for more instability. Change the degree of stability simply by turning the disc over, or adjust the air inside the disc. Increase the inflation for a more stable surface, and decrease it for a more unstable surface. You can use one disc to perform core exercises and lunges, or you can use two to add a greater challenge. For an all-around unstable surface, place one disc under each leg and perform squats. Adding an outside force such as a medicine ball to this unstable squat will require even more control.
Balance pods. These colorful, inflatable domes are available in sets and individually. Set up several of them in a walking pattern, and use the different colors as visual cues. Stepping from pod to pod develops balance and motor skills. Pods have a flat side and a rounded side. Position the flat side down for beginners and the rounded side down for advanced users who require a more unstable surface. With two pods, you can perform squats, medicine ball passes, supine bridges (for added challenge, try to leave one foot off the balance pod) or pushups (place them under the hands, or for more instability, place a second pair under the feet or knees).
Balance beams. Foam balance beams provide comfort while training on an unstable surface. They come in different lengths and shapes. A trapezoid design allows beginners to develop balance using the wide base and then progress to the narrow base as balance improves. Create a mixture of walking patterns to perform on them or use them for lunges, push-ups and single-leg balance poses.
Safety and equipment care. When using any type of balance or core training equipment, remember safety comes first. To keep the equipment in good condition and ensure a safe training environment:
· Only use the equipment in an open area that is free from clutter.
· Avoid exposing the equipment to damaging sunlight for long periods.
· Wear proper footwear.
· Remove rings, belts, watches and other sharp objects that could damage the equipment.
Balance exercises are only limited by your imagination—so be creative. Use the balance equipment described here with other pieces to create new exercises.
Robyn Quattlebaum earned her bachelor’s degree in exercise science from the University of Tennessee. She has worked as a personal trainer for the past five years and has a background in medical fitness and rehabilitation. In addition to being a Resist-A-Ball Master Instructor and a national presenter for Power Systems Education, Robyn is also a CEC provider for ACE, ACSM, AEA, AFAA, NASM, NATA, NETA and NSCA.