How do I train the systems involved in balance?
Last weeks post talked about the 3 main systems involved in balance - somatosensory, visual, and vestibular. These systems are not only important in keeping us upright and balanced, but also play a large role in any dynamic activities (running, walking, weight lifting, playing sports, etc) that we participate in. In order to maximize our training, we need to make sure we are training ALL of these systems, not just working specifically on our sport or strengthening our musculoskeletal system.
Overview: In general, it is pretty simple to challenge these systems by taking away one or more systems, forcing the system being engaged to take over. For example, if we want to challenge the vestibular and somatosensory systems, we can close our eyes so we are no longer receiving visual input. If we want to challenge the vestibular system, we can stand on an unstable surface (challenging somatosensory input) and close our eyes (taking away visual input). Here are a few exercise ideas, one for each system:
1) Visual: To challenge the visual system, there are a few drills I really love to use that work on the muscles that move and stabilize our eyes. The drill I am going to show in this video is saccades. I like to use the letter X written on a piece of paper or a sticky note to focus on. Watch the video below for instructions:
2) Vestibular: To challenge the vestibular system, my favorite drill is to challenge the vestibulo ocular reflex, or VOR. This reflex helps to stabilize the eyes while we are moving (for example, while riding in a car). Weakness in this reflex is often the cause of dizziness or car sickness. We use the X again here! Watch the video below for instructions:
3) Somatosensory: Any sort of balance activity where we narrow our base of support (such as tandem balance like you are walking along a tight rope) or single leg balance is a challenge to the somatosensory system (as well as a lot of our stabilizing muscles!). Performing these exercises on an unstable surface, such as a BOSU ball, will make them even more challenging! Watch the video below for more information:
It is important to train each of these systems just like we train to strengthen our muscles. We need to build strength and resiliency is our musculoskeletal and nervous systems to maximize results!
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