Being able to identify motor pattern dysfunction can accelerate your success as a personal trainer. When you recognize typical dysfunctions, you can create programs designed to reverse them.
During any movement, your body is continuously integrating strength, mobility, and balance. The stronger the muscles, the more control they have over the movements. Although training the muscles around a joint helps to improve its stability and overall balance, poor reflexes can cause havoc in movement and strength. Instability due to poor reflexes and balance can hinder the total amount of force produced during movements.
Balancing is a complex skill that we learn as infants, master as young adults, and lose as we age. Older adults aren’t the only people to struggle with this however. Pregnancy, weight changes, injuries, and inhibited neural motor responses can all negatively affect balance. Individuals with poor balance will often develop a sub-optimal gait to compensate, which then leads to further motor pattern dysfunction.
Balance exercises improve your ability to control and stabilize your body’s position. A critical predictor for longevity is marked by the time that a person can stand on one leg. Balance training combines muscle strengthening exercises and reflexive activities within functional movements.
Gravity and Reflexive Reactions
The weight of an object is the force of gravity exerted on the object, and the weight of an object always acts in a direction straight down. Your legs support 100% of your body weight when standing straight up with your base of support directly beneath your center of gravity. Once the body is in motion, or the base of support changes, so does everything else.
Activities of daily living require the nervous system to practice the process of balance continuously. Reflexes form the foundation for complex and integrated movement patterns and sequences.
Righting reflexes underlie most movement transitions from lying to standing upright and turning in relationship to gravity and space. They are required for lifting the head, rolling over, sitting, crawling, standing, walking, running, and maintaining postural alignment. They are automatic reactions that are expressed when the body attempts to move or maintain a position on a stable or fixed surface.
Equilibrium reflexes allow or support the turning of the body through space and the ability to have a multidirectional relationship with gravity. They are required when the body attempts to move or maintain a position on a surface that is unsteady, moves underneath a point of contact, or outside forces are in play.
The neuromuscular responses that occur during static and dynamic balance-focused workouts help build both strength and stability.
Skills and Drills
The importance of including balance exercises is well documented. It is recommended to include balance training two-three times per week for 10-15 minutes per session to improve quality of life and stave off future related injuries and dysfunction.
Not sure exactly how to start? Here are 4 drills you can incorporate easily in any client training session.
- One-leg drills – have your client stand with weight on one leg and raise the other leg to the side or behind them. To progress in difficulty, add in a simple bilateral, contralateral, or ipsilateral upper body movement, such as a bicep curl or overhead press with a kettlebell.
- Tightrope walk – ask your client to walk heel to toe as if on a tightrope, placing the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of the opposite foot each time they take a step. Progress in difficulty by using various upper body positioning, such as arms to the side, hands on hips, and one or both shoulders fully flexed overhead.
- Ball toss – challenge your client by having them balance on one leg as you move around them and have them catch a small weighted ball at different heights and directions.
- Surface challenge – vary the elements of surface instability by including work done barefoot, on rocker plates, wobble boards, BOSUs, and stability balls.
About the Author
Karyn Silenzi delivers continuing education to companies and fitness professionals on a global scale. As a PRO TRAINER for canfitpro, Karyn provides fitness certification training for personal trainers and fitness instructors. She is also a LIV North Master Trainer for Canadian markets, and a North America Master Trainer for Team ICG and Life Fitness Academy.
Karyn is an international presenter, author, and podcast host, She is also the Fitness Director at Edgemont Athletic in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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