On ‘My Journey to Black Belt’ I have just posted an article about the physiological basis of balance and how one can maintain good balance when executing martial arts techniques. Poor dynamic balance (Keeping balance when moving) is one of my bad points and correcting it is one of my training aims.
Intrinsic balance can be improved by doing exercises that focus on improving the senses important in detecting a loss of balance:
Proprioception: proprioceptors must be trained to enable us to learn new physical skills. This enables us to know exactly where we are putting our hands, feet, arms or legs without having to look at them and is an integral part of muscle memory training. In karate terms, training proprioceptors allows us step directly into a stance without looking at our feet or having to make minor adjustments (shuffling), or becoming unbalanced (swaying).
Here’s a couple of core balance exercises that will help improve your proprioception and balance:
1. Holding a 1kg weight in each hand, stand on one leg (keep the other foot low to the ground and close to the standing leg but not touching it). Now, with alternate arms, punch vertically upwards with the weights (10 on each arm). Without putting your foot down in between, punch out laterally (sideways) 10 times with each arm, now punch forwards 10 times with each arm and finally punch upwards but this time diagonally above your head (10 each arm). Now swap legs and do it all again!
I like this exercise because it involves punching! To keep your balance, remember to keep your back straight and vertical (vertical line of gravity) and your standing leg slightly flexed (lowers centre of gravity). This will compensate for the small base of support on which you stand. Keep your head up, your neck straight and your eyes focused forward (reduces visual and vestibular inputs to the brain)
2. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and jump forwards landing on one foot. Hold it for 2 seconds and then jump back again (landing on both feet). Repeat, landing on the other foot. Next jump laterally to the left landing on the left foot and hold for 2 seconds, jump back. Repeat on the right side. Finally, repeat jumping diagonally backwards towards your left and then your right.
I like this exercise because jumping from two feet to one immediately reduces your base of support forcing you to compensate by keeping your line of gravity very vertical. You need to try and jump without leaning in the direction you are travelling. You need to use the muscles in your legs and hips to propel you rather than momentum generated by leaning. If you are a leaner like me then this exercise may help!
Vestibular and visual systems: Sudden rotational movements are what upset our vestibular (inner ear) and visual systems making us feel dizzy and unbalanced. Quick turns and spinning kicks can be very challenging on the balance. Here are some tips for keeping your balance:
- Keep your head up and neck straight (i.e. don’t cock your head to one side when executing a technique). I’ve noticed a lot of kids do this. It may look cute but it stimulates the visual system into thinking you are unbalanced because it detects that your line of vision is no longer on a horizontal plane. It also upsets your vertical line of gravity.
- When executing a turn of 180 degrees or more keep looking forward until the last second as your body turns. Then quickly whip your head around. This mimimises the swirling of fluid in the semi-circular canals in the inner ear (vestibular system) and stops you from feeling dizzy.
- Challenge your balance system by practicing your martial art on uneven ground or blindfolded.
- Practice your basics ensuring that you maintain a wide base of support, a low and vertical line of gravity and that you don’t move your centre of gravity outside of your base of support.
Do you have any other tips or exercises that help improve balance?