Achieving body balance really just means getting your body to work the way in which it was designed — which is tougher than it sounds. Imbalances can manifest themselves in all kinds of sneaky ways. Tightness, pain, injury — even difficulty getting results from workouts — are all symptoms of an imbalanced body. The problem is these are also examples of imbalances already wreaking havoc. And you should be able to hear imbalances whisper before they scream.
"But I'm not a physical therapist" you may say. "How am I supposed to identify subtle signs on my own?" One way is really quite simple: Test your balance. If it's working right, you can do things like walk on an uneven surface without falling, adjust the way you move or stand so you can maintain stability as you are doing various tasks, or simply stand on one leg.
One of the main systems used for balance is proprioception, the body's ability to know where it is in space through sensors in the muscles, tendons, and joints that are sensitive to stretch or pressure. So if something is off in your muscular skeletal system, it will literally throw off your balance.
Here are a series of ways you can test your balance that will better inform you of any muscle imbalances in your body. Begin by standing on one foot and ask yourself these questions:
Where is your weight placed?
Ideally you want to have equal weight through your entire foot (heels and balls of the foot). If you are too far forward on the balls of your foot, it can be an indication of calf and quad dominance. If your weight is mainly through the heels, you are working more of your core stabilizers (abs and glutes), and not using your foot muscles.
How long can you stay standing on one foot?
Most people should be able to hold strong for at least 30 seconds. If you cannot, pay attention to how you tried to keep your balance, because how you compensate tells your story.
- If you struggle keeping your lifted leg up, it could mean you are weak in the abs above your standing leg.
- If you're flailing your arms to stabilize, it can also be a sign of weak abs and glutes.
- Wobbling at your ankles can mean you are unstable at your hips, or weak in your ankles.
Now, switch legs and repeat. How do they compare? Repeat the test with your eyes closed or with your head in different positions (cocked to the right side, for example). Taking away vision forces you to use your proprioception system even more, and will help pinpoint more subtle problems.
Once you've identified your imbalances, you can begin to take action. To even things out, you need to release the muscles that are too tight and then activate and strengthen the muscles that are too weak. The exercises below are a good place to start. They address the most common problems, save for improving ankle stability — continuing to stand on one foot will help that.
Hip Flexor Release
- For this release, use two lacrosse balls taped together.
- Lay on your stomach and place the double lacrosse ball just below your hip bone.
- Place a tolerable amount of weight onto the lacrosse balls.
- Bend the knee on the side of the release back to a 90-degree angle.
- Swing your leg side to side in a tolerable range of motion.
- Repeat this in 30-second to two-minute intervals.
Vastus Lateralis Release
- Lay on the side you wish to release.
- Place the foam roller under your bottom leg halfway between your hip and knee.
- Slide your leg up and down along the foam roller, moving it from the top of the knee to the base of the hip, and focusing on more tender areas.
- Repeat in 30-second intervals for two minutes.
- To focus on a specific area of the IT band, locate the most tender area with the foam roller and stop. Bend your knee at a 90-degree angle, and then straighten. Repeat motion of bending and straightening knee for 10 to 15 seconds.
- Sit with your calf on top of a lacrosse ball.
- Place your other leg over the one you are releasing and roll yourself up and down over the ball.
- Once you find a tender spot, stop and point your foot up and down for 30 seconds.
- Stand with feet hip-distance apart, toes and hips turned out 45 degrees. Squat with your weight in your heels.
- While squatting, try to move your knees out. Go as low as you can, then push back up through your heels. Repeat for three sets of 12 reps.
- Get into a plank, elbows down and directly under shoulders.
- Tuck your pelvis under and hollow your belly slightly.
- Squeeze your shoulders down and back, tuck your chin, and squeeze your glutes.
- Ideally, you will have a straight line from the back of your head to your heels.
- Now, blow out a breath as if you're blowing out a candle. You should feel your abdominals engage. Repeat for three sets of 12 reps.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend the support leg, keep knee over heel.
- Bring the other foot back and behind the support leg. Keep shoulders square facing forward.
- Step back and rotate upper body toward support leg.
- Step back and bend to the side opposite the support leg.
- Switch support leg and repeat for six reps on each side. Repeat for three sets.