Balance is the basic skill needed for walking, running and virtually all sports. From tennis to golf to rock climbing, the ability to change our center of gravity to match our moves is essential for successful performance. The technical term is agility. It enables our joints to handle a full range of motion smoothly and confidently. Agility is what allows us to move gracefully, and greatly reduces our risk of injury.
When we think of losing our balance, we most often think of falling. The consequences, especially for adults 65 and over, are alarming — 13,700 deaths, 1.8 million visits to the emergency room and $19 billion in medical costs annually result from hip fractures, head trauma and more.
But many of us, particularly under the age of 65, don’t necessarily fall when we lose our balance. Instead, we end up with a host of sprains and strains that put a damper on everything from walking to playing sports. Fortunately, balance and agility can be learned, challenged and improved through training.
On land, where gravity provides us with stability, we need to employ training aids such as foam rollers and stability balls to challenge our balance and train effectively. These products are designed to do one thing: create an unstable working environment.
In the water, we can challenge our balance without fancy equipment because water, by its nature, provides an unstable working environment. The water’s unique physical properties (buoyancy and 360-degree resistance) create instability and resistance to movement, both of which can be used to challenge and improve balance. We all have experience with this. It is more difficult to stand still in the water than it is to stand still on land. It’s much harder to move in any direction in water and, once moving, it’s more difficult to stop.
The three exercises illustrated below use a progression of single-leg balance tasks designed to challenge agility and proprioception. Try adding one or more of these exercises to your shallow-water routines to help your students achieve better balance.