Improve balance part 1 – the vestibulo-ocular reflex.
July 5, 2017
Benefits of Balance Training
While there are some obvious benefits to improving your balance such as safety; doing correct balance training can have some pretty profound benefits on your life.
- Eliminating dizziness, vertigo, car and sea sickness
- Improving athletic performance and coordination
Due to some really sophisticated neurological pathways in your brain and spine correct balance training can also:
- Eliminate certain types of chronic joint pain
- Improve digestion
- Prevent migraines
- Straighten out your posture (including scoliosis)
- and much more
Where Balance Comes From
When most people think of balance training they think of standing on wobbly objects such as Bosu balls. At first it makes sense that by standing on something that is hard to keep your balance… balance will be improved.
However balance is quite specific and will improve how and “where” you train it.
Balance comes from 3 systems:
Your Visual System
Specifically your peripheral vision and your ability to keep your eyes fixed and vision clear while your head is in motion
Your Vestibular System
A complex system of semicircular canals in your inner ear. When your head moves fluid in those canals spins and tells your brain which way is up.
Your Proprioceptive System
Nerves on the bottom of your feet and all through your body will feel your weight shift and reflexively contract your muscles to create stability.
Balance Drill – Vestibulo Ocular Reflex
By far one of the most important drills for improving balance is the VOR drill which teaches your eyes to stay fixed on a target while your head and body are in motion.
This drill will train your visual and vestibular systems simultaneously… which is how you use them in the real world by the way.
The Set Up for the VOR Drill
- You will need to have something with a letter on it that you can see clearly. A letter on a book, smartphone, etc.
- Hold that letter at arm’s reach at eye level and in your center line (not towards one eye or the other ). Alternatively it can be something hanging on a wall or a shelf so you don’t have to hold it.
- Get clear eyesight on the letter and then do the following head movements moving from your neck only, keep your body still.
- Remember to keep your eyes fixed on the letter as you do the below head movements.
- Rotate Left
- Rotate Right
- Look Up
- Look Down
- Diagonal Up / Left
- Diagonal Down / Right
- Diagonal Up / Right
- Diagonal Down / Left
- Tilt Left
- Tilt Right
- Move slow enough that you keep the letter crystal clear
- At the end of each movement pause for a 2-count and keep focus on the letter
- Before changing from one movement to another return to the center position
- Repeat each direction 3 – 5 repetitions
Rules for Balance Training
- Avoid being near falling hazards
- Train barefoot to get your proprioceptive system involved
- Stay off of the wobbly surfaces like Bosu balls and stand on solid ground where we live. Remember you will get better at what and where you practice.
Like any exercise we want to progress over time. Your first primary goal of this drill is to keep crystal clear focus on the letter. Once you have that you can progress to the balance challenges below.
- Sitting – start here if you have a lot of trouble with visual clarity or are new to vision training
- Standing wide feet
- Narrow feet or feet together
- Tightrope position – if this is too difficult you can do an offset tightrope
- 1-leg standing – make sure to switch legs
To get really advanced work your way up to walking forward and backward. Athletes can get into their sports positions to improve their balance in those specific positions. For instance a fighter can pause during a kick.
It is easy to do during your warm up before exercise or sports practice and since it only takes around 30 – 90 seconds there is no excuse not to do it.
The VOR drill will make a huge impact in your coordination and balance plus it could very well help to eliminate pain, improve digestion, get rid of migraines and more.
If you want to get serious about balance training I highly recommend you pick up a copy of The Balance Gym from Z-Health Performance Solutions. I use drills from The Balance Gym as part of my regular warm ups and have seen huge improvements in sports performance and pain relief.
Until next time go do the VOR drill and develop amazing balance!
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