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Better Balance Through Brain Training (Critical Exercise Modifications!)

Video Highlights

-- Basic Head Movements
-- Utilizing Different Body Positions
-- Feedforward Control System

Hi, I’m Dr Eric at Z-Health Performance and today we’re going to talk about adding head movements into your balance work as well as adding in some additional environmental challenges to quickly improve your balance. If you are new to Z-Health, we are a brain based education company. We work with professionals from around the world so if you enjoy this content make sure to subscribe. 

Alright, so balance is a crazy system in the human body. It is so critical to everything that we do and if you dig in the literature you’re going to find relationships between balance and everything from pain injury rehabilitation all the way up to sports performance and cognition. So we make it a key part of what we do as a brain-based education company and one of the challenges with balance training is that often you can see what people are doing kind of in static pictures but there are sometimes pieces missing that are hyper critical in getting better results. So what we always want to make sure that you understand is that there are multiple systems in the body involved in balance: the visual system, the inner ear, the proprioceptive system (which is telling you where you are in space). But when we’re trying to challenge balance one of the easiest things to do is to make sure we’re including head movements in all of our balance practices. So let’s say I was standing with my feet together or in my what we call a Romberg Stance or Staggered Romberg stance with one foot in front of the other if I wanted to make this more difficult instead of just standing there trying to do a static balance. I would want to go through head motions because my inner ear is going to pick up and send signals to my brain about different head movements and subsequently we should be getting reflexive activations in the body that help us stay upright. So the basic head movements are: left and right rotation, flexion looking down at the ground, extension looking up to the ceiling, and then diagonals looking up over my right shoulder looking up over my left shoulder looking down to my right down to my left. So it’s just eight basic positions that every balance activity that you do should include those positions. 

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Now, whenever you are going to apply this, one of the things I like to also emphasize is utilizing different body positions because a lot of people think about balance as kind of a static activity where I’m standing on one leg or whatever. And now I’m going through these head rotations, whatever those are great and we use those, but those are really elementary versions of balance challenges. As you train, you need to make this more difficult and you also need to make it contextually specific. One of the things we know about balance, if you are a high level gymnast versus a rower you’re going to have different requirements for your balance systems. So again, it needs to be contextually specific but for most of us who are not preparing for the Olympics we want to make sure that our balance is good with two feet on the ground, with one foot on the ground and then also as our relationship to gravity is changing. What we see a lot is that people will come down into a squat and, let’s say we’re not doing a typical squat exercise that you would do in the gym, but we’re just kneeling down, maybe talking to our dog or working in the garden and you can see them up on the on the balls of my feet. Now from here, if people begin doing head turns, looking up, looking down, things that we would normally do in real life, you will often see people fall over, right? They will lose their balance as soon as the head goes into motion. So we’re going to increase or  encourage you to try this start off in whatever level of squat is comfortable for you. If that means that you have to start here, that’s fine. You’re just going to basically go through your eight different directions when you do this. 

Here’s the important brain part you want to take a second and think about. What you’re going to do before you do the head motion, because a part of our balance control is in the nervous system, is called a feed forward control system. So your brain is going to go, ”this is what I’m going to do,” and it starts preparing all your muscles before you do it. The way that you can train that in the beginning, again at an elementary level, is to be in whatever position that you’re in. Start here and think, “Okay I’m going to turn my head to the left,” and then do it as opposed to just starting to whip your head around. You’re going to need a little bit of practice before you start getting into these higher speed movements to ensure that you stay stable. Now once you’ve done that, I’m going to encourage you to start to change your positioning. If you’re comfortable in you know, kneeling positions, kind of like the that’s where my my feet are closer together and I can go through those same motions. If you want to make it more challenging, you can come to something like a beam right or a curb. Normally when I have people do this I encourage them to start off with a balance support, right? So, I have a little stick here you can also do it by the wall. Many people when they get into this even more narrow stance are surprised at how much more challenging the balance progressions are. So you do this left leg forward, right leg forward and again, these are just basic ideas about human functioning meaning; I need to be able to come from standing down to this position while turning my head and do all that safely. So as you work here, and you begin to ditch your balance support and you’re able to do your head movements, you would then finally take this from a standing position to a kneeling position while you’re turning your head just like we would in real life but we’re trying to make this very specific and very practical so that you can over weeks program out more difficult challenges for your balance system because it again is vital for everything that we do. 

Alright, so give these ideas a try and if nothing else just remember, turn your head a lot! Alright, good luck!

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