As the winter season approaches, people collectively tend to become apprehensive and cautious of potential slips and falls. It is common to see an increase in slips and falls in the winter because:
- Ice makes surfaces slippery so our feet do not have solid purchase when on the ground.
- Snow makes the bottom of our shoes wet so when we transition from outdoor to indoor surfaces the potential for slipping and sliding on tile, linoleum, or hardwood increases without proper precautions.
- Snow and ice cause uneven ground surfaces so we are no longer standing on a level base which is more challenging to control.
- Snow can camouflage or hide potential tripping hazards or dangers buried beneath.
- Things like black ice are not visible to our eye and therefore our body is not prepared to react when we step on it.
Unfortunately, even the best planning cannot stop every slip or fall, but knowing what precautions to take can definitely be a big help. Check out one of our past posts to help you brush up and be better prepared. Another way to potentially minimize your slip and fall risk is to work on and train your balance so your body can quickly and effectively react to the unusual challenges winter presents.
So are you wondering how to put together an effective balance training program? First, you should know there is no best way to train your balance because we are all different and have varying needs. However, there are seven specific components you should include which we will discuss now so you have the knowledge on how to build an effective and customizable balance program just for you!
- Body Position: Though we often think of standing when it comes to balance instead consider an infant or growing child (my children had some fun giving you a visual demonstration) and make sure you incorporate those developmental positions into your balance program such as laying (on back, side, or belly), quadruped/crawling, sitting, kneeling/half kneeling, as well as standing. If you do nothing else but practice working in and transitioning from these positions you will be ahead of the game.
- Points of Contact: The more points of contact or the greater the surface area touching the floor the more stable you will be and as you decrease points of contact the greater the challenge to your balance.
- Head Position: Looking straight ahead is the easiest for your balance but once you change head position by looking up/down, turning left/right, or tilting left/right you increase the balance challenge as your body works to maintain its sense of upright
- Sight: When eyes are open in a well-lit environment there is little extra challenge to the balance but if you dim the lights, make it dark, or close your eyes balance becomes significantly more challenging as your body loses a key tool in reacting to the environment around it as well as maintaining upright.
- Surface: A solid, smooth surface poses the least amount of challenge to balance but by making surfaces soft, slanted, unlevel, rough, asymmetrical, or mobile the degree of difficulty increases exponentially.
- Stance: A normal or wider base of support is much easier on balance than a narrow base of support. You can also tweak position by doing a split/staggered stance or having your points of contact be in a turned in or turned out position which modify your balance reactions.
- Movement: There is a level of simplicity with staying stationary or immobile but when you add in movement, especially tri-planar/3D or diagonal/PNF, your balance is stimulated by the dynamic and unpredictable inputs you give the body.
The components above when incorporated into an individualized exercise program create a sensory rich environment that effectively trains not only balance but muscle function that will keep you safer and healthier – not just in the winter but all year long. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments below. Lastly, here is a quick video to give you some exercise ideas based on the above components. Enjoy!