Stand up and balance on one foot for a minute. Try the other foot too. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Could you do it? Was it easy or difficult? Did you wobble or stand steady? Was one side easier than the other?
Balance has become a much more prominent thought in my head in the last few months. Specifically, how much we take it for granted.
My dad had a stroke back in September. It really rocked us all, but he is recovering. Special shoutout to my mom for recognizing the signs of a stroke and getting him quickly to the hospital for life-saving treatment. Do you know the signs?
Ok, now that I’ve got that PSA out of the way, back to balance.
My dad has had to relearn balance, starting with simply lifting one foot at a time. Not moving, just lifting a foot and tapping it on a cone in front of him. Of course, that was back in September, and after weeks of intense physical & occupational therapy, he is now able to walk without any assistance.
I will never look at doing standing splits on a Reformer the same way again, much less just stepping up onto the Reformer!
What allows me to lift a foot, move it forward, then lift the other foot? SO, SO many things. But a few that I want to focus on today are some of the hidden muscles and exercises we may not think of immediately.
First up? Exercising your eyes. No, really. BrainSpeed ball work, the brain child of Trent McEntire, helps us exercise our vestibulo-ocular system. The eyes and inner ear (vestibular system, ie. our balance) are connected through the brain. Exercises like the ones in this video are great at waking up that connection and improving overall coordination and balance. They can even improve spinal alignment. (The specific vestibulo-ocular exercise is the last of the four examples Trent shows.)
Don’t have a BrainSpeed ball? Try focusing on your thumb for these exercises, but get the ball for lots more options and fun!
We hear a lot about our glutes, which makes sense since the gluteus maximus is a large, important muscle. But just as important are the lesser-known gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. These are smaller muscles located under the glute max. They work together for smooth walking or running. The glute min helps to rotate the hip while the glute med prevents the opposite side of the pelvis from dropping so the other leg can swing forward for the next step.
A great exercise to strengthen the glute min and med is to do a simple leg lift, sort of like I asked you to do at the start of this blog. If that feels too unstable, you can also do this on your knees or lying on your side. They all work the same muscles.
And finally, let’s talk about the multifidus. The multifidus, a deep back muscle group, is comprised of short, triangular muscles on either side of your spine. They stabilize and support your spine, especially your thoracic or low spine. Think of the multifidus as two long balloons (like the ones for making balloon animals) on either side of your spine.
This small but mighty muscle definitely falls into the use it or lose it category. If you have chronic low back pain, chances are your multifidus needs some love. As a bonus, a healthy multifidus can also help stave off arthritis. To find your multifidus, stand with your hands on your lower back, just on either side of your spine. Begin to lift up your right foot and you should feel the muscle swell under your right hand. Do the same on the left side.
Exercising your core automatically turns on the multifidus….it’s like a two for one special! But how do you strengthen those muscles when balancing is difficult? Mandy walks us through some techniques.
Now that you’re aware of just SOME of the hidden muscles that help you walk, run, or skip, let’s give them a big thanks by keeping them active and healthy.