It’s generally assumed that by the time people reach adulthood, they have an adequate ability to balance. But is that really true? Balance is a skill that requires practice and refinement. We spend most of our time walking in over-built shoes on very well-groomed surfaces.Balance is a skill that requires training just like any other movement skill. In reality, balance is the skill that makes every other skill possible. We are constantly balancing while in motion and there are many factors that affect our balance.
Our inner ear is what helps us determine our orientation. If we have a tight neck or jaw, this can interfere with our ability to judge our place in space. Ever turn your head really fast and lose your balance because suddenly the world turned loops? You’re inner ear fluid was likely to blame.
Our muscles and tendons also have sensors built into them that help judge how long each muscle is. The brain uses this feedback mechanism to help judge how your body is positioned. Unless we’re laying down or completely supported while sitting in a chair, our body is making constant micro adjustments to maintain our position.
Don’t believe me? Stand up and close your eyes. Really pay attention to what your body is doing. You’ll feel tons of little muscle movements helping to keep you upright. If your muscles are at sub optimal lengths, it can affect how the brain makes these micro adjustments. That’s right. Tight muscles can negatively affect your balance.
One of our biggest balance issues is our footwear. There are 26 bones in the foot creating 33 joints. And there are over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments involved in the manipulation of the foot. What we do with that appendage, which should have the ability to do almost anything our hands can do by the way, is stuff it into a giant, padded, cramped space where it wastes away.
Our shoes create a stable surface for our foot to rest on, and in many cases, shoes do the job of stabilizing our ankles too. This virtually ensures that the flex has little ability to flex and move. Shoes also usually contort the foot into an unnatural shape. As a consequence the muscles of our feet and lower legs are very uneducated and weak. It’s like trying to build a house on a sand foundation.
Here are a few things you can do to help improve your balance. Work into minimalist shoes and wear them whenever you have to wear shoes. Go barefoot whenever possible. We were built to be barefoot. Find fun ways to practice your balance whenever possible. My favorite way is to walk on the narrow concrete curbs instead of the street or sidewalk.
Lastly, start doing things with your feet to educate all the muscles. A really simple thing to practice that you’ll probably find extremely challenging is to try and move one toe at a time. Unleash your inner Beatrix Kiddo and wiggle your big toe! You can also try picking up objects and placing them into containers. Make your balance training a game. It’ll be a lot more fun and you won’t realize you’re training.