I thought I’d share this experience with those who may benefit.
In case you don’t know, I personal train as an employee for about 15-25 hrs a week at the University of Texas at Austin department called RecSports. I work with faculty, staff, students, grad students, UT community members, friends, family, and others who decide to join this gym for other reasons, such as convenience.
The facility is very nice compared to most gyms in Austin, and it is one of the few that actually has a pool and no shortage of very educated pretty people to look at, if that helps motivate you to get to the gym. 🙂
Anyway, today I was working with a client who has had a lot of trouble with balance and coordination. One new technique I tried with her was to take a 5 lb weight and hold it outside of the body, experimenting with the area you are balancing into vs the limb off the ground. We found that she has NIGHT AND DAY differences in her ability to balance when holding the weight outside of her body in the direction she is off balance.
For example, when walking up or down steps, your center of mass is tilted forward, so you hold the weight forward in front of you. When walking sideways, your center of mass is tilted toward the direction you are going, so hold the weight out to your side.
We experimented with a number of different permutations on this concept, and she can balance SO much better now. It was amazing enough that I HAD to blog on it!
I was never taught this technique in school or in any certification, so if this technique is already out there and being used, I guess I just stumbled upon it in a moment of creativity. If it isn’t used, I highly recommend giving it a try if you are a physical therapist or other individual who wants to work on improving your balance and neuromuscular coordination.
My theory on how it works is that it forces your motor planning centers in your brain to reevaluate movement patterns by sending different rates of impulses down your motor neurons and to reevaluate the feedback coming back from sensory neurons. The reevaluation teaches you how to move with more ease and builds confidence in that movement pattern. This information is integrated and processed into new and improved movement ability.
Another metaphor for how this works would be similar to how astronomers detect distance from the stars using parallax. They look at the star when the earth is in one position around the sun, such as during winter in their geographic location. Then, they look at the star again during summer when the earth is on the other side of the sun. These two perspectives can give new insight as to distances, assuming a fixed object.
Similarly, I would call this a sensory experience that is much like parallax. A parallax spatial sensory experience, if you will. You experience imbalance without the weight, and then you experience imbalance with the weight. Your body can coordinate the nerves to fire in appropriate fashion to make sure your limbs are where your brain actually thinks they are. This should result in improved balance through improved neuromuscular precision and control.
Anatomically, balance training involves the cerebellum coordinating neuron firing patterns, among other areas of the brain and ears.
Holding the weight outside of the body shifts your center of mass, which challenges this neural system in your body to adapt to new and different stimuli.
My neuroscience and neuroanatomy teachers would be so proud of me 🙂
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