Balancing on one leg is extremely beneficial at any age. It helps the foot and hip control in walking, running, and sports. It helps with reducing fall risk as we age. And it helps with one’s coordination and proprioception at any age.
Below are two higher level balance exercises, a single leg squat and a single leg dead lift. When attempting these, you may notice the leg wobbles and its hard to control the movement pattern. This coordination factor is not always a strength issue. Often it can improve rather quickly by changing the cue for the task.
Studies show that attentional focus of external cues improves the motor skill. A motor skill is a function, which involves the precise movement of muscles with the intent to perform a specific act.
Instead of trying to focus on the body part that is moving or stabilizing, you can focus on an external cue. The external cue can lead to better motor control and enhance learning and performance. The brain takes the cue given and tries to predict the movement. Consciously trying to control the movement pattern means you are using the frontal cortex of the brain – you are trying to think yourself into action. However, proprioception is in the cerebellum and parietal cortex which perceives the intended movement and puts it to action automatically.
No thinking necessary! You can’t think your way to automatic movement! You need to practice automaticity. Exercise is automatic. Sports are automatic. When an athletes attention is directed to their body part, performance is shown to decrease. In his book, The Language of Coaching, Nick Winkelman states, “Focusing externally on the movement environment or outcome consistently results in superior performance and learning compared to focusing internally on the movement process itself.”
This first video is a way promote more control during a single leg squat.
Single leg dead lifts can be a real balance challenge. No more need to obsess over whether your knee is straight or bent or whether your hip is turned out or how to keep from falling.
Instead give yourself a target to aim at. I am using a cone but at the gym you could use a water bottle. Set the water bottle in front of you and tap the kettle bell/weight to the water bottle. This gives your eyes visually something to focus on which improves balance and control.
By giving your eyes a visual target, you may be surprised at the improvement in balance and control.