This summer, at the IDEA World Fitness Convention in San Diego, thousands of fitness experts and authorities converged to explore and assess the newest trends in fitness classes and methods. According to their 2011 IDEA Fitness Programs and Equipment Trends Report, balance training was the No. 1 trend. According to last year's IDEA survey, 95 percent of fitness trainers incorporated balance training into their workouts.
*What Is Balance Training?
Balance training creates a better sense of balance through the strengthening of core muscles. This includes the large and small muscles of the legs, gluteus, back and upper body. For instance, if you're standing on one leg, an entire range of major and minor muscles and tendons throughout all the lower body and core activate in different ways than they would if you were standing on both feet. Strengthening these muscles improves your overall balance abilities.
In a balance-building workout, prop-free movements, such as standing on one leg, squatting or lunging, use your body weight as you slightly shift your balance to remain upright. Yoga is another fitness activity that builds balance as you progress through a routine.
To intensify a balance workout by working muscles and connective tissue in a range of ways, balance-centric equipment has burst onto the scene. At the IDEA convention, the new generation of balance equipment ranked No. 1 in the group's 2011 survey of top equipment trends. Kathie Davis, IDEAs executive director, says that the popularity of new forms of balance equipment is "a reflection of fitness professionals being creative enough to keep training fun and interesting with new tools. The (fitness) industry must be constantly evolving and innovating or we're going to lose people. As clients demand more 'fun,' we will see those types of equipment gain popularity."
Standing on one leg isn't exactly fun, at least not for very long, so designing minds of the fitness industry have invented and evolved the following balance-building equipment:
--BOSU balance trainer. This balance tool is made of molded plastic and weighted rubber. It has one flat side and one rounded, ball-like side. Originally, the name BOSU was an acronym for "Both Sides Up." It meant that the BOSU Balance Trainer could be used on either side -- dome or platform. Presently, the acronym BOSU has progressed beyond the product to now mean "Both Sides Utilized." The user may stand on the platform side to work out or step or stand on the rounded side for different results. A range of exercises specifically for both sides of the BOSU may be found on http://www.bosu.com.
--Discs. Several different types of round balance discs exist on the market, with some featuring nubbed surfaces. The supportive disc is inflated with air, and you step on it while performing different types of balance and agility exercises. Visit http://www.BalanceDisk.com for products and sample exercises.
--Wobble boards. Most often round or square, the wobble board features a flat surface that you stand on with both feet and a rounded section underneath that requires you to shift your weight to maintain balance. These tools are often used to help rehabilitate ankle injuries or build ankle, calf and leg strength. They require a good sense of balance for optimal, safe use.
--Balance boards. Often found in a square or elongated skateboard shape, these balance tools may come with an interchangeable fulcrum to allow forward-and-back and side-to-side balance exercises.
--Stability balls. Large, inflatable balls chosen for your height and weight work by putting your body -- sitting or lying down -- in an unbalanced position. You then need to use your muscles to work through various exercises. Paige Waehner, the About.com guide to exercise, says, "When you lie on the ball, your legs and abs immediately contract to keep you from falling off. Add an exercise to that (like a chest press or a crunch), and you've just increased the intensity of the movement."
*Why Is Balance So Hot?
Fitness enthusiasts, athletes and dancers train for balance to give their bodies more strength and agility, but the everyday person is also seeking balance training to help them function better in life. "Since I had my baby, I'm now balancing him in one arm, grocery bags in another and my purse and laptop bag hooked on my arm. Since I almost stumbled once with him in my arms, I knew I had to train for better balance to keep us both safer. It also reduced my back pain, since so many muscles were being strengthened," says recent mother Stephanie Greer.
Better balance is also a quality-of-life issue for the older generations. "It's pretty clear from the front-line program directors that they see things trending even more strongly toward more functional, life-enhancing types of training and equipment," Davis, IDEAs executive director, says. Seeing as millions of baby boomers are becoming seniors, increased balance ability is very important. It decreases the risk of falls and injuries while also allowing seniors to live more active lifestyles. "Boomers exercise to live life more fully, and I think we're going to see that continue to grow."