As you begin any exercise program, it is essential that you create a program that is well rounded. To do this, your training program should include five elements of overall fitness: Aerobic exercise, Strength exercise, Flexibility training, Core exercise and Balance training. It is the balance training that is typically lagging in most programs, but can be the most essential component for any program whether you are young, old, athletic or sedentary.

Many of us are familiar with the first two elements: Aerobic and Strength. Aerobic training includes anything that uses the larger muscle groups and increases your heart rate for at least 20-30 minutes during the exercise session. Activities include walking, jogging, swimming, biking, dancing, and a variety of sports.

Strength training on the other hand is a component of ‘muscular fitness’ and it involves performing multi-joint exercises such as squats, lunges, push ups and pull ups; as well as single-joint exercises such as bicep curls, tricep extensions and shoulder presses. Increases in strength can occur by using one’s own body weight, dumbbells, cables and resistance machines.

People are less likely to include flexibility training in their overall workout due to lack of time, but stretching exercises improve range of motion in the joints, promotes better posture and helps relieve stress. Warming up before stretching is key to reducing the likelihood of injury, and including it as a ‘stand alone’ activity such as yoga is an excellent way to incorporate more flexibility in your program. Core strength includes the muscles of your abdomen, lower back and pelvis and, when properly trained, can help protect the low back and upper spine.

Exercises that focus on the core are the prone hover (or plank), low back extension and side bends using a weight or cable machine.

And, finally, balance training, is an integral part of an overall training program and is great for injury prevention and performance enhancement. Maintaining balance means having the center of mass within your base of support; i.e. having your trunk aligned over your feet. In the past, it was believed that simply standing on one foot as long as possible was a way to increase ones’ balance. While this may be good for the de-conditioned individual who is new to exercise, it is not effective for an avid fitness enthusiast or an athlete of any age. Increasing ones balance while negotiating the uneven terrain of a running trail, reaching for a drop shot on the tennis court, or navigating your way down the soccer field is a completely different way of training. To understand the body’s dynamic balance capabilities, you need to understand the ‘proprioceptive system’, which feeds back information about position, movement and balance from the other body’s systems including the central and peripheral nervous systems. To properly balance train, you need to create an unstable environment and work to counter balance in your surroundings: walking or running on a different surface (grass vs. track or treadmill), performing gym workouts using cables instead of dumbbells, and standing on one leg while rotating. The idea is not to be completely still and hold the pose, but rather work within the new parameters to challenge all the body’s systems at once!

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