For many athletes balance training is an integral part of their workout programme - it can both reduce injuries and improve performance.
Technically, balance requires the athlete to apply the right amount of flexibility and agility at the right time in order to execute the desired task. They must also be able to recover in time to repeat the same or similar tasks over and over again - for example as when playing rugby or tennis.
Balance is a dynamic process which is a part of everything we do, including walking or running - indeed, the whole process of running can be described as losing and regaining your balance over and over.
Any form of balance training should thus attempt to replicate as closely as possible the particular movements of that sport. The drills described below are general ones for runners, but they will give all athletes a start in developing this crucial skill. For more sports specific drills, you should talk to a specialist coach.
One-leg punches: Standing on one leg, alternate punches in the air above the head while holding 1kg hand weights. Perform ten reps for each arm, then switch legs. Keeping the supporting knee soft will aid performance of this movement. More advanced options include punching out to the side, or alternate crossover punches.
Jump steps: These have applications for any number of sports. The basic principal is to perform a series of one footed jumps in various directions, as follows:
- Forward jump: Jump forwards on one foot, hold for a count of two, then jump back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
- Side jump: Jump out to the left on the left foot, hold for a count of two, then jump back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
- Posterior lateral jump - jump backwards and laterally, as though you were jumping back to the 8 o'clock position on a clock, with your left foot pointing to the 8 o'clock position. Hold for two seconds then jump step back to the start. Repeat on the right hand side (to the 4 o'clock position).
These drills can easily be fitted into your current training program - experiment with performing them when either fresh or fatigued, and be attuned to the differences between one side and the other. If you find that one leg is worse than on the other, it could be something as simple as a tight calf or a stiff heel, so be sure you are stretching regularly.