Improving Handler's Balance: As Easy as 1, 2, 3

Balance can feel elusive. It gradually walks towards the door, slipping behind other guests and furniture unnoticed until it's gone or thinking of leaving. A loss of balance can significantly reduce your quality of life and the activities safely available to you. It's helpful to look for ways you have power in situations, from both a physical and a mental standpoint.

Balance is important for handlers for a number of reasons. The first one that comes to mind is injury prevention! Nothing will sideline your team faster than injuries and staying ahead of that is so important. Speed is improved, a reduction in trip or fall risk, a better ability to handle powerful dogs all improved through better balance.

When you think of building better balance does your mind drift to standing on a balancing device? Or perhaps standing on one foot with your eyes closed? Or walking in a straight line with your eyes closed? While these are all ways to work on balance, there are things you can do to expedite balance improvement.

What factors impact balance and what can you do about it?

There are many tools you can apply to your life now that will supercharge what you're doing and what your life looks like 5-10 years from now. They include mobility, strength, fast movements and developing a robust 'movement library'. And, of course, there are some factors like eye sight, hearing loss, vertigo, etc., which you'll want to speak to your medical team about. Today we're going to talk about the mobility and strength work that can help.

Let's talk about mobility first because it is a POWERHOUSE in fitness; it's accessible and isn't an intimidating place to start. 

Over time, injuries that haven't been rehabbed adequately or the rehab hasn't been maintained, sedentary lifestyles and lots of sitting, among other things, will leave you with tight muscles that impact your overall function. 

Specifically, we're going to discuss your hips. In order for the stabilizing powerhouse, the glute medius, to do its job properly the hips must be mobile enough that the glute medius isn't 'over-ridden' by tighter/stronger muscles. The longer its ability to work is compromised by tight hips, the weaker it gets and on goes the cycle.

Let's just … not.

Here are some stretches to work on your hip mobility. Aim for 30-60 secs of stretching. Daily is ideal, so work towards it. Pro tip is to actually schedule it in, decide ahead of time that it WILL get done and just do it. You may also find habit pairing makes creating space for it helpful. For example, stretch while your dogs are pottying in the morning.

Using a Roller for Your Hips

Not to be overshadowed, rolling holds significant importance. 

Stretching and rolling serve distinct purposes for our bodies. While stretching focuses on muscle flexibility, rolling targets the fascia. Fascia is akin to sausage casing; it envelopes muscle fibers. Ideally, these fibers smoothly glide past each other, like silky hair during movement. For various reasons, these fibers can clump together, resembling hair with a wad of gum in it. These fascial tangles can develop because of things like muscle injuries, inactivity, disease, inflammation, or trauma (like falling). This binding of tissues leads to reduced elasticity and the formation of painful, tight bands. Rolling may aid in separating these fibers and restoring the tissue's integrity.

These rolling examples below are for your hips. You'll want to aim for 1-3 mins per area. Like stretching, daily is ideal so work towards it.

What role does strength play in balance?

Strength is another important piece of this puzzle. 

Yes, mobility is invaluable and also if your stabilizers are weak or not active, finding balance will be challenging for you. While balance pods are good, you'll see quicker progress if the stabilizing muscles targeted by balance pods are strengthened separately. These isolated exercises are easy to execute and accessible to most people. 

Choose the appropriate challenge level — they're listed in order of increasing challenge, and aim for 10-15 reps two to three times per week.

Beginning Your Journey to Better Balance

Finding better balance isn't elusive, and it isn't for other people. These are approachable, easy to do things that you can start RIGHT NOW that will help you both now, and for your quality of life years from now.

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