In the last column I talked about the concept of proprioception – or a sense of balance and knowing where your joints are in space without looking.
Proprioception training – sometimes referred to as stability training or core training – is becoming more common among coaches of young athletes, particularly girls. Research is mounting that shows girls competing in sports like basketball, soccer and tennis tend to suffer from sprained ankles and knee injuries at a greater rate than boys. That’s due in large part to differences in physiological makeup between boys and girls that become more pronounced throughout puberty.
Proprioception training also is used to help rehabilitate injured athletes, but the popularity of a balance training program in injury prevention is growing. Researchers at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Trauma found that obese high school football players who previously sprained their ankles are more likely to suffer a repeat injury.
In a subsequent three-year study, 175 football players went through a balance conditioning program and reduced their risk of injury by an amazing 77 percent.
So what did the players do? They simply balanced for 5 minutes on each leg, for 5 days a week, for 4 weeks in preseason. When the season began, the balance training was reduced to two times weekly.
That’s all it took to greatly reduce rate of injuries among these young athletes. For many people who are involved in a core stability training regimen, the addition of a “wobble” board or balance board can further enhance the effectiveness of the regimen in reducing injuries.
If you haven’t done it before, try the one-leg balance exercise, for one minute at first, on each leg. Then try it with your eyes closed, also for one minute. As your core training progresses, increase the amount of time you spend on each leg.
For a little more active, cardio workout, try bending your knee slightly as you lift your right foot off the ground and then swinging your leg forward, then backward, about 20-30 times. Repeat with the left foot. Remember to stay balanced and keep a good posture. This is a particularly good balance exercise for targeting the knees. To make this a little harder, close your eyes and increase the speed of your leg swings.
In a similar exercise, stand on one leg and swing your leg from side to side, pointing your toe up as you reach the apex of each swing. Don’t hold onto anything while you do these exercises, and try to make your swings smooth.
Other balance exercises can involve a partner. Stand on one leg and throw a ball back and forth, first throwing and catching to the right side, then the left, then high, then low. Three sets of 10 at first and work up to 30 as you progress.
These are very simple exercises you can do at home for yourself or with your young athlete. If you have a girl involved in cheerleading, dance, soccer, basketball or even track and field, core stability training, or proprioception, can go a long way toward keeping them healthy and active … and in the game.
Dr. Annette “Doctor Z Md” Zaharoff heads the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, focusing on non-surgical alternatives to relieve pain and repair injuries. Learn more about her at www.drzmd.com.