Dynamic Balance and Pilates: Integrated Fitness for a Balanced Life

Back in High School, when I first began to study dance, I loved to stretch. You could bend me in any direction and I would not complain. Did this make me a good dancer? No, it did not. An insightful dance instructor was kind enough to explain my problem. To this day, her words still ring true:

In fitness and in life, one should never be more flexible than strong. In other words, you should never be able to bend over backwards for anyone or anything in less you have enough strength to pull yourself back up!

Her words were reinforced by a college kinesiology professor, who told me that my fitness career would end prematurely if I did not balance my yoga teaching with some serious strength training. However, as my fitness career developed, I noticed that many people would find themselves “stuck” in one dimension of fitness. For some, venturing out into other realms of conditioning was akin to visiting another planet.

When I began running marathons, I noticed that many distance runners would stretch, but avoid strength exercises. Meanwhile, at the gym, some of the serious weight lifters would not stretch. Some erroneously believed that doing any sort of aerobic work whatsoever cause them to “lose muscle.” At the other end of the spectrum, members of the cult of aerobicizers would demand more step and high impact cardio classes on the schedule.

Years later, when I trained as a Pilates instructor, I was told that Pilates was the end all and be all, encompassing strength flexibility and cardio. Pilates was in fact an excellent way to develop flexibility and strength simultaneously. The Pilates principle of “strength with length” is certainly valid. However, try as I might, I could not buy into the idea of Pilates as aerobic exercise. Additionally, some training organizations believed that the technique should be practiced in the exact way that Joseph Pilates created it in in the early 1900s, despite the fact that a century of new research has been performed since then.

Today, many fitness programs are described as “disciplines.” Logic would then imply that the followers of these programs are “disciples.” Indeed, the fitness industry is not without its self-proclaimed gurus, whose followers embrace the principles of the program as doctrines requiring strict, unyielding adherence. The quest for the “best exercise” and the set of Absolute Truths that accompany it can only be paralleled by the quest for the Holy Grail!

My good friend Weems Westfeldt, author of Brilliant Skiing, has commented that when people reach a point of skill proficiency in many sports, they need to broaden their focus. Unfortunately this is often when they narrow their focus and concentrate on only one aspect of the sport. This leads to burnout, injury or both. Indeed, we seem to be coming into an age of specialization, not just in our fitness preferences, but in our careers. Yet the question remains: Is the straight and narrow path the only road to success?

Personally, I think not. In my 33 years in the fitness industry, I have seen interesting things happen to people when they simple broaden their spectrum of physical movements. In fact, I have first-hand experience of this phenomenon. Before I learned to ski, I was the quintessential urban New York City/Boston girl, who spent most of her free time inside the gym. I now live in ski country, Summit County Colorado where I own a sport fitness studio. When I’m not teaching classes, the mountain is my gym. By expanding my movement vocabulary to include dynamic balance, agility and outdoor activity I was able to add balance to my lifestyle. My ability to respond to urban stress improved. I was able to seek solutions that were not only “outside the box,” but “outside the state,” and “outside of my comfort zone.” As a result, my life is now a synthesis of everything I loved about the mountain and urban life. In the day, I play on the mountains. At night, when I am not performing with the local theatre company, I attend performances, write, or spend time with my husband and three pets.

The question remains, with today’s hectic lifestyles, how do you find the time to integrate all aspects of fitness? It’s actually easier than you might think. Let’s begin with one of the most popular aspects of fitness training today: Dynamic Balance. Dynamic balance is balance in motion. It is considered more functional than static balance, since most of life’s activities happen while moving. While there are a multitude of balance devices on the market, simple changes in your regular routine can suffice. For example, if you use the aerobic equipment, try it without holding the bars. Changing your position on the machine can also enhance balance and activate different muscle groups. I’ve seen footage of the US Ski Team using the elliptical machine in a “tuck” position with their back to the screen. If you enjoy using the treadmill, try it standing sideways at an incline. Step up with the uphill leg, and then bring the downhill leg up to meet it. This will strengthen your abductor and adductors (inner and outer thighs) while enhancing lateral balance. In fact, exercising in different planes of movement is an excellent way to create a versatile workout. By varying your positions, you will also improve your functional flexibility. The planes of movement are:

* The Frontal Plane, which separates the body into Anterior and Posterior parts

* The Median Plane, which separates body into Right and Left parts

* The Horizontal Plane which separates the body into Superior and Inferior parts

* The Sagittal Plane which is any plane parallel to the median plane

The technique known as multi-planar movement is rapidly gaining popularity. Traditional weight training is predominately linear. However, many believe that it is not truly functional, since most activities take place in varying planes of motion. If you have been using machines exclusively, try some exercises on the cables, which enable you to use a variety of positions for each muscle group.

Multi-tasking is another way to add new dimensions to your fitness routine. This workout method involves exercising various muscle groups simultaneously. For example, you can perform a lunge with one leg forward, while performing a one-armed row with the opposite arm. Since we never isolate muscle groups in real-life activities, multi-tasking is yet another way to make you workout more functional. There is also an added side-benefit: By using more muscle groups at once, you will be burning more calories than you would by performing traditional strength training exercises.

If you really enjoy traditional equipment workouts, you can add balance to your routines by trying a technique known as integrated training. Perform one set of an exercise on a traditional piece of equipment such as the bench press. For your next set, you can try a pushup with your feet on a stability ball. For legs, try one set on the leg press machine at your normal work load. For your next set, lighten the load, and place a dyna disc on the foot pad. My favorite strength/balance exercise involves a wobble board or a bosu with the platform side turned upward.

�· Center the board in the middle of the cable machine

�· Use the lower cables

�· Stand on the board with your right foot slightly in front of your left

�· Hold one cable with your right had, the other with your left

�· Position your arms so that the right is ready for a bicep curl and the left for a tricep extension

�· Rock the board forward towards the right

�· Simultaneously, perform a bicep curl with your right arm and a tricep extension with your left.

�· Rock the board back toward the left

Ã?· Return the arms to the “start” position

Perform 12 repetitions and then switch sides. Important: When rocking forward and back, do not let the sides of the board completely touch the floor!

Versatility is the antidote for workout burnout. Who knows? By adding varying your routines, you may somehow find ways to add variety to your life.

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