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Balance and Stability for Rowing

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February 3, 2012 by peakcentre

Ed McNeely

Balance and stability is the very foundation that athletes are built on.  There is an old saying that goes, “You can’t build a cathedral on the foundation of a house.”  The same is true in athletes and balance provides the foundation on which to build.  This is because balance effects all the other aspects of training, including weight lifting, aerobic training, and explosive training. 

It is important that a good athletic base is built before incorporating balance devices into your training program.  This athletic base is essential for injury prevention.  The stronger the muscles around a joint, the more stable that joint will be. This will greatly diminishing the risk of injury. 

While strength training can create the muscular and nervous system adaptations necessary for strength development, it cannot improve balance.  Only training that is designed to specifically improve balance and stability can do this. 

Static and Dynamic Balance

Athletic balance occurs as a result of both skill training and specific balance training. Regardless of how much balance training is done, if an athlete does not know how to move and position their body to execute a skill in the most efficient manner they will never have good balance. Skill instruction should focus on not just the skill itself but follow through positions and preparation to react following the skill, this will greatly enhance balance and overall performance. Athletic balance can be divided into two major sub categories static balance and dynamic balance. Static balance, often referred to as stability, is used to hold or maintain a body position. Gymnasts use static balance to hold a cross on the rings or support themselves on the parallel or uneven bars. A basketball  or hockey player would need static balance when trying to hold a position in front of the net or in the low post. Static balance requires the ability to react to an external force that is attempting to upset an athlete’s equilibrium. This requires both a high level of isometric strength as well as a certain amount of anticipation and preparation that comes with experience. Rowers require static balance when rowing rough water that will tend to cause them to shift body position quickly to accommodate the conditions.

Dynamic balance is the ability to maintain body positions during motion and is often referred to as body control. Moving up and down the slide requires a certain amount of balance, athletes who have the ability to change direction effectively, under control not only have excellent speed and power but can get the blades in the water and get out of the catch without checking the boat. Better body control, dynamic balance helps the athlete to correct body positions that may result in injury.

All the muscles of the body can potentially be involved in balance. In upper body support activities the pecs, delts and rotator cuff will all act to maintain body stability and balance. All the muscles of the foot and lower leg will be involved in maintaining ankle stability while the quadriceps and hamstrings help with balance and stability around the knee joint. Because all force and power is transferred through the trunk during athletic activity the trunk muscles are particularly important to balance and stability. Superficial muscles like erector spinae of the back, rectus abdominus and the external obliques of the trunk all have a role in maintaining posture and balance, particularly dynamic balance. However, the deep muscles of the trunk may be even more important. Muscles like the internal obliques and transverse abdominus help stabilize the trunk and improve the body’s ability to react to changing positions. Deep spinal stabilizers like quadratus lumborum, and multifidus play particularly important roles in spinal stabilization.

Improving Balance and Stability

Because balance training is relatively low intensity it can be done as part of a warm up or in a separate training session. While balance training does involve the muscles traditionally known as the core, balance training and core strengthening are different. Balance training for rowing does not require high loads as it is designed to train your ability to detect and respond to changes in position. Core strength, while initially developed by balance training will eventually require the use of heavy loads, after all we are talking about strengthening muscles. Relying solely on unstable balance exercises for core strengthening will prevent the use of adequate resistance to stimulate strength development.

Reps and Work Time

It is difficult to count repetitions for some balance exercises, static position holds like the plank for example are normally done for a prescribed time period rather than a number of repetitions. Initially you will only be able to hold many of the positions for only a few seconds but eventually you will need to work up to 2-3 minutes of hold time in each position.

In more advanced balance exercises that incorporate dumbbells or medicine balls, the sets are normally not taken to a failure point, it is unsafe to experience the breakdown in technique that occurs just before failure when using the unstable base of support that the Balance Disc or Swiss ball provides. Once you are capable of doing 15 repetitions with good technique it is time to move on to a harder drill, in a more unstable position or add resistance. Doing more repetitions than this will not increase the training effect and will only take time away from other components of training that may be of greater benefit to your overall performance.

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