How the Human Balance System Works
The human balance system has three distinct systems that work together. As noted in detail in Pt. 1 of this series, they include the Vestibular, the Visual and the Somatic Sensory Systems. Together, they give you the ability to maintain or recover balance over your base of support (BOS). The ankles are the most widely cited position of BOS and in many situations it is. But this is still a narrow interpretation. That's because in many physical activities and sports such as gymnastics and combat sports, BOS can be anywhere from the hands, to the knees, to the head and more.
Our three part balance system is generally ignored on a day to day basis and the least focused part of physical training because it works sub-consciously like the lungs or the heart. You rarely think about it, even in a balance recovery situation unless one of the systems is temporarily or permanently lost. When this occurs you rely on the recruitment of the remaining two systems to maintain or recover balance.
Have you ever been in a pitch black room and suddenly felt unbalanced? That's because the loss of visual perception means you now must recruit the Vestibular and Somatosensory Systems to pick up the slack. Another example is during intoxication from drugs, alcohol or from an injury where the loss of proprioception requires recruitment of the Visual and Vestibular systems.
Without at least two of the three balance systems, you cannot maintain balance. This brings us to balance training and the use of balance training devices. Despite the ignorance of the anti-balance training community, study after study, both medical and physiological, have proven that balance recovery training works. Especially in cases where one of the three balance systems is lost or damaged, this can be achieved through the use of balance training devices. This not only applies to increasing athletic performance, but also, rehabilitation, physical therapy and injury prevention.
The performance gains from balance training are the same as any other sport or physical activity skills. From golf to football to extreme sports and others, to be maintained, you must continue to train and work towards even higher skill levels.
By: Rick Contrata
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