Training on a balance board is a lot like riding a bike. When you were young, operating a bicycle may have seemed like an unconquerable challenge of balance and coordination. Yet, within a relatively short time, you’d mastered the skill. Before long, you were able to ride with ease, even performing tricks like riding with no hands. Similarly, your first sight of a balance board may well have been, “I can’t do that!” Yet, with a little patience and progressive training you can learn how to use a balance board like a pro.
Let’s find out how. We’re going to use the Indo Board as our training board (for exercises with a wobble board, click here). The Indo Board is comprised of two separate parts, making it more challenging than boards that have a fixed fulcrum.
Mastering the Basics
When you prepare to use your balance board, while you’re getting used to it, it’s a good idea to place a piece of carpet on the ground under the board, especially if the floor is concrete or hardwood. This will slow the board down to make it more manageable. In fact, it is best to try and stay away from hardwood floors, tiles or concrete for a while, as they will increase the speed and instability of the roller. Yoga mats or rubber floors are the ideal floor covering to start with.
Stand behind the board with a surfer’s stance, feet a little wider than shoulder width and knees slightly bent as you maintain a neutral spine. Draw your abs in, keep your shoulders up and look straight ahead. This is the stance you want when standing on the board.
Now go down into the centered position. This is the ideal balance position. It is a little lower than a comfortable stance. Drop your knees down by two to three inches to get into this position. The rest of your body should be relaxed, with the hips rolled slightly forward and the torso erect.
Rather than the shallow nasal breathing that most of us engage in most of the time, the best type of breathing for balance involves deep breaths that originate in the diaphragm. This promotes a lower center of gravity. You will want to practice diaphragmatic breathing as often as you can. Doing so will enhance you balance while it draws more oxygen into your body.
When you are training for balance it is best to have a calm, clear mental outlook. If your mind is busy with extraneous concerns you will find it difficult to get into the groove of your balance training.
The secret to maintaining balance on the board is to have a low center of gravity. By keeping the knees bent a little lower than is comfortable, your shoulders back and chest and head up, you will be able to maintain this position more easily.
With so much focus on the movement on the lower body, most people don’t think too much about what their arms are doing when they are on a balance board. According to Hunter Joslin, this is a mistake:
An important body technique is that if your arms get away from your body, and your thumbs go up and out, you’re losing your balance. Your thumbs, when they turn in, actually bring your arms into your body.
This is little-known trick that separates the good from the average balance boarders. Hunter comments, “If you watch pictures of skateboarders or surfers, you’ll notice that their thumbs are more turned in to their body... It’s a matter of paying attention to where your hands and thumbs are.”
Mounting the Board
To get on the board, place the deck on top of the roller and roll the deck so that it angles down to the ground on the left-hand side. The roller should be resting against the stop on the bottom of the deck.
Now stand behind the board and place your left foot on the left edge of the board up against the stopper on that side. Now place the other foot on the other side and stand in the position you practiced earlier, with your hands on your hips.
From this position, gently nudge the board up until you are balancing with the roller half way along the deck. For the first few times, it will be helpful to have a spotter assisting from behind by guiding you from the hips.
Try to maintain the balanced position, while keeping your core tight. Initially, you will want to keep the roller in the center of the deck. However, as you get more advanced, you should attempt to go from side to side, without touching the ground.
The key to getting really good on the balance board is to learn how to apply the right amount of pressure with your feet at the right times. According to Hunter Joslin, inventor of the Indo Board, “To begin you apply pressure with the front foot and counter pressure with the back foot. You lean into the movement but counter balance back and forth.”
Drawing your knees in together is a key to maintaining your balance and developing control over the board. Take a look at how Hunter demonstrates this below.
The best exercise to begin with as you develop your balance technique is to rock the board back and forth, end to end. Do this three time and then attempt to stop the roller right in the middle, holding that position for a few seconds. This not only works your thighs and calves, but it teaches you control over the balance board.
Centering the board involves getting into a position where the roller is in the middle of the deck and you are standing upright. To achieve this, you want your upper body to remain straight. Don’t lean forward or you will take a tumble. According to Hunter Joslin, this is because “your whole center is thrown off. If you keep everything in line, the upper body stays very much in the same spot. Everything is moving from down below.”
This type of upper body control will make it easier to control the board when you are moving into a center position.
Once you become proficient at centering and moving side to side, you can begin to cross step. Begin by performing 3 side-to-side balances. Then draw your right foot back toward the center of the board. Keep your center of gravity low, as you cross your left foot to touch the front of the board. Keeping your right foot planted in the center, bring your left foot back to its original position.
After becoming comfortable with the above move, you can follow through with your right foot to bring it to the edge of the board.
Single Foot Balancing
Once you get comfortable with balancing, centering ad cross stepping with both feet, you should move to practicing balancing on just one foot. Start with 10-second holds and challenge yourself to extend for as long as you can. Initially, you should balance from a centered position. As you gain confidence, move to the outer edges of the board and balance on one leg there. You can move your other foot around in the air to help you to maintain your balance.
One Foot Take Off
A one foot take off is an advanced way to mount the board that looks pretty cool. Start with the roller under the center of the deck. Stand with your dominant foot on the board and the other one set on the ground behind you. Get your balance with that front leg as you push off. Then carry the other foot to come through and position itself on the front of the board.
Advanced Balance Board Exercises
Now that you’ve gone beyond the basics of balancing, you’re ready to progress to some body scorching training with your balance board. These moves will work your entire body with a focus on the all-important core muscles.
Flip your Indo Board over so that the smooth side is up and place the roller under the middle of it. Get down into a plank position with your arms resting on the board. Make sure that you keep your butt down and feet together with straight legs.
Hold the plank position for a few seconds and then begin rolling the board to your left. This will engage the intercostals at the sides of the waist. Return to center and then roll to the right.
To make this move even more challenging, raise one foot into the air behind you, without bending the knee.
From the same start position, place your palms on the board and perform push-ups. The unstable nature of the platform will make the exercise much more difficult. Again to add difficulty, you can lift a leg into the air behind you as you perform the exercise.
Mount the board and assume the power position. Place your hands out directly in front of you and begin performing regular squats. Go slowly and attempt to go right down into a full squat position. Remember to buckle your knees in, in order to help you maintain your balance.
Once you become comfortable performing squats, you can try using some offset weight by way of a kettlebell. Raise the kettlebell over your head on one side and use your other arm to balance out to the side. This offset resistance makes the move much more challenging.
Medicine Ball Tosses
The next level of challenge involves working with a partner positioned a few feet away from you and off to the side. Simply toss a medicine ball back and forth. This is a great challenge to your balance. You will want to try and hold the board at the point that you catch the ball and steady yourself before the return throw.
The next logical step in your balance training progression is to begin performing resistance exercises on the balance board. Adding weight training to your balance training adds a whole new dimension of challenge to the workout. As well as focusing on the probe of balancing on an unstable platform, your body now has to perform the separate job of lifting the weight. This will activate a lot of muscles that wouldn’t be worked if you were doing the exercise on a stable surface, making the exercise much more effective.
You should begin by adding dumbbells to your balance workout. This will allow you to establish balance on either side of the body separately. Exercises, where your arms remain by your sides such as dumbbell curls, are a good start. From there you can try overhead moves, such as dumbbell shoulder presses. Begin by working both arms together. When you are comfortable with that, you can progress to alternating dumbbell moves, which require more balance.
The ultimate challenge is to use a barbell on the balance board. Barbells are large pieces of equipment that are very long. Having the ability to balance one while standing on an unstable surface takes some skill. When you are able to work with barbells on the board, however, you will have taken your training to a whole new level.
In order to learn how to use a balance board like a pro, you’ll need plenty of patience, tenacity, and determination. Stick with by flowing through the progressive steps outlined above and you’ll eventually become a balance master!
Image credits: Indo Board