Improving Foot, Knee and Hip Stability With A Balance Mat
What is a Balance Mat and why should I use one? This is a common question people ask us when they see a big blue foam mat.
You might have been at your physiotherapist appointment and noticed they have a few weird items that they make you use in practice. This could range from a Bosu ball to interesting objects that help you release deeper muscles, to spinning devices that help out with the very small muscles in the body. Many people see these items as something used in clinics only. There is one item which we believe should be a common tool for lifters or anyone trying to improve stability in their lower body - the Balance Mat. The uses of this mat range from rehab to performance and also help a lot with coordination.
Being balanced generally means that your body is in an efficient position that is utilising muscles evenly to keep your body in a stable state. With all muscles being used quite evenly you will find that there is less risk of increased stress on a particular joint or tendon. When your body is in balance and particularly for lifting your joints are being used how they were designed, the body will be at much lower risk of being injured. Since we are only as strong as our weakest link. Putting excessive pressure on joints as you have lost balance or are compensating to not lose your balance will put you at high risk of injury eventually. Everyone is indestructible until they are injured. Sometimes it takes injury before someone is willing to invest in being balanced and investing time in Prehab so you don't need rehab.
Rehab - Knees, Ankles and Lower Back
Many major injuries to the knee or foot, ACL tears, PCL tears and a range of other major injuries to the lower body will require strengthening and improving the balance of that particular area. The small stabilisation muscles ensure that there is less pressure on the joint itself and more of the stress running through the muscles surrounding the joint. If you do experience any pain to the foot, knee or lower back a range of different Balance Mat exercises will be of use to you. A range of different stabilisation exercises are able to be found in our Rehab & Training Guide.
The less your body is worrying about maintaining its balance throughout the rep, the more it can focus its energy into driving the weight up. A lot of the time increased performance comes from improved technique, which comes with improved balance. The more experienced you are, the harder it is going to be to put on more muscle tissue. You will eventually have to look at different ways other than ‘ pushing more’ to get more out of your lifts.
How To Implement Properly
The whole purpose of the mat is to create an unstable surface that the body needs to adjust to to maintain balance. Many people are quite good at balancing on a solid surface with two feet and they are generally okay with a solid surface with one foot. As soon as the body has to remain balanced with one foot on an unstable surface, generally we have to work pretty hard to create stability. You will quickly find that your body favours the inside or outside of the foot and you will topple quite easily. Especially as a first timer you will find it is extremely difficult to remain balanced without a large amount of fatigue building through the foot, the ankle, the calf and the glute.
The reason such fatigue builds is due to the constant on-off contraction that the muscles are going to to quickly adjust to the slight changes in weight distribution over mid foot. As soon as the weight isn't completely centered, you will begin to topple. Your body makes the adjustments, or contracts the required muscles to distribute your body's center of mass back into the middle.
Strength, coordination and proprioception are all required to maintain balance on an unstable surface. A certain amount of strength is required to keep an arch in the foot, in the calf you need to be strong enough to stop the heel pushing further and further into the mat. The glutes need to be strong enough to keep your knee tracking over the middle of the foot rather than caving in and your core needs to be strong enough to stop your upper body leaning to one side. Your coordination and the body’s knowledge of how and what position you need to be in to remain balanced will come with practice. Proprioception (your body's ability to know where it is in space) will also come over time with trial and error.