Experimenting with fitness long enough, I learned things the hard way. And being the type of guy who doesn’t want to sit down and focus on regret, I believe that time spent exercising never equals time wasted. If it takes three months to figure out how your body reacts to low cardio, so be it – that’s a lesson you’ll get to reflect on during each following planning stage.
But even though I rarely look back, there is one principle I wish I had figured out sooner. And it is something that many of you are going to benefit from as well.
In plain English, it’s as simple as this – never have a narrow focus!
And though the title of this article probably gave me away – I am going to talk about the importance of balance and flexibility training – the rationale behind it is much more complex.
Balance and flexibility should not be neglected
Balance and flexibility are way more important than most people give them credit for. And you’ll notice this by paying a single visit to any commercial gym. Everybody is being focused on strength, endurance or speed.
Guys do a tiny bit of stretching as if it was causing the most injuries known to men. Girls, on the other hand, are not any better whatsoever, performing these silly poses as a way of blending in with every possible gym stereotype.
Try and do some proper stretching, and there it is without fail – people looking at you like there is a ‘weirdo’ sign written on your forehead.
But none of that is important. And you know why? – because simply put, balance and flexibility are definitely one of the best fitness amplifiers.
They improve performance, make every exercise more effective, prevent injuries, improve speed, agility, strength, endurance, weight loss and muscle gain in general. Promoting better control over each and every movement, training for balance and flexibility finally puts you in charge of your own body. You are going to feel every inch of a movement, and every muscle firing up, like you never did before.
Needless to say, such amount of awareness will make every session much more interesting, and much more enjoyable. So let’s dive in.
Balance and flexibility improve overall performance
In a more straightforward way, we can say that exercise performance depends entirely upon having control. Being aware of each and every movement is the fastest way towards improving yourself.
If you want to become more agile, you’ll need to be super aware. If you want to become faster, you’ll need to work on your reflexes, again, striving for awareness.
But being aware puts you in control of one of the most important aspects of fitness – range of motion. When you intentionally manipulate range of motion, performance increases by a huge margin.
Some physical barriers, however, need to be addressed as well. It’s not enough to think about range of motion – you’ll have to practice it as well. Balance can easily put you in control, but you need flexibility as well in order to enable the body.
You won’t necessarily have to do Yoga, but basic stretches will pave the road towards improved flexibility and balance.
And unlike strength training, or cardio, here you won’t have to spend hundreds of dollars for equipment. We’ll get to this in just a minute, but there is a simple point I’d like to make – buying a Yoga Ball, or browsing through our category of balance boards, brings you closer to having more flexibility and control. And both usually cost less than what you’ll pay for weight plates only.
You can even order one of those cheap silk eye bags, and work on balance in pitch darkness, forcing your body to compensate for the sensory deprivation.
Prevention from injuries
When you have a well-developed core, and exercise control over every movement (read “balance”), there is little chance for sustaining an injury during training.
Coupled with flexibility, where you can move through the full movement potential of a joint, injuries quickly become a non-issue.
For the average beginner, this is good news. It is well known that a single minor injury can offset the whole trajectory of a workout program, often times stopping it dead in its tracks. A preventive measure would eliminate this altogether.
When you improve flexibility and balance parallel to strength and endurance, you enjoy what I like to call holistic fitness.
In addition – and this goes true for people who struggle with any type of an injury – training for flexibility and balance can help you create your own low-impact workout routine.
Last but not least, you’ll be able to relax the whole body, performing deep stretches before and after a strenuous workout, sometimes even dedicating an entire session to nothing but this type of work. Should you get there, foam rollers are a gift from heaven.
Starting with flexibility and balance training is easy
If you want to bench press 200 pounds, you are looking ahead at months, or quite possibly years of practice. Doing a full straddle stretch, or a nicely balanced warrior pose though, is definitely within a month’s reach.
The same can be said about nutrition – all you have to eat are light meals in order to flex your body without initiating a gag reflex, whereas training for strength would put a hole in your pocket through which hundreds of dollars will drown in expensive grocery bills.
Balance equipment, too, is way less expensive than that used for strength and cardio. The same can be said about flexibility and yoga equipment as well. Mats, yoga straps, towels and yoga blocks will always cost less than weights, barbells and most definitely machinery.
The length session of each workout is way more forgiving, and often times less than 20 minutes. You can squeeze in your balance and flexibility exercises before or right after any type of workout.
Folding up this letter, I’ll recommend putting aside one day per week where you enjoy balance and flexibility work only. Mind your level of fitness, and go one step at a time, breathing deeply throughout each and every pose. Using balance equipment, foam rollers, Swiss balls or yoga starter sets should help, but what ultimately changes everything is patience and determination – to rest outside your zone of comfort, taking one breath at a time.