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Balance and Flexibility

Balance and Flexibility

Essential Components For Outdoor Athletes, by Trace Adams
courtesy of Adventure World Magazine

Balance and flexibility are essential components for any athlete. Outside enthusiasts are no different. Outdoor athletes gain agility, and muscular efficiency through such training. There are many exercises that develop the body’s neurological and kinesthetic abilities. These practices relate to improved coordination and space awareness with the aim of increasing performance, as well as safety.

Another term for this physiological model is proprioception, which can be defined as the process whereby the body can manipulate muscular contractions in immediate response to external forces. For example, changes in technical terrain, incline, or traction may be met with speed and fluidity.

Numerous activities are biomechanically linear in nature, such as road cycling, swimming, and road running. However, several of today’s adventure sports demand a greater range of motion. For instance rock climbing, mountain biking, and trail running move through many different anatomical planes and degrees of freedom. This is where balance training becomes imperative. According to Tina Vindum, founder of Outdoor Action Fitness, “Balance is the most neglected component of fitness there is. Exceptional balance is not something you are born with. You have to practice it to own it.” For the outdoor athlete, the most effective way to improve balance is to train specifically and use Mother Nature as equipment. By walking across low-lying fences, fallen trees, and bounding from rock to rock, balance can be improved without the use of a health club membership. That being said, there are several excellent inexpensive pieces of home equipment that can be used in order to greatly increase balance ability. The exercise ball is the most common form of indoor balance training and can be purchased at any department store. Other less known items are the BOSU, Wobble Board, and Cordisc. Although a primarily indoor means of training, they can be highly effective for outdoor athletes. Consult a specific athletic store or an Internet site for these fitness tools.

Another important component of any fitness regime is flexibility. There are over 660 muscles in the human body. Weak, inflexible muscles produce little power and are likely to experience pulls and strains. Strengthening and stretching muscles will have the potential to significantly improve athletic performance. One study estimated that up to 80 percent of all running injuries resulted from muscle weakness, muscular imbalance, or lack of flexibility. Jeff Jackson of Trail Running Magazine writes, “By strengthening the core and extremities and making space in the joints, you prevent injury and promote recovery.” Smooth and controlled stretching is the most effective means of increasing flexibility.

For anyone who hikes, mountain bikes, climbs, or paddles, balance and flexibility are essential components for performance and injury prevention. There are many ways to improve both of these abilities either through individual exercises, or endeavors such as yoga or tai chi. Choose a variety of activities that apply to your specific outdoor interest. Muscular strength and an effective cardiovascular system are important; however balance and flexibility bring all physiological aspects together to create a well working human performance machine.

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