by Stephanie Sharpe, MoFi Exercise Editor
The human body is not rigid and is able to move through three anatomical planes at different speeds with different forces being applied. This ability requires strength, endurance, and coordination of the neuromuscular system. An inefficient neuromuscular system can lead to inefficient movements and injury. This is where balance training becomes important. Balance and stability have a functional role in all activities from simply standing to playing sports or carrying groceries.
Facilitation simply means to make easier. With neural facilitation this means that the more times an impulse passes through a certain set of neurons, the easier it will become. Bad movements can be facilitated just as easily as good movements. Balance and neural facilitation thus go hand in hand.
The more times a movement is done, the more oligodendrocytes are stimulated to produce myelin sheaths that wrap around the axon which speeds up and improves neural conductivity to motor units (Moy, 2011). In other words, neural facilitation is the result of physical changes in the pathway of neurons (Muscolino, 2011). In terms of correcting bad patterned behavior, these myelin sheaths need to be overwritten by new, correct myelin sheaths. In order to do this, a correct movement needs to be repeated over and over and over.
It is important to be familiar with neural facilitation because it will help to incorporate basic workout principles to gain and maintain proper movement mechanics. Proper movement mechanics requires effective proprioceptive communication between joints and muscles (Sharman and Cresswell, 2006). Ineffective communication can lead to dysfunctional movement patterns. A good personal trainers’ job is to help correct these dysfunctions. One way of doing this is proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). PNF has been shown to enhance joint range of motion more quickly and efficiently than static or ballistic stretching (Sharman and Cresswell, 2006). It can be used to increase flexibility, strength, and coordination. Optimum performance and unified movements can be gained by the coordination of complementary muscles (Cook and Fields, 1997).
Balance training helps improve the communication between the brain and muscles which improves coordination. It also helps with muscle isolation and forces and individual to engage certain muscles at specific times. An increased calorie burn happens when more muscles are being used to stabilize the body which can ultimately help with weight loss. Balance training increases hip and core stabilization which helps with coordination, athletic skill, and posture. Incorporating balance training into a workout can prevent lower extremity injuries such as ankle sprains and ACL injuries (Clark, Sutton, & Lucett, 2014). Training under unstable conditions will stress the neuromuscular system more than training under stable conditions which lead to improved coordination between stabilizers, agonists, antagonists, and synergists (Anderson and Behm, 2005). Since less resistance is necessary to achieve a high level of muscle activation when working with an unstable platform, balance training is effective for progressive joint and muscle rehabilitation as well as sport specific training (Anderson and Behm, 2005).
Core stability is essential for everyday living including walking as well as fitness goals. These goals could include lifting weights for muscle gain, running for weight loss, changing directions quickly for sports, enhancing a golf swing, or increasing strike force in baseball or MMA.
If arms and legs are strong but the core is weak, optimal movement cannot be obtained because there is not enough trunk stabilization created to produce efficient movement. Inefficient core strength can lead to compensations and poor posture during various activities. It can also lead to muscle imbalances. Decreased core stability can lead to a higher risk of low back and knee injury. Studies have been conducted on individuals with these types of injuries in which were found impaired postural control, delayed muscle reflex responses following sudden trunk unloading, and abnormal trunk muscle recruitment patterns (Borghuis, Hof, & Lenmink, 2008). Also, without proper pelvic or core stabilization, excessive pressure and compression can be placed on the lumbar spine.
Individuals may train the core inadequately, incorrectly, or even too advanced which can have negative effects. It is important to begin core training with the drawing-in and bracing maneuvers. These will help to improve posture, muscle balance, and stabilization by engaging both local and global stabilizer systems (Clark, Sutton, & Lucett, 2014).
The quality of any exercise is more important than the quantity; meaning repetitions or weight, and as quality is able to be maintained, then weight and/or repetitions can increase. You will not always be in the stability phase but will be able to progress once mastery at one level is achieved. Even professional athletes need to create and maintain strong core stability.
Balance and stability are a part of everything we do which includes any fitness goals we may have. It is important to know that stabilization will not increase muscle mass directly, but will prepare the body for the work necessary for building muscle by stabilizing joints and connective tissues. This is very important for lifting, running, or sports training. Just like with core training, balance training will progress from stabilization to strength to power as you become stronger. A good selling point for stabilization training may be that the exercises can be fun and altered with different surfaces and conditions to keep the body guessing and the interest high.
Anderson, K., & Behm, D. G. (2005). The impact of instability resistance training on balance and stability. Sports Medicine, 35 (1), 43-53.
Borghuis, J., Hof, A.L., and Lenmink, K.A. (2008). The importance of sensory-motor control in providing core stability; Implications for measurement and training. Sports Med, 38 (11), 893-916.
Clark, M.A., Sutton, B., and Lucett, S.C. (2014). NASM essentials of personal fitness training (4th ed.). United States.
Cook, G. and Fields, K. (1997). Functional training for the torso. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 19(2), 14-19.
Moy, D. (2011). Neurological laws part 1: The law of facilitation and the magic of myelin. Retrieved from: http://kineticchainspecialist.com/142/neurological-laws-part-1-the-law-of-facilitation-and-the-magic-of-myelin/
Muscolino, J.E. (2011). Kinesiology: The skeletal system and muscle function (2nd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Sharman, M.J. and Cresswell, A.G. (2006). Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching: Mechanisms and clinical implications. Sports Medicine, 36(11), 929-939.