One of life’s greatest challenges is finding balance – a balance between work and play, exercise and rest, growth and contentment, etc. While seemingly dichotomous, all these areas in our lives are interconnected. Balance requires intention, consistency, growth, and a gentle tug-of-war between our strengths and our weaknesses…literally and figuratively!
Balance from Movement
In last week’s blog, we discussed strength/resistance training and the power behind it for our minds AND bodies. Let’s take it one step further this week and look at creating better balance, core stability, and more through strength training. Rather than assuming doing more is better, consider variety, consistency, and creating a challenging environment. Unilateral movements, or movements that focus on one side of the body at a time, are fantastic for any strength training regimen! Although we are relatively symmetrical beings, our bodies still have a dominant side and have reacted to various stressors from the past or present leading to a “favorite” side.
For example, try one of these exercises in your next workout.
- single-leg deadlift
- single-arm overhead press
- lunges with a single-arm tricep extension
- bird dog (tabletop or plank variation)
Benefits include increased joint stability, neuromuscular coordination, and bilateral strength. Incorporating unilateral movements has also been linked to improving size symmetry and sports-related skills, as well as decrease the risk for injury and speed injury recovery. Creating equal strength around your body develops true strength and stability for your lifestyle now and as you age, which is especially important as our risk for injury increases as we age – mostly from lack of balance and strength.
While one side is being challenged muscularly, the other side experiences a neural effect. Indirect stimulation of the non-working side of the body via working the opposite side improves strength in the other area. The more we stimulate and support our nervous system, the more neurological benefits we can experience. A healthy nervous system can greatly improve the function of multiple areas in your life—aging, circulation, brain function, and digestion included!
Balance from Rest
While moving more and incorporating exercise regimens is important, committing to a rest day is just as crucial for your overall wellness. Studies have shown there are mental and physical benefits to the rest period. Rest can relieve stress, prevent over-training, increase attention span, and help you sleep better, which in turn, can support and strengthen your sense of willpower and motivation. If you are new to an exercise regimen or already regularly active, recovery is equally important to your routine. Next time you feel over-worked or tired, try…
- A slower pace! Applicable to cardiovascular, resistance, and flexibility training, tempo is important for muscles spending time under tension AND honing control and form of a specific exercise or stretch. Experiment with a slower movement pattern or a pause at the bottom of an exercise.
- A guided yoga or meditation practice in place of your workout. Yoga and meditation practices prioritize building strength from within and encourage self-healing techniques. Not only does it provide you quiet time to think, but also allows space for gentle and intentional movement to lengthen and recover muscles.
- A complete rest day! There is a difference between feeling unmotivated to workout and needing the day off so your mind and body can relax. You know what your body needs, so take a few minutes to evaluate where your head is at. Do you have the willpower and attention span to carry out a deliberate workout? Or will your body suffer from unintentional movement and risk feeling worse post-gym visit?