One of the most important components of Fitness is balance. Balance is both an ability and a description/assessment of functionality. That is, balance is the ability to move with flow and control, even when moving on or through an uneven, unstable or unpredictable environment. Can you stay on your feet, can you move without losing your center of gravity, can you move efficiently without using excessive energy to remain steady and stable?
Balance is a description or assessment in the sense that within your body there should be an equal or mostly equal level of strength/flexibility/relaxation/mobility in both sides of your body. So if your right hamstring is significantly tighter than your left hamstring, then you are not balanced functionally or structurally, relative to each of these muscles. And if the right hamstring is weak and the right quadriceps - which is the antagonist to the hamstring (it performs the opposite movement) is strong, then that also is an imbalance.
Why does this matter? Because a lack of balance leads to injuries, to joint disfunction, to fatigue and to an ongoing obstacle to enjoying your life.
The good news is that poor balance can be corrected through conditioning and motor skill development. As with most physical corrections, the fitness program begins with an assessment. We have to locate the imbalances and assess the degree to which the muscles, fascia, joints, etc are out of balance. Is it a strength/weakness issue, is it excessive tension in the muscle? Perhaps lack of muscle tone and a general softness and flacid feel is apparent. Are there postural abnormalities like forward head, rounded shoulders? Is the chest sunken, does one shoulder rise higher than the other. Is one foot turned out, the other in? There is a lengthy list of possible structural imbalances.
On the functional side of the assessment, we look for uneven movements (like walking with one arm moving forward and one moving backwards). We look for rhythm variations, faster and slower movements that combine to throw off the control and flow of a step or a reach, or a twist. Can we see the client move through a full range of motion?
And, of course, I want to know how it all feels to you. Do you feel off-balance? Do you bump into things, do you fall, do you need to hold onto furniture as you move through a room. Can you avoid bumping into others in a crowded place.
This assessment doesn't have to be quantified - no need for numbers. I don't need to measure precisely the degree to which things are out of balance. This isn't a research study. What I need is the big picture and time enough to guide my client through the steps needed to make the changes.
Now, most people with balance issues have made some effort to deal with them. Virtually all of my clients past the age of forty have given some thought to balance as a health and quality of life concern. Often clients will show me the one-foot stance they were shown by their doctor or physical therapist as an exercise to build the ability to balance.
This is fine as far as it goes - which is usually as far as the client will actually practice this at home. But even if you do this exerise every day for months, the fact remains that it only addresses one small part of the change you are trying to make. Standing on one foot is static exercise. You are not moving and most falls don't happen when you are not moving. So the static has to be combined with the dynamic - you have to learn how (and build the strength and mobility) to walk, to squat, to bend over, to lunge walk and step up and down. Lateral (sideways) movement is vital, rotation is vital, slow versus quick movements must be practiced.
General conditioning is absolutely required to make a true change in balance. Overall body strength, joint mobility, core strength, postural adjustments and the usual comprehensive approach to training are what we need to bring the body back to the center. You can learn to shift your body weight in all directions while maintaining the center of gravity. You can learn to relax the muscles that aren't needed and to recruit the muscles that actually do control the action, and to bring those muscles into play in the proper sequence and the correct rythm.
There are whole schools of movement training that will accomplish the development of balance. Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, any of the martial arts, all are useful ways to learn balance. But I would emphasize that the greater he balance deficit, the more important it is that you use personal training as a start to your fitness program. Classes certainly can help, but one-to-one attention will get you jumpstarted and get you off on the right foot. You'll learn in detail what the issues are, what's weak, what's strong, what to modify or avoid. Then if you decide to go with a group class you are much more likely to continue with it over time. The frustration that comes with not knowing what is wrong is avoided in large part when you work with a trained, experienced conditioning specialist who is focused entirely on your situation and needs.
So that's the balance "big picture". The nice thing about fitness training is that it's all connected. If I work on a client's strength, that has a positive influence on her/his balance. If I work on balance we get an improvement in strength. When you improve any component of fitness, you improve your whole body/mind complex. So work on some of it - just get started - eventually, you'll see a difference in all of it.