Train balance and coordination

Sport is more than strength and endurance. Those who practice keeping their balance prevent injuries and strengthen the whole body. Six coordination exercises as an example

When was the last time you stood on one leg? Walked on an uneven meadow? Hoped down a flight of stairs? Balanced over a tree trunk? Many adults rarely or never do such things. "But whenever we make balance difficult for ourselves, we train the interaction between muscles and the nervous system," explains Astrid Zech, Professor of Movement and Exercise Science at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena.

Experts speak of sensorimotor skills. The disturbance of the balance wakes up the sensors in the joints and muscles. Muscles learn to react faster and to take countermeasures - with motor skills, i.e. with coordinated movements. "That stabilizes joints and prevents injuries," explains Zech.

Lower risk of injury

Scientific studies confirm this protection especially for ankles and knees in soccer and other team sports. The risk of injury is reduced by around 40 percent.

Many professional athletes have therefore been using the effects of special balance training for a long time. Physiotherapists also practice their sensorimotor skills with patients, for example after joint injuries or strokes. In this way, seniors prevent falls.

However, many amateur athletes have so far ignored the important cooperation between their muscles, tendons, joints and neurons. "Unfortunately, many people have not yet recognized the value," says Freiburg sports scientist Albert Gollhofer, who, like Zech, has been researching the topic for years. Sport is more than just training strength and endurance. "But anyone who still pulls themselves up to exercise after a long day at the office often just wants to sweat, burn up calories and build muscle," says Professor Gollhofer with regret.

Stability is required

Sensorimotor exercises can be quite exhausting. The difficulty can be graded and increased in many ways. For completely untrained people, it can be a challenge to stand on one leg for longer and not make any compensatory movements.

It gets more complicated with an unstable surface, for example on a wobbly board or a soft floor mat. This particularly appeals to the stabilizing small foot muscles. Anyone who also manages to throw a ball back and forth in these positions or close their eyes during the exercises has arrived in the advanced league. A number of fitness studios and sports clubs now offer their customers and members such small devices for wobbly exercises.

Coordination exercises

Perform each of the following exercises slowly and in a controlled manner, eight to twelve times each, in two to three series.

Many beginners find sensorimotor sling training to be particularly challenging. Hooking your arms or feet into the loops attached to the ceiling challenges your whole body. "The entire musculature has to work. And also entire muscle groups that serve to stabilize the joints and are otherwise hardly used," says expert Astrid Zech. Unilateral muscles, as can be created with typical gym machines, are thus avoided. At least at the beginning you should definitely be accompanied by a trainer.

Exercise deep, small muscles

Sensorimotor exercises are particularly effective in treating back pain. "Many of our patients have already been diligent in the gym and have trained various muscles in isolation. But only when the deep, small muscles of their spine are addressed does a significant improvement actually occur," reports Dr. Bernd Möhring, head of orthopedics at the outpatient rehabilitation center in Oldenburg.

Many therapists - like Möhring - are now focusing on strengthening the neuromuscular interaction of their back patients. A research project by the Federal Institute for Sports Science confirms the medical professionals' good practical experience. With the disruptive stimuli, getting out of balance, the core muscles are strengthened more effectively than with traditional strength training alone.

For a better body feeling

So far, scientists have investigated the effects mainly in elderly people with health problems and young competitive athletes. "But it can be assumed that middle-aged recreational athletes will also benefit from sensorimotor training and that everyday functionality will improve in working people," says Zech.

Thanks to the exercises, complex movement sequences become smoother, more efficient and more automated. The feeling for your own body gets better. If you run down a flight of stairs quickly, you feel safer. The brain and body learn to react faster. This can be an advantage in sudden situations in traffic. "Overall, you become more mobile," says Zech. And of course everyone benefits if they twist their feet less easily or twist their knees - regardless of whether they are wearing new high heels or jogging.