MASTER CLASS: Letting nature take its course is an easy way to lose your balance

CrossFit trainer Nick Stewart demonstrates the Single Leg BOSU Balance in a studio at Little Rock Racquet Club, for Matt Parrott's Master Class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)
CrossFit trainer Nick Stewart demonstrates the Single Leg BOSU Balance in a studio at Little Rock Racquet Club, for Matt Parrott's Master Class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

Ankle strength and flexibility are both important elements of body control and balance. Walking on a flat surface in cushioned tennis shoes can be good exercise, but it doesn't specifically address the ankle structure.

This week, I will share a few tips for improving foot and ankle strength with simple movements that are appropriate for almost anyone. Plus, I will introduce a specific exercise designed to challenge the ankles using one of my favorite pieces of equipment — the BOSU ball.

"Nature versus nurture" is a phrase that most people are familiar with. Essentially, this refers to the advantages of taking a more difficult path in life. For our purposes, nurture -- what you choose to do with and to your body — can counter or improve the effects of nature — what happens if you do nothing. Hard work usually pays off, one way or another. I've always been a fan of this phrase because it can be used for daily motivation.

The phrase is particularly applicable for personal health and wellness. A physical activity program forces the body to grow and adapt in ways that wouldn't otherwise be possible without exercise. In fact, the body declines without it. So, that's why "nature versus nurture" is so applicable. The easy, and more comfortable choice (no nurture) is to remain sedentary — but the end result (poor health) is undesirable.

For ankle strength specifically, nature versus nurture really applies. The more a person challenges the ankle structure, the more stable it will become.

Hiking is one of the greatest ways to strengthen the ankles, feet and lower body. The uneven, rocky terrain in Arkansas is a perfect training ground for hikers, and regular hiking will typically result in great balance, strong ankles and a powerful cardiovascular system.

But there are also some great ways to train the ankles without venturing into the woods. Lateral movements, lunges and little cone obstacle courses are great ways to keep the lower body strong in the gym. The BOSU ball is also an incredible tool for challenging ankle strength and stability. It's a tool that is often used in a physical therapy setting for those who have sustained ankle injuries.

This week's exercise is performed with the BOSU ball and is appropriate for almost anyone. The Single Leg BOSU Balance takes a little getting used to, which is why I recommend starting against a wall or another stable support you can touch.

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1. Position yourself next to a wall with a BOSU ball on the floor — flat side up.

2. Place your right foot in the center of the BOSU and hold onto the wall with your right hand for balance.

3. When you're ready, lift your left foot off the floor and raise the left knee up.

4. Try to let go of the wall and balance on your right foot only while stabilizing the BOSU.

5. Hold this position for 20 seconds, then repeat with the left leg.

6. Perform three on each side.

This is a great way to strengthen the ankles in a very controlled, low risk environment. The BOSU could feel unstable at first, but the body adjusts incredibly fast. It's one of those exercises that can become easy after the first few sets, so I sometimes add a little extra challenge by moving the BOSU from side to side as I balance. Enjoy!

Director of business development and population health solutions for Quest Diagnostics, Matt Parrott began this column Jan. 6, 2003, at Little Rock. He has a doctorate in education (sport studies), a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

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