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How to enhance and maintain balance

By PoliceOne Guest Columnist Inspector Kelly Keith
Atlantic Police Academy

Balance is defined as the ability to maintain the center of mass over a base of support and is sometimes referred to as the relationship between the ears and the hips. Your bodies' center of gravity is an inch or two above or below your navel.

Why is balance important to a police officer? If we lose our balance when attacked we are likely to be in a ground fight.

As a police officer being on the ground does NOT mean we are losing but it does have some disadvantages such as:

  • Police officer is more susceptible to injury
  • Psychological/physical disadvantage for officer
  • Psychological/physical advantage for suspect
  • Increased dangers from multiple attackers
  • Disarming chances increased
  • Extremely exhausting to officer
  • Poor delivery system for officer’s striking techniques and intermediate weapons
  • Cannot immediately disengage from subject

As trainers we generally train our officers to fight to their feet or in the case of officers physical dominance to cuffing position. Statistics show that the three most common ways officers wind up on the ground is:

    • Pushing officer to the ground
    • Pulling officer to the ground
    • Tackling officer to the ground

Hopefully we all train our officers or take it upon ourselves to know what to do once on the ground but if we understand and train on "balance" we may not have to deal with going to the ground!

The most stable support is when we have our feet just wider than shoulder width apart. This is not always possible during confrontations however by understanding this concept and attempting to keep a wide stance (or base of support) will mean that you are less likely to be taken to the ground. A stable base of support allows an officer to change direction easily but too wide a stance such as the "horse stance" where you have a very wide base of support is too wide to allow you to change direction quickly which is not a good trade off. Lowering your center of gravity also adds stability but again if you lower your body too low you will again sacrifice the ability to change direction quickly.

So we understand the importance of balance and how to stay in balance but how do we train balance? The answer is by training "off balance".

  • By simply making our base of support smaller (standing on one foot or having feet close together) our balance is challenged. A great example to increase balance and stimulate muscle fibers, that would generally not be stimulated, is by standing on one foot while doing some exercises. No I’m not crazy. Let’s say you are going to do 3 sets of dumbbell curls. Do the first 2 sets on both feet and then the third set alternate standing on one foot for the first 5 repititions and the opposite foot for the remaining five. You can do this with almost any exercise where you are standing such are presses, side raises, tricep pushdowns, etc.
  • Use Balance training tools such as Bosu Balls, Balance Boards or Bongo Boards. Try doing squats while you’re attempting to maintain your balance (I do not recommend squats on Physio balls as a fall can easily mean a torn ACL – Always look at is the risk worth the benefit?). I am not asking anyone to give up their power or strength training, simply adding an element to their training, which in the end will give the user more strength and power in an unstable environment.
  • Our visual system has a great deal to do with balance. Simply by closing your eyes and standing up your postural sway will increase 20 – 70 %. So to stress your balance you can do activities, closing your eyes such as safe standing stretches, easy slow kicks to a bag etc.
  • Then there is dynamic balance training such as rag doll drills where each person has a good quality Judo Gi on. You stand within arms reach and grab onto the collars. You DO NOT try to torque your partner down to the ground, this may cause injury; you simply try to displace his balance while he tries to displace yours. Once the person’s balance is displaced (IE: one foot off the ground) you start again. This is enhanced if you take the interview stance to do these drills from which makes it more specific training to your job!
  • Your CORE strength (Butt and Gut) is of the utmost importance in keeping balance and should be utilized during all balance training. Using medicine balls, and physio balls are great ways to have dynamic and functional core strength exercises.
  • Using Physio balls for dumbbell chest presses instead of a flat secure bench is a great way to address functional strength and balance (use light weights and/or a spotter first). Think about the benefits of adding in balance challenging exercises into every routine!

Start varying your routine to address balance and you will see great results in balance and strength. Utilize the principle I have mentioned above by varying your base of support (feet) and use your imagination (safely) to work with these principles.

In future articles I will address specific exercises and their relevance.

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