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The Science Behind Balance Boards for Athletes

Science of Balance Boards for Athletes

Balance boards, also known as wobble boards and rocker boards, are used by many athletes ranging from surfers to runners. Not only do they come in many different styles and types, but balance boards provide a range of benefits, such as improving balance, coordination, and posture.

In a general sense, a balance board can be used with many different movements and exercises, like squats and overhead presses to add stimulus and help strengthen the core. For injured athletes who are bouncing back from recovery, balance boards can also aid in rehabilitation and recovery.

Types of Balance Boards

There are many different balance boards available to choose from, but the best type is what suits the individual training needs of the person using it. If we talk about a balance board, it is typically a wooden flat top and is usually dome-shaped underneath in the middle, this unstable bottom in the midpoint of the board is where the balancing comes in.

types of balance boards

Rocker boards may be rectangular or may have a curved U-shape allowing the user to move from side to side and also from front to back. There are round balance boards too, some call these wobble boards too. These boards allow the user to move both sides to side and also front to back. These also allow the user to tilt the board in a circle also known as “around the world”.

Benefits of Balance Boards

Balance boards are best known for their role in injury prevention, rehabilitation, and providing training in maintaining body balance.

Balance boards provide an array of benefits:

  • Improvement in coordination, providing greater balance in posture 
  • Development of strength, especially in lower leg muscles around the ankles, knees, and hips
  • Enhanced motor skills
  • Prevention of injury especially ankle injuries
  • Rehabilitation of injuries
  • Improvement in individual’s posture

Physiotherapists usually recommend the use of balance boards for rehabilitation when there are lower leg injuries — specifically involving ankle sprains. Likewise, balance boards are a valuable training aid to prevent sports-related injuries as these also protect against falls useful for all age groups.

Balance board training is a way to improve our proprioceptive system which is the perception of our body position and its movements in a three-dimensional space.  The ability to maintain balance is a function of basically three bodily systems:

  • Our proprioceptive system
  • Our visual system
  • Our vestibular system

In other words, our body can understand its location, its movements, and its actions.

Science Supporting Balance Boards

Medical experts believe that proprioception remains there to play an important role in balancing. By using wobble boards or balance boards, we can train body muscles, ligaments, and also tendons to work together to create stability at the ankle.

The 2BFit study involved a proprioceptive balance board training program, provided in parallel to strength and athletic training. It was found effective in preventing recurrences of ankle sprains. The activity objective was to evaluate the effect of a proprioceptive balance board training program focusing on ankle sprain recurrences. The program was applied to athletes after treatment by usual care and rehabilitation.

beginner balance board

Another study found that stroke patients who could perform wobble board exercises together with conventional physiotherapy showed a noteworthy increase in their balance compared to those who did not use any balance board.

Another study in 2011 assessed the positive effects of wobble board training on body function in around two dozen older adults. It was amazing that people who used a wobble board as much as twice a week for 9 weeks showed a significantly greater increase in their standing time on their wobble board than the control group. These results fairly point out that even older adults can also improve their standing balance using wobble board training.

A study involved 30 healthy adults to see their energy consumption while at work. The researchers considered participants’ energy consumption while using a balance board while standing on a regular flat surface and also while sitting. Participants were asked to perform typing for 1.5 hours, which was like 30 minutes in each of the 3 positions-using balance board, standing, and sitting. Energy consumption results showed that energy consumption during the use of a balance board happened to be 14.2% compared to standing or sitting.

Exercises When Using a Balance Board 

For the new users, here are five exercises to target some key muscle groups. But beginners must consult a professional trainer to play safely. Not limited to lower body workouts, the exercises can be:

  • Maintaining a basic balance while closing one or both eyes
  • Mini squats targeting one’s glutes, core muscles, calves, and quadriceps. And hamstrings.
  • Maintaining a plank position 
  • Going from plank to push-up
  • Glute bridges and hamstring activating exercises

Balance Board Precautions 

Like any other piece of exercise equipment, a typical balance board can also potentially be misused or cause damage, primarily if the board is not used correctly. The significant drawback of a typical balance board is ironically also one reason it is such a great fitness tool requiring the user to balance on a sort of unstable surface.

Improving balance together with ankle strength are the key benefits of this area of training. But if the user has weak or even injured ankles, has problems with knees or even hips, or has some limitations with balance, using a balance board in such circumstances may present some challenges as well as safety issues which include an increased risk of individual falling.

If the user is new to exercise or has any problems with his/her ankles, knees or hips, one must consider consulting a physical therapist or some certified personal trainer. They can be of great help in teaching the use of a balance board correctly.

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Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler