In 1974 I had my first job as an archaeologist. My crew was excavating waterlogged bits of 2000-year-old basketry from Musqueum in Southwest Vancouver. One morning, while standing on the edge of a pit, I lost my balance. I recall standing on one leg and kicking my other one in a roughly circular fashion in a seemingly uncontrolled twitch. My dance caught the attention of the rest of the crew in the pit three metres below. They moved out of the way to get a better look as I struggled to regain my balance

 Unfortunately, the vibrations caused a good portion of the wall to avalanche into the pit, with me riding the top. A co-worker told me later that my hat hovered for a few seconds before fluttering into the pit. “Mike, stop showing off,” said the director. “Use the ladder like everyone else.”

 Balance is an important aspect of fitness. Sports medicine expert Elizabeth Quinn (2008) writes that it is a basic skill that allows the body to respond to changes in the centre of gravity that change with every movement. It governs agility – which, in turn determines how well you perform at every sport. Balance concerns proprioception – the way the body senses its position in three-dimensional space. Sensors in muscle, tendons, skin, and ears tell us where all our body parts are with respect to one’s centre of gravity, and what we need to do, both consciously and unconsciously, to maintain our centres of gravity.

 One should train balance. Shepherd (n.d.) declares that it is at least as important to train for balance as it is to train for strength and speed. Balance training exercises generally involve putting yourself at risk of falling over and allowing the muscles to do what they need to do to prevent this. Balance can also be retrained after injury (Ting, 2007)

 Quinn gives the example of standing on one leg and leaning over to touch the floor, then returning to the standing position. I teach a variation in my fitness classes by adding forward momentum. Participants leap forward and land on one foot, hold that position for a few beats, then launch off that foot to land on the other.

 Balance boards are useful. Generally they are round or rectangular boards with a hemispherical base. Simply standing on it is challenging enough to train balance.

 Exercise balls are excellent for training balance. Here are a few exercises for proprioception I have my participants do both individually and in class:

1.   Ball Crunches

 Do crunches with the ball positioned under the small of your back. Challenge your balance by lifting one leg, or by shifting your position to one side.

 2.    Catch

Have the participants face each other and play catch with a small gym ball while perched on the exercise ball. Try to lift one or both legs while throwing or catching.

 3. Ball Wrestling

Have the class pair up and sitting on the ball. With one foot on the ball, the opponents push each other. It doesn’t take much to toy with balance.

 4.    Kneeling on the ball

I can now kneel on an exercise ball for five nanoseconds without support. I continue to challenge myself for time on the ball rather than tackling the next step – standing on the ball. I hate explaining what I was doing to the emergency staff as they set my broken arm.

 Balance training can improve agility and prevent falling, but falling needn’t spell disaster. Some falls have a silver landing. After my avalanche at Musqueum, I emerged from my mud brandishing a spoon that fashioned 2000 years ago out of a mountain goat horn.


Quinn, E. (2008) “How to improve performance and reduce ankle sprains.”

 Shepherd, J. (n.d.) “Proprioception – taking a balanced approach to sport.” Peak Performance,

 Ting, L. Georgia Institute of Technology. “Simulation Reveals How Body Repairs Balance After Damage.” ScienceDaily 26 September 2007. 2 March 2008­/releases/2007/09/070925160637.htm

 Mike Broderick is an Employment Specialist for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby where he finds employment for people with physical disabilities. Part of this work means affiliation with the Vancouver Board of Trade where he is a member of the Ambassador Club, the Burnaby Board of Trade where he is a member of the Labour Task Force, the Tri Cities Chamber of Commerce where he is an active member of the 10X10 initiative, and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce. He does some work as a field Archaeologist and is a fitness instructor and frequent contributor of fitness humour articles to alive magazine in Port Coquitlam. You can reach him at home at or at or at 604-464-4195.  If you’re looking for a career change, he is the Spin Doctor and can give you a resume makeover at competitive rates When he is not doing all this he lives in Port Coquitlam with his partner Cecelia.



  1. Sharon Says:

    Good info, Mike. At least you earned a goat spoon for your effort. I bought Jonathan a bison horn spoon at his first pow-wow. What about us wimps who get dizzy rolling over in bed?

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