The qualities of balance, coordination and agility

Exercise in the outdoors burns 20 per cent more calories

If you are ever spectating at an event, take the opportunity to look at the running form of the participants. You will probably notice that, generally speaking, the runners at the front of the field look more efficient and smooth as they run and those at the back look awkward and possibly a little clumsy. Why is this?

It may well be because those at the front have been doing it longer, been doing it since they were young or have been working with a good coach who has recognised the importance of good technique, co-ordination and balance. Many who come into running late and have had a lack of physical training in their formative years don't have the balance, co-ordination, posture and strength to hold good running form for the duration of a distance event.

For this reason, runners who come into running late should include the sort of training that they would have had as a youngster. Many people start running because they want to get round a 5k, 10k or longer to raise money for charity and so they go straight into running and walking lots of miles. This builds up their aerobic fitness but it will only take them so far before lack of work on the fundamental ABCs puts them at risk of injury or prevents progress in running further or covering the distance faster.

So what can you do to improve your balance and co-ordination which, with a little speed added in for good measure, improves agility? Well none of it will happen over night and it will need to become a permanent part of your training programme but the good news is that it is FUN! It will be just like going back to the playground for games such as hop scotch!

First of all let's look at balance.
To be well-balanced you need to have your centre of mass directly above the point where you touch the ground. Your centre of mass is the centre part of your body. It will probably be somewhere around your belly button. Practise standing with your feet facing forwards, around shoulder-width apart and with your centre of mass directly on top of them. You should be balanced in that position. To fully appreciate this you could bring your feet in together and then sway gently from side to side. You will see that you can only sway a little way before you are in danger of toppling over. Next put your feet wide apart and gently sway front to back. Again you will notice that you can only go a little way before you are in danger of toppling fowards or backwards.
Once you have found your best balanced position start to introduce walking, running and even dancing and think carefully about keeping your centre of mass over your feet as they touch the ground. Have fun with it - put on some music or clap your hands in a steady beat and place your feet on the ground in rhythm with the beat!

Remember, balance is placing the centre of mass above the point with which you make contact with the ground. When you run, this is your feet, but if you are doing strengthening exercises you may have hands and feet on the ground so your centre of mass needs to be balanced as if it is the top of a triangle with hands and feet being the other two corners.

Next start to think about posture.  Stand tall, as if a helium balloon is attached to a string that is attached to the top of your head and is gently pulling you upward. Again your feet should be shoulder-width apart and pointing straight forward. Tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling your bellybutton inward and your rib cage downward. Pull your shoulders back and downward while keeping your arms relaxed. Again, start to introduce movement. Start slowly by walking and then try some running with the balloon still 'attached' to your head.

Now let's bring in some coordination. Coodination is the ability to organise your limbs in sequence to perform movement patterns. The best way to do this is to play! You will be having so much fun that you won't even realise that you are improving your coordination. Re-visit your childhood and get back in touch with games such as hopscotch. If you become really good at it challenge yourself to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time as you are performing hopscotch or do windmills with your arms where one arm turns forwards and the other turns backwards! Tag is another good one as you will need to dodge your playmate and get away quickly. If you could set up an obstacle course that involves climbing, crawling and jumping you will improve coordination, balance and speed and so be on your way to becoming as agile as the runners in the lead pack!