Aging and Loss of Balance

Can we prevent the loss of physical ability with aging.

Muscle Fiber Type2A and Type2B

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muscle structure
Reprinted from NSCA Essentials of Personal Training – Editors Human Kinetics

I believe it is important to mention muscles and the various types of skeletal muscle used within the body. No discussion will be given to ATP, ATD, or glycolic for muscle contraction or muscle action.

The skeletal muscles are a mixture of 3 types of muscle fibers (type 1, type 2a and type 2b), but their proportions vary depending on the action of that muscle. It must be remembered that skeletal muscles, although a mixture, can only have one type of muscle fiber within a motor unit. This is demonstrated if we look at contractions. E.g. If a weak contraction is needed only the type 1 motor units will be activated. These fibers are used mainly for endurance activities. Endurance type activates would be defined as running, walking, swimming, etc. If a stronger contraction is required the type 2a fibers will be activated or used to assist the type 1 fibers. Maximal contractions facilitate the use of type 2b fibers which are always activated last. These fibers are used during ballistic activities but tire easily.

Reasoning through these facts, balance (balancing) would be the type of muscle response requiring fast reaction to prevent a possible fall employing type2a and type2b for action.

The total number of skeletal muscle fibers has traditionally been thought not to change. It is believed there are no sex or age differences in fiber distribution, however, relative fiber types vary considerably from muscle to muscle and person to person. Sedentary men and women (as well as young children) have 45% type 2 and 55% type 1 fibers. More physically active people or those who perform physical exercise involving muscles for strength activity will have a greater percentage of type2a and type2b.

The type2a and type2b are the muscle cells lost through the aging process (sarcopenia). With this presented information, the importance of strength training activities as we age should be an apparent necessity in one’s life.

The following is a you tube video showing muscle structure and use.

Skeletal Muscle Structure – YouTube




Written by trainmas

December 3, 2011 at 4:31 am

Bulgarian Split Squat

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Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian Split Squat. I am not sure if it sounds sexy
or sinister. With either consideration, it is a different type
of squat from what you have performed in the past.

Why the interest with the Bulgarian Spilt Squat? The movement is similar to a lunge, the exception being the rear foot is  balancing on an object.

The effort not only works leg strength to a very large  extended, but it also works muscles used for balance in the leg region. Those muscles in the lower leg are what we are trying to target and strengthen with exercises for improved balance.

The advantage of this movement is you are working the  gluteus, quadriceps, and hamstring muscles very deeply while maintianing  your balance on a bench or similiar support.

Correspondingly you are using these muscles and the muscles in the calf region: gastrocnemius, soleus
and peroneus to maintain and develop your balance.

The TRX cable system has become very popular. The TRX system can be used to duplicate a Bulgarian squat. More balance technique is required  to perform the moment.

Below are You Tube videos showing the technique  in greater detail.

Bulgarian Split Squat – You Tube introduction:Bulgarian Split Squat using TRX

Squat showing form –

Squat with 55lb dumbbell in each hand showing excellent form


Tai Chi Classes at Normandale C.C. aid in balance maintenance as we age.

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Pushing the age barriers and sensing a slow loss of lower tai chi posbody balance control over the past few years, I had considered taking a Tai Chi class being offered at Normandale Community College in Bloomington. Years past, I had taken Tae Kwon Do while living in Madison, Wisconsin. But, that was years past and I felt it was not necessary to go to those extremes of martial arts.

Jose Figueroa was the instructor for the Tai Chi classes at Normandale Community College. I found him to be extremely patience, knowledgeable and above all else well skilled in demonstrating the movements. Jose Tai Chi experience exceeds two decade. Jose is the owner and operator of the Mind Body Synergy Institute..

The positive result was a noticeable improvement in my balance. No, I can’t compete with the twenty years olds on the floor, and that was not my intent.

While Tai Chi can be considered a branch of marital arts, the movements are slower requiring a body flow or movement versus rapid explosive efforts. While my leg strength is above average, I soon learned I was lacking good balance while standing or posing on one foot. My background in strength training has made me aware of the loss of muscles cells and balance through the aging process. The down side of this statement is muscle cell loss start at the approximate age of 40, then rapidly increase after the age of 65 with a rapid loss of sense of balance.tai chi balance

With purely a health emphasis, t’ai chi classes have become popular in hospitals, clinics, and community and senior centers in the last twenty years or so, as baby boomers age and the art’s reputation as a low-stress training for seniors became better known.

Researchers have found that intensive t’ai chi practice shows some favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and has shown to reduce the risk of falls in both healthy elderly patients,[2] and those recovering from chronic stroke,[1] heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and fibromyalgia

T’ai chi, along with yoga, has reduced levels of LDLs 20–26 milligrams when practiced for 12–14 weeks. A thorough review of most of these studies showed limitations or biases that made it difficult to draw firm conclusions on the benefits of t’ai chi.[2] A later study led by the same researchers conducting the review found that t’ai chi (compared to regular stretching) showed the ability to greatly reduce pain and improve overall physical and mental health in people over 60 with severe osteoarthritis of the knee.

(1.) Wolf, SL; Sattin
RW & Kutner M (2003). “Intense tai chi exercise training and fall
occurrences in older, transitionally frail adults: a randomized, controlled
trial”. Journal of the American Geriatric Society 51 (12): 1693–701.
doi:10.1046/j.1532-5415.2003.51552.x. PMID 14687346

(2.). a b c Wang, C; Collet JP & Lau J (2004). “The
effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes in patients with chronic conditions: a
systematic review”. Archives of Internal Medicine 164 (5): 493–501.
doi:10.1001/archinte.164.5.493. PMID 15006825.

Photo Credits: From Mr. Figueroa’s book “Pratical Tai Chi” retrieved

Ballroom Dance aids in Maintaining Physical Balance

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The Joys and Fun of Ballroom dance can be a good technique for physical balance development and lower body muscle maintenance. Look at the man in the first image and you will see he is on what is known as the balls of his feet.

This is a balance technique used in all forms of dance. In a dance such as the Waltz the movements are much slower requiring more control.

One of the fun methods and entertaining ways to work on balance is through social dancing. Argentine Tango is considered the best dance venue for balance development and practice. The Tango is slow, and one must purposefully step to the beat while maintaining the balance with their partner.

Ballroom dancing, while not as slow as the Tango, requires balancing skills
or the development of balancing skills to complex dance movements.champion ballroom

Community Education courses provided by Edina, Bloomington
and Burnsville provide a wide variety of begining dance lesson for a modest cost.

Within the Twin Cites there are a large variety of dance studio providing class for all of the type and levels of dance. Some of the more popular studios are listed below.

Dance with Lois Donnay
4 Seasons
Social Dance Studio
On Your Toes School of Dance
Champion Ballroom

Written by trainmas

October 23, 2011 at 2:42 am

Strength Training of the Lower Body

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How does strength training of the lower body affect one’s balance?
A simple test to check your body’s balance ability is:

    1. Stand on one leg with knee flexed
    2. Bring the free foot up to the bend in the back of your knee (foot/ankle behind knee joint
    3. If you need to hold on to something for temporary balance, maintain the hold just long to establish balance
    4. Use your hand positions to help establish a free balance, but do not hold on to anything

Depending on your balance ability, you should be able to hold a balance position for 5 seconds or more. The goal would be maintaining a one legged free balance stand for one minute on each leg individually.

If you tried this and maintained your balance for five seconds or more with both legs tested, and you’re 50 or over, you have surpassed normalcy.

If you could not hold a 5 second balance without struggling, you need to take this seriously. Either you have started to lose balance strength, or that strength never existed. As you age, you will loss more and more of your balancing ability. The proverb of use or use lose it applies very well here.

Why is this simple task so important? In an earlier post I stated 30% of those over 65 years of age have a serious fall caused by lack of balance. The only way to prevent oneself from becoming a statistic in the future is specific exercise routines.

Below are two common exercises for the lower body:

    1.  The wall squat with or without dumbbells.
    2.  Calf legs raise using a dumbbell.

Both exercises will strengthen your quadriceps (Vastus medialis) and gastrocnemius (rear calf muscle). These groups of muscles provide your body the ability to maintain balance.

The STABILITY BALL WALL SQUAT with or without dumbbells

Stability Ball Wall Squat

can be performed with dumbbells to make the exercise more challenging. I do recommend using weight or dumbbells. Empty one gallon milk jugs can be filled with water to produce resistance for the exercise. Their approximate weight is 7 pounds. There are two major points to remember when performing this exercise. The knees should not go over or past the toes, and when descending never break the point of knees belong parallel to floor.

Depending on your condition, start using the stability ball and perform 2 sets of 12 repetitions. When you feel comfortable; use dumbbells or milk jugs. Perform twice a week.


Calf Raise with Dumbell - gastrocnemiusStanding calf raises are executed with one or both feet. They are frequently done on a raised surface with the heel lower than the toes to allow a greater stretch on the working muscles.

The exercise is performed by raising the heel as far as possible. Weights or other methods of providing resistance are commonly used, but the exercise is also effective with body weight alone.

Balance may become a difficulty with free-standing calf raises, especially with 1-legged variations. Due to this, it is common to hang
on to something or lean the hand against a wall for stability. They are also performed using smith machines or using machines specially designed for calf raises with padded anchors for the weight that rest on the shoulders. (1)

Now look to fine tune these muscles as they are developed. Please consider Tai Chi not as an alternative but as a supplement.

The object of this blog is keeping you functional as long as possible. If you have read this far, thanks for your interest.

    1. Wikipedia [Internet] Calf raises, Calf raises are a method of exercising the gastrocnemius, tibialis posterior and soleus muscles of the lower leg. The movement performed is plantar flexion, aka ankle extension. [cited 2011 October 9] Available

Written by trainmas

October 9, 2011 at 1:59 am

Balance, Falls and Overall Physical Balance

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Successful aging is carrying forth as many physical and mental abilities as you had in your youth. The only person who can take away your abilities as you age is yourself…

Below are three articles relating to (1) balance, (2) falls and why (3) obtaining an overall physical balance is important throughout life and as we age. All articles are from persons in the fitness industry.

Joseph C. Maroon, M.D., is a board-certified neurosurgeon with more than 20 years of clinical experience at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He has been the team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1982. He has done extensive research in teaching in the areas of sports nutrition, concussion and spinal problems. He has also competed in seven Ironman triathlons.

  • Resistance training and protein supplementation will result in better muscle tone and improved bone health.
  • As we get older, we become less flexible and lose muscle mass. These changes in connective and muscle tissues are often related to reduced physical conditioning as we age.
  • In addition, ligaments and tendons begin to dehydrate due to reduced production or retention of lubricants between their connective tissue fibers.
  • Calcium deposits build up, and replacement of muscle fibers with fatty, collagenous fibers reduces joint and muscle mobility and strength.

Jonathan Blood-Smyth from the Physiotherapy site in the U.K.

Hampstead Heath this morning was beautiful but treacherous and all of a sudden, as is usual with such things, I fell over on the ice.

The increasing and continual ageing of the populations of many countries throws up many challenges around falls. We learn very early to keep our balance when walking or running and take it for granted ever since, forgetting that this skill relies on functional abilities which typically reduce as we age.

We need a variety of both physical and mental skills to manage to maintain our physical state of equilibrium when conditions become challenging. As we age our limb muscles gradually lose their strength and we use less and less of our potential joint movements as we walk. Older people gradually adopt a more restricted gait as they increase the number of shorter steps and decrease the amount of joint movement they employ in each gait cycle. If keeping balance suddenly needs a much bigger joint movement this may not be possible any longer or they may not be able to perform the movement in time to complete the required task.

One of our vital abilities is that which tells our brains continually where the segments of our limbs and trunk are located and whether they are moving in a certain direction. This is joint position sense or proprioception and is essential for normal movement and posture. Losing this sense or more widespread sensation loss from part of or a whole leg stops critical information getting to the brain, meaning it is unable to plan the next movement as it is unsure where the limb is to start with.

Several of our sensory organs and mental processing systems make important contributions to our ability to move whilst maintaining our balance including our awareness of the environment and our ability to think clearly, vision and balance organs.

To achieve the correct reactions to balance challenges demands various brain systems to be working effectively as the balance organs and the eyes provide the required input. Loss of accurate input from the balance organs of the ears can cause problems or make a person dizzy on movement of the head and so make falling more likely from loss of balance. As we age our neural abilities reduce in efficiency and the cerebellar part of the brain which deals with coordination can also suffer from this process.

Gin Miller is one of the industry’s top professionals, with over 20 years teaching experience, and has spent the last 2 decades sharing her expertise and love of fitness with thousands of people at workshops and conventions world-wide.

Balance: A state of equilibrium or parity characterized by cancellation of all forces by equal opposing forces.

  • With traditional exercise, those who focus primarily on increasing muscle strength tend to be more ‘stable’, but perhaps less ‘mobile’. Those who focus more on flexibility or range of motion movement may tend to be more ‘mobile’ than ‘stable’. The ultimate goal in fitness is to achieve ‘balance’ between both ‘mobility’ and ‘stability’.
  • The word ‘balance’ is quite often used in fitness and seems to have several meanings as well. You want to ‘balance’ your general exercise program by performing all components of fitness – strength, cardio, and flexibility. You want to work toward ‘balance’ between opposing muscle groups, and ‘balance’ between strength and flexibility.
  • In general, most everyday movement activity involves forward walking, pushing and lifting, which tends to keep the muscles of the front of the body relatively stronger than the opposing muscles of the back. When the front muscles are stronger, they tend to tighten or shorten and the opposing muscles of the back tend to weaken and lengthen. Combined with the forces of gravity that tend to pull the posture further forward and down, this kind of ‘imbalance’ can lead to nagging low back syndrome and, if not corrected, more serious postural problems and injuries as we age.
  • Typically, forward rounded shoulders indicate that you need to strengthen the muscles of the upper back and stretch the front muscles of the chest and shoulders. This is the most commonly understood aspect of training for ‘balance’ in fitness.
  • With this understanding, functional training focuses on achieving this balance, but further expands on it by using integrated exercise movements. These are patterns or exercises that incorporate multiple major muscle groups as well as secondary stabilizing muscles of the body, which are the smaller muscles that help to maintain the alignment and structural integrity of the body’s skeletal system.

Joseph C. Maroon, M.D,  Retrieved September 24, 2011.

Jonathan Blood-Smyth, Falling Over – Physiotherapy site, Overland Limited 2006 – 2011 Physiotherapists,, Retrieved September 24, 2011.

Gin Miller,, . Retrieved
September 24, 2011

Written by trainmas

September 27, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Loss of balance

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Why would there be a blog posted on ‘loss of balance and prevention’  through a community college [Normandale Community College in Bloomington, MN] where the mean student age is approximately 22?

Make you wonder?  A few of the reasons:

  • Students have parents who will eventually age
  • Students have grandparents who are aging. Awareness of the possibility of falls and loss of balance is important
  • To heighten the awareness in the student population of the importance of exercise in the student’s life
  • A student will not stay young forever – no one ever does

Written by trainmas

September 24, 2011 at 1:44 am