By: Lorrie Ward Jackson | Category: Health & Fitness | Issue: January 2010
BJ Flanagan balances on the Bosu ball, one of the many tools she uses to help make workouts fun and effective for her clients.
Traditionally, many people use the New Year as a time to make resolutions, and more often than not, weight loss and physical fitness top the resolution list. But is diet and exercise truly enough to make lasting life changes? Or should one’s resolutions reach a little deeper?
According to personal trainer BJ Flanagan, there is more to getting in shape than just exercising and changing your diet. BJ is a strong proponent of balance training – as a matter of fact, balance is one of the first things she checks when she starts working with a new client.
“Balance is the body’s ability to interpret and use information about your positioning in space – walking, riding a bike, running, standing on your tiptoes or on one leg,” BJ explains. “When these systems receive too much complex information, they get confused, and that’s when you lose balance.”
BJ gives clients a balance test before training begins. She has the client stand on both legs with one foot in front of the other, close his or her eyes, and try to stay in that position for 30 seconds. “If they don’t waver or wobble, their balance is satisfactory,” BJ says. “If they wobbled right before or right after closing their eyes, their balance is in the poor category.”
BJ firmly believes that balance must be improved in order for true physical fitness to be achieved. In fact, she says maintaining proper balance is the key to feeling young even as we age. “As we age, our lack of activity causes a decrease in flexibility and balance,” she says, pointing out that a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that one out of three Americans over 65 falls each year. “These falls can be reduced by balance training because by incorporating balance, a person of any age can enhance coordination and athletic skill, achieve better posture, and have fewer injuries and greater stability.”
Because she believes so strongly in the importance of balance training, BJ incorporates it into all of her workouts. After testing the client’s balance, she adjusts their workout to help build their coordination to a desirable level, using simple balance exercises (such as standing on one leg while performing strengthening moves) and exercise tools, including the stability ball and Bosu ball. “A lot of what I do is incorporate balance into every routine, while still making it fun and keeping a lot of muscles firing for calorie burn,” says BJ. She also makes adjustments according to whether the client is male or female. “Women and men have different centers of gravity,” she explains. “Shoulder placement and the angle of the hips require different positions.”
BJ’s knowledge is as encouraging as her enthusiasm is infectious. She is interested in more than just helping her clients get into shape; she wants to help them improve their lives today and ensure a high quality of life for tomorrow. BJ points out that children who learn martial arts or yoga at a young age have better balance throughout their lives, and believes that anyone, at any age, can improve their balance. To stave off the deterioration that so often comes with age, attitudes must be changed. “You don’t lose it all because you age,” she says. “You age because you are inactive.”