SINGLE LEG BALANCE
The screen that we hear the most groans with during our golf fitness assessments is the single leg balance screen. Almost every golfer knows that they are going to be bad at it. The funny part about it is that it is probably the easiest fitness characteristic to get better at, quickly. The screen measures your overall balance and highlights any proprioceptive imbalances from left to right as well as overall “core” stability.
Our bodies use 3 internal control systems to help maintain balance throughout the golf swing: eyes, ears (inner ear), and the nervous system. These three systems function together supplying the brain with tons of information from our surroundings and our bodies, so muscles and joints make the appropriate adjustments. This system is a powerful and accurate balance control mechanism - unless the channel of communication between any of them is broken.
The eyes are two of the most important sources of information for our brains. Information on subtle changes in terrain and upcoming obstacles gives our brains the chance to make appropriate adjustments in our body’s posture. Knowing which way is up and which way is down are things our eyes supply to our brain every second they are open. You’ll see just how important your eyes are when we get to the test.
The inner ear (vestibular system) has 3 semi-circular canals filled with fluid and sensors that act like a level used in construction. Each of these canals run in the 3 different planes of the body. When our heads move from side to side, so does the fluid. The shift in fluid stimulates the tiny hair-like sensors which in turn tell our brains information on position and orientation of our head with respect to the ground. When this system is disrupted, it will stimulate sensors that are different then the actual position of your head and will send mixed signals to the brain causing dizziness, nausea, etc. Eyes open or closed doesn’t make much of a difference in these instances. If the golfer has true vestibular system dysfunction, it will generally cause issues with every other screen and will need to be managed before much progress can be made in other areas.
Our nervous system is the last system our body uses to maintain balance. This is the primary system we are testing with the Single Leg Balance screen. Proprioception is the ability for our brain to know where our body is at in space without the use of our eyes. For example, as you are reading this, and without looking, do you know where your right foot is? There are tiny nerve endings with special receptors called proprioceptors that act as your body’s own internal GPS. You know your foot is there because these receptors are constantly sending signals back to your brain telling it the exact position and orientation of your foot. This is our “feel balance”. It is this feel and awareness that allows us to control balance, timing, rhythm, and feel throughout the golf swing. You are more likely to have a limited single leg balance if you have a current lower body injury, or chronic/repeated lower-body injuries (multiple ankle sprains). Proprioceptors are often damaged with these types of injuries and once they are damaged the ability to utilize them properly is greatly diminished. We can also have issues anywhere along the chain, from the foot to the ankle to the “core”. We can identify the specific problem area with further assessments but we will include corrective examples for the various areas.
Begin the test with your feet flat on the ground and arms at your side, without touching your body. Lift one leg up so that your thigh is parallel to the ground, knee and hip at a 90 degree angle. This is the position you must remain in throughout the test. Once you feel you are in a steady position close your eyes and the time starts. If you have trouble balancing before closing your eyes then there isn’t a reason to go with your eyes closed. The time stops once you do any of the following: start to sway, wobble, arms move, weight shift, or fall over. Your foot is allowed to move slightly but other than that we shouldn’t have any movement. 15 seconds is the goal to reach. If you score 10-15 seconds then try incorporating more single-leg balance positions in your workouts. If you score less than 10 seconds then try some of the correctives below or find a TPI professional to get assessed further. Corrective ExercisesAnkle windshield wipersBird DogsNarrow stance half kneeling.