There is no such thing as ‘Balance,’ or ‘Coordination’

January 15, 2007

A reader of my last blog asked me a very good question:

"But there is a lot more to physical fitness than the strength and aerobic capacity I get from Slow Burn. What about balance? What about coordination of muscles? What about timing? If I was 45 or even 55, I might be tempted to agree that Slow Burn is all you need. I would feel very fit. But at 67 I can tell you that balance, coordination, and timing skills quickly drop away if I do not train them. The clumsiness of age comes back quickly, despite having strong muscles and aerobic fitness."

Not knowing if he means his sports skills degrade if he doesn’t practice them, it’s hard to answer. But I’ll assume, for the moment, that this is what he means.

Answer: You bet your boots you’ll lose skill at your given physical activity if you don’t practice and only do Slow Burn.  No question about it.

But here’s the thing – there is no such thing as ‘balance.’ Balance is specific unto a skill itself. There is no such thing as ‘coordination.’ Coordination is specific to the skill or activity itself.

Being skilled at badminton does not mean that you are skilled at tennis – or that you can even play tennis well even though the two sports look similar. Same goes for any other sport or activity. Similar doesn’t mean same.

The following is from the book: Motor Learning and Performance: From Principles to Practice by Dr. Richard A. Schmidt a renowned expert in motor leanring principles:

(Note: The comments in parenthesis are my additions.)

"A common misconception is that fundamental abilities (running, gymnastics, etc.) can be trained through various drills or other activities. The thinking is that, with some stronger ability, the athlete

will see gains in performance for tasks with this underlying ability.

For example, athletes are often given various "quickening" exercises, with the hope that these exercises would train some fundamental ability to be quick, allowing quicker response in their particular sports.

Coaches (as well as physical therapists) often use various balancing drills to increase general balancing ability, eye movement exercises to improve vision, and many others. Such attempts to train fundamental abilities may sound fine, but usually they simply do not work. Time, and often money, would be better spent practicing the eventual goal skills.

There are two correct ways to think of these principles. First, there is no general ability to be quick, to balance, or to use vision. Rather, quickness, balance, and vision are each based on many diverse abilities, so there is no single quickness or balance ability, for example, that can be trained. Second, even if there were such general abilities, these are, by definition, genetic and not subject to modification through practice. Therefore, attempts to modify an ability with a nonspecific drill are ineffective. A learner may acquire additional skill at the drill which is, after all, a skill itself, but this learning does not transfer to the main skill of interest."

What Slow Burn does is keep your body ready, willing and able to perform and practice your given sport or activity with more vim and vigor and less chance of injury. But the two are separate and distinct.

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