The now 70-year-old Locker explained: "The exercises for postural retraining use the body's own weight to move the postural muscles to balance the body." The exercises are isometric; There is no movement. Rather, the postural muscles are tensed and the tension is maintained for as long as possible, thereby building strength in both the muscles and the bones.
While I am usually very skeptical of such advice from a non-specialist with no degree in physiotherapy, kinesiology, rehabilitation medicine, or exercise training, one paragraph in Mr. Locker's book convinced me:
"Walking on a level surface is not stressful," at least not as Mr. Locker defines it, because it does not train postural muscles. “The knee tends to lock when the foot hits the ground, and the foot doesn't stay on the ground for more than a moment. Hence, walking, while wonderful and healthy, does not improve balance. Walking a rocky Adirondack trail with both legs constantly bent for balance is stressful. "
I immediately referred to this description. I spent most of last summer in the lower Catskills, hiking my dog over rocks and roots on uneven trails for an hour or more every other morning. During the first two weeks of July, I felt very insecure and fell twice. But with every trip I got safer and by the end of summer my balance and stability had improved noticeably. Even when I was jostled by a dog on a rocky surface, I remained stable and upright easily.
While many people are unable to train their postural muscles by hiking in the woods, Mr. Locker describes exercises that people can safely perform at home using their own bodies as equipment. No gym or machine is needed, not even an exercise band. Basically, the feet learn to be more firmly attached to the ground as the body weight moves within a support base.
"In tai chi," noted Locker, "we don't move to achieve balance. We balance first, then we move." Balance is not subject to conscious control, but it can be improved with use and decreased with disuse, explained He: "The key to balance and stability in humans is the ability to generate a downward force that goes beyond body weight. Thus, neither a statue nor a surfer standing stiff as a statue can stay upright on a surfboard."
A Sample Lesson: You've likely received advice on improving balance by standing on one leg while brushing your teeth. A far better plan is to flex the knee and ankle of the leg you're standing on to activate the postural muscles. At the same time, the pelvic muscles remain relaxed. If extra assistance is needed, use the fingertips of one hand on the sink or wall. Note, however, that the goal is to stand without support and only use the wall as a counterbalance.
Another simple exercise is to stand straight with your hamstrings and glutes relaxed, and then bend your knees and ankles as if you were sitting in a high chair. Keep your spine straight and your pelvis relaxed. Hold this position for as long as possible, gradually increasing the time as your postural muscles get stronger, up to 15 minutes.