Several studies have shown that balance exercises and “neuromuscular training” are effective at reducing injuries in athletes. Neuromuscular exercises typically incorporate products such as Thera-Band® Stability Trainers, Stability Discs, balance boards, and exercise balls. Athletic training researchers wanted to determine if a neuromuscular training program was effective at improving balance in high school athletes.
Two groups of female basketball players were assigned to either a 6-week neuromuscular exercise program or a control group (the subjects weren’t randomized; they were assigned to a group based on their school). Athletes were tested for their static balance and dynamic balance; the static balance test (BESS) used foam pads to create an unstable surface to evaluate postural stability.
The exercise group completed a twice a week, 6-week program that included 4 training stations: functional strengthening, plyometrics, agility training, and balance training. Each session lasted about 1.5 hours. The functional training station utilized elastic band loops and exercise balls, and the balance station utilized foam rolls.
After analysis of the 50 athletes completing the study, the authors found significant improvements in both static and dynamic balance. While these results may sound intuitive, other studies have shown no increase in balance with more simple balance exercises, possibly due to a ceiling effect or lack of neuromuscular stimulus. This study, however, suggests a more robust neuromuscular “circuit” training program may be more effective. Unfortunately, the authors did not look at functional performance or subsequent injury rates, which may demonstrate more meaningful outcomes.
In summary, Thera-Band elastic loops, stability trainers, and exercise balls can be used as part of a neuromuscular circuit training program to improve balance in high school athletes.