Exercise and Weight Loss, Part 4: Flexibility and Balance


Flexibility and Balance and Weight Loss

by Devin Sarno, NSCA-CPT

So far, we have covered the most popular forms of exercise and how they relate to weight loss. There is one more area to cover however not necessarily associated with weight loss. Flexibility and balance training may not be the calorie torching workout that comes to mind when you think about weight loss but it has its place and is still largely important. We will discuss what flexibility and balance training entails and the importance it has to quality of life and even your weight loss journey. We will also briefly cover why it’s important to have an all-encompassing, complete program consisting of all forms of exercise.

Flexibility exercise is a type of exercise that is intended to help increase range of motion around your joints and create more mobile muscles and often times overlooked especially when it comes to weight loss. Included in this primarily would be dynamic and static stretching, foam rolling, or classes such as yoga and Pilates. Balance training is intentionally training in order to improve your ability to maintain the body’s position over its base of support statically and dynamically. This type of training includes unilateral (single leg/arm)  training, training on unstable surfaces, training with a narrow base of support (i.e. Feet close together), and shifting your focal point or moving with your eyes closed.

These forms of exercise may not quite get the credit they deserve, but rest assured, they are extremely important. As far as bodily health and quality of life are concerned, flexibility and balance are “must haves”. Balance and flexibility provide you with one of the most important attributes you can have: total movement control. If you cannot control your movements in a stable manner and take each movement through a full and comfortable range of motion, then the amount of weight you are lifting, how fast you are going, or how many repetitions you can do is meaningless.

Quite possibly the most common occurrence that can derail you in your attempt to lose weight is injury. An injury can quickly make individuals sedentary because they become weary of exercise or try to push through it and continue to move in the same fashion that got them injured to begin with until the injury becomes so significant that they are forced into being sedentary until recovered. If you take the time to train your flexibility and balance, you are putting in important time to keep yourself healthy and moving well. The more control you have over your movement and the greater range of motion you are able to comfortably move through, the better stimulus you'll receive from your workouts and the greater chance you will give yourself to avoid any injury that might set you back on your journey.

It is also important to note that you still will burn calories doing these exercises, minimal yes, however, we should be concerning ourselves with the bigger picture. Proper time spent training balance and flexibility will reduce your risk of injury, shorten your recovery time between exercise bouts, and allow you to generate a greater stimulus by integrating more muscles in a correct, efficient, and repeatable movement pattern. 

The obvious drawback here is the fact that you are spending time in an area that will not contribute as much to your calorie expenditure. But that is what makes an all-encompassing exercise program so important. There are so many variables to developing physical fitness and probably more variables when it comes to losing weight. But at the end of the day, a one dimensional program is going to lead to a one dimensional human being. Once your body reaches a certain point, if you are only using one exercise mode, the changes will eventually start to draw you into one direction. Whether that is building a strong and healthy heart and cardiovascular system with aerobic training, building big, strong muscles with bodybuilding, or attempting to do a little bit of both with interval training, the one dimensional nature will eventually become very evident. But if you are well-rounded and incorporate a little bit of everything, you can truly move yourself in the direction of being the greatest functioning human being that you can be. You can have all of those things, along with being flexible and mobile with great body control. Aside from losing weight, you are also lowering the chance of plateauing because you are constantly challenging the body’s ability to adapt and you are also setting yourself up for living a happy, and healthy lifestyle. So yes, flexibility and balance training is very important. Every mode of training is important in their own way because they impact you in different ways. Each and every form of exercise that we've covered is a major contributor to losing weight. There are so many considerations when looking to lose weight and nothing is insignificant. Heart health, lean muscle mass and a higher metabolic rate, burning calories during and after exercise, movement quality and bone, joint, and muscular health are all important. If you can put all this together with the right nutrition track, you are bound to succeed on your weight loss journey. Not only that, but you will also be more likely to maintain your healthy weight rather than taking steps back or “yo-yo-ing” like so many people tend to do. You may feel overwhelmed with this information or that you don't have the time to incorporate it all but knowing your priorities and what's important to you will help keep you working toward your goals!