For those of us with desk jobs, physical movement during the day doesn’t come easily. I often find myself zoned into a project for hours, forgetting to stand up and stretch. Long bouts of sitting have left me with low back and hip pain, so I invested in a simple standing desk. But in the second week or so, as I shifted uncomfortably from one swollen foot to the other, I couldn’t help but wonder if standing all day had its own negative side effects. After browsing for solutions online (searching for ways to keep my legs and feet moving while I worked), I came across something called a balance board.
It looked like a wobbly foot rest that would challenge my balance and coordination, but not enough to distract me from my work. Curious, I did some digging to find out if a balance board would be a good investment.
What is a balance board?
A balance board is a thick, durable, wooden or plastic board that helps you train your balance and improve your motor skills. A wide variety of boards exists — some have squishy half-spheres attached to the underside, which create the wobbliness. Others are shaped like a gently-curved skate board that rocks back and forth. The most challenging ones are flat, and come with a grippy cylinder — the cylinder rolls back and forth as you try to stay balanced on the board.
How do you use a balance board?
Also called wobble boards, wobble rockers, or rocker boards, balance boards are used for a wide variety of reasons. Athletes, especially skateboarders and snowboarders, like the flat boards with a detached rolling cylinder. (The most well-known brand of this type is called the Indo Board.) Patients recovering from lower leg injuries, especially ankle sprains, use a more stable design (like the round board with a half-sphere on the bottom) to strengthen their lower leg muscles. Some customers, like me, use balance boards simply to stay active. In addition to standing on it, you can also use it to make exercises like push-ups more challenging. (Still not convinced that your balance needs work? Try this trainer’s balance test to see where you stand.)
What are the benefits of a balance board?
Research shows that balance boards are great for improving ankle stability, reducing risk of lower leg injuries, and boosting overall balance. A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, for example, found that eight weeks of wobble-board training effectively improved stability in collegiate athletes with chronic ankle instability, or CAI. (CAI is defined as ongoing instability in the ankle and recurrent ankle injuries.) Another study published in 2022 found that wobble-board training significantly improved participants’ balance and accuracy when performing jumping exercises.
In addition to better ankle stability, other potential benefits include improved posture and core strength. I also love that my board is small and lightweight, so it’s easy to carry from my standing desk to the space in front of the TV.
Do they have any downsides?
My biggest balance board complaint? While it’s versatile and takes up little space, it doesn’t always keep my legs moving enough. My feet start to cramp if I use it for too long, and blood still pools in my feet if I’m on the board for more than an hour. Taking frequent breaks eases this problem.
In addition, balance boards naturally come with a danger of falling. Less challenging designs, like circular boards and curved “snowboards,” make falls a lot less likely. Flat boards with a detached rolling cylinder are more dangerous. I would know; I once used a friend’s and had such a fun time exercising on it — until it slipped out from under me like a banana peel! Fortunately, most flat boards have stoppers on either side to prevent this from happening (unlike my friend’s). Still, there is a danger that you will lose your balance and fall.
What is it like to work and use a balance board?
At first, balancing on a board while trying to type was distracting. However, it got significantly easier as I used the board more frequently. I now greatly enjoy the added challenge while I work, and I think the gentle exercise is improving my balance and coordination. It’s too early to say whether it’s improving my posture, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
What balance boards do you recommend?
I have the Revbalance Fit 3-in-1 Training System — a Christmas gift. While I wouldn’t normally recommend this board because of the price ($199.95) and the challenging design, I think it’s perfect for people who want more training options without having to buy multiple boards. It comes with three different “wobble devices”: 1) a rocker, which looks like half of a cylinder and is the easiest to use; 2) an air cushion, which has a medium difficulty; 3) a grippy cylindrical roller, which is the most difficult. I use the rocker at my standing desk, the air cushion while I’m watching TV or listening to an audiobook, and the roller when I want a challenge.
Of course, you don’t have to spend nearly that much money to enjoy a long-lasting balance board. Other highly-rated products include the Trobing Standing Desk Mat Balance Board with Rollerball (Buy from Amazon, $63.98) and the Amazon Basics Wooden Wobble Balance Board (Buy from Amazon, $16.49).
The bottom line? A balance board is an inexpensive way to increase your activity during the day and improve your balance — which is a skill that deteriorates as we age. If you’re thinking of purchasing your own, speak with your doctor or physical therapist first.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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