You’re determined to get your life back after a stroke. You’re going to your therapy sessions, you’re putting in the time on the treadmill, and you’re performing strength exercises. Yes, you feel stronger, but your walking just hasn’t improved to a level you’ve hoped. So, what’s missing? Ballistic training might be the answer.
Ballistic training – the missing component
Traditionally, rehabilitation programs include resistance training. Patients might perform squats or lunges to improve the strength in their legs, for example. And these types of exercises are great for increasing muscle. But what researchers are finding out is that these gains don’t necessarily translate to improved walking ability.
That’s why a group of researchers from Australia explored biomechanical studies to see what they could learn about improving walking performance. It turns out that the typical slow resistance training that increases strength isn’t enough. You have to train the muscles to perform fast, functional movements as well in order to improve things like walking. And this is where ballistic training comes in.
How does ballistic training work?
Ballistic training is fairly common in the fitness industry. It has been used by athletes for a long time, but using it for stroke rehabilitation is a pretty new concept. And no wonder. Typical ballistic training involves jumping and hopping exercises which might seem out of reach. But you don’t need to worry. You don’t need to start by jumping over a stack of boxes! You can start by trying to add a spring at the top of your squat or by performing your squat at a quicker tempo. The important thing is that you’re activating your muscles in a functional, dynamic way.
Ballistic and plyometric training are similar. Watch this video to learn about the basic principles, why this type of training works, and how you can get started at any level.
Is ballistic training for me?
You might think exercises that include jumping and hopping could be dangerous. But the first studies using ballistic training with stroke patients show that these exercises are safe and can improve function. The second thing you might ask is how you get to the point where you can jump or hop. It’s a process and you can’t expect to achieve this overnight.
These exercises can be difficult and demanding, especially in the beginning, but stick with them. It won’t be long until you notice your bounce turns into a hop or your hop turns into a jump. And once you’re hopping and jumping, you’ll be walking faster than you thought you could!
The lead author of this original article is Gavin Williams, PhD, from the Physiotherapy Department, Epworth Healthcare, Melbourne and the School of Physiotherapy, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne.