By now you may have seen the massage table with the MAT poster by it in the lobby. Many have seen me working with clients but don’t really understand what it is that I am doing with them. Is it massage? Physical Therapy? Chiropractic manipulations? No, I’m not doing any of those things. I am doing Muscle Activation Technique and here is an analogy that might help you understand what’s going on.
Muscle Activation Technique is like your Christmas tree lights. Every year you pull out the same strands of lights and plug them into the wall to check if they still work. Inevitably there is at least one strand that has only half the lights working. Are all those lights really burned out? Perhaps, but it’s more likely only a few of those lights are causing that strand to not be spectacular. So you methodically pull out one light at a time until you find the ones that are worn out. You replace it and PRESTO! The whole strand magically lights up again. Just like new!
Using the Muscle Activation Technique, I test your individual muscles to determine if they are firing or not, just like those LEDs. Except I don’t replace the worn out muscles with new ones: That would be illegal (which would not be good). Instead, I have the client do a specific series of light isometrics to reengage the muscle until it can fire without hesitation.
From the day we are born, humans are constantly learning how to move. Most people learn fundamental movement patterns such as reaching, crawling, squatting, walking and running in succession and these skills serve as the foundation for movement throughout life. These movements are learned through many hours of trial and error and become solidified with more and more practice. But over time, the movements can be forgotten due to a lack of practice or even replaced with faulty patterns as a result of practicing bad habits. A great example is a deep squat. A curious baby can comfortably stay in a deep squat for minutes at a time while exploring an object on the floor but many adults find a deep squat uncomfortable or even impossible. Patterns such as the deep squat can be “unlearned” as a result of injury, exercise history, vocation or choice of hobbies. With so many potential ways for a pattern to break down, it can be hard to tell which fundamental patterns a person has maintained and which they need to regain. Furthermore, movement patterns are not related to skills or conditioning so athletic ability, strength, and fitness are very poor predictors of movement ability. Movement ability contributes to efficiency and safety, especially in challenging situations such as lifting weights, going on a long run or playing sports. Before engaging in any of these demanding activities, it is imperative to determine which patterns you can accomplish well and which patterns have limitations.
Movement screening is a systematic evaluation of basic movement patterns that can be used in a logical way to observe movement ability. Without screening, a workout can be like a shot in the dark with the trainer forced to throw out exercises at a vaguely defined problem. But screening allows for a scientific process that quickly determines which exercises are helping to improve the client’s most significant limitation and which exercises are not. Since movement ability is a matter of learning, dramatic results can be achieved within one session if the client is able to experience a well-tailored series of challenges. A more permanent adaptation will be made within 2-4 weeks as the brain and body are required to deliberately practice the new pattern. Furthermore, the “goal” of training movement ability is not to achieve perfection in every movement but rather simply to reach an acceptable level that will serve as the base from which to pursue a specific goal, such as increased fitness, weight loss or athletic performance. The rapid rate of neurological adaptation and the simple goal of attaining only a minimum standard ensure that hours of workouts are not spent trying to get “perfect form” on various exercises. Instead, investing a relatively small amount of time into learning fundamental movements will contribute to a natural ability to meet any challenge your body confronts.
Movement ability can be compromised as normal patterns are forgotten or replaced with bad habits but regular, consistent screening allows for the implementation of challenging exercises to resolve movement limitations. Once effective movement is achieved, training for increased physical performance can resume. By serving as the base for effective training, competent movement ability releases the body to train at a higher level and achieve previously untouched levels of performance.
If you would like to talk more about motor learning or movement screening please contact Personal Fitness Trainer Hunter Spencer. If you would like to better understand the necessity of movement screening and implementation of a movement screen, see the book Movement by Gray Cook.
Do you ever stop to think about how long your knees have been bothering you or how long that shoulder injury has been tormenting you? Well you are not alone. I’m sure more than 80% of your fellow gym go-ers have the same nagging injuries you do. Why is that? Why is it okay to walk around every day in pain and continue to ignore it? Sometimes maybe you take a break from your favorite sport (knowing how much basketball kills your back) and maybe sometimes you ice but when was the last time you actually made an effort to heal yourself? When was the last time you took a good long look at yourself and decided you would still live if you gave up squash and did some cross training for one month? I’m guessing if you are still living with those same aches and pains every day that it’s been a while since you’ve let yourself heal.
Now is the time and here are a few options to help you get started on the road to recovery no matter what your injury is;
Cross train!!! If you knowingly go to Body Pump every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and every time you walk out of there with a sore shoulder then perhaps it’s time to give something else a try. You still want to sweat and you still want to come into the gym at the same time so what can you do? Try swimming, try Yoga, or try a different class that has more to do with lower body than upper. Try something new out, maybe you’ll find something you like better and hurts less, double score!
Take a break! I know it’s hard but instead of enjoying long runs during the lunch hour maybe you take a week off and either do nothing or take that time to work your legs in a different fashion, hill walk instead of your 4 mile run. It’s okay to rest for a week or two, I swear you won’t lose everything you’ve built up and you won’t become obese!
Seek help! If you haven’t been to the doctor go! If you meant to get to PT and just never got around to it go! You haven’t magically fixed it on your own; it’s time to get some professional help. Maybe it’s just a massage or two, or you finally get in with your favorite chiropractor. Just make sure you are being proactive and seeking assistance when you need it.
Don’t let yourself off the hook. Being in pain is no badge of honor. It’s unhealthy and “fighting through it” will result in bigger injury down the road, trust me!
Work with a trainer. The Seattle Athletic Club has an amazingly knowledgeable training staff and everyone has different specialties. If you have an injury (or two or three) and you want to workout but don’t know how to do it safe and effectively it’s time to get a coach. Many trainers have backgrounds in physical therapy and or have their own personal experience with a wide range of injuries. Invest in some training time and get some one on one attention to find workouts that work specifically for you. It’s great knowing you are working hard and recovering at the same time!
Warm-up, stretch, cool down, and ice! All that prep and finishing stuff will only take 10-20 minutes and could save you much pain. Take some extra time to efficiently ready your joints, heart, and lungs for a workout and make sure to have some spare time at the end for recovery with ice. Decreasing inflammation is key in healing your body and decreasing pain!
If you would like to know more about injury prevention and recovery talk to the fitness staff or Personal Fitness Trainer Adriana Brown and get back on the road to good health!
Hip joint restrictions can lead to back pain, leg and knee pain as well as neck pain. It can also lead to injury due in part to improper body mechanics during workouts attributed to limited range of motion.
Whether you cycle, run, play squash or lift weights, the benefits of massage and stretching should not be underestimated. If you have restriction in the hip joint you are working against yourself, your movements are playing tug-of-war. With tightness in the back of the hip you have to pull harder with your hip flexors and your abs to bring your leg forward. Restrictions in the front of the hip leads to back tension and too much external rotation on your kick back. It can also cause knee pain due to the pressure pushing the quad over the knee during squats and lunges because the hip joint is not dropping down and back as it should.
Keeping your hip joints unrestricted will help you perform better and keep you from getting fatigued as quickly.
Over the years I have worked with a wide variety of athletes. Soccer players, runners, squash players and martial artists. In all of my athletes I have found limited range of motion and overall weakness. Though the athletes on the tight side do have strength in certain ranges, these ranges are usually limited (straight forward, straight up). In the rare cases of hypermobility the athletes lack strength and the ability to protect the joints involved.
Regardless of their sport the regimen for training the shoulders is usually comprised of linear, robotic movements. Push ups, pull ups, shoulder press, lateral raises and maybe the occasional rotator cuff exercise are usually the movements of choice. Though these may make sense in a fitness routine, they hardly cover the vast ranges of movement and velocity the shoulder has to utilize in performance. In addition they create a hyperactive upper body that activates too early in the kinetic chain and often too aggressively.
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. It flexes, it extends, it rotates, and moves across and away from the body. The scapula (shoulder blades) protract, retract, rotate (up and down), abduct (separate), adduct (squeeze together), elevate and depress. Ideally this happens in a smooth and graceful manner. This is rarely the case. Typical methods of training the shoulder (see above) compress the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa of the scapula (aka the socket). In addition the scapula is often in a fixed position. This is ideal under external load but hardly ever in athletic movements. This limits its ability to move freely and severely hinders throwing ability, racquet and running speed. This starts off as tightness, then chronic soreness and in some cases this can progress to injury.
To truly train the shoulder as it was meant to move you have to change your way of looking at exercise. Forget what muscle or muscle groups you are trying to train. Try and focus on two things: 1) What ranges are you tight and/or weak in? 2) What motions do your shoulders have to perform in your sport?
Once you have identified these two things it’s time to get things moving. When training for athletic performance we need light weight and flowing (and ideally fast) full body motions. Small handled medicine balls, cables, bands and wrist weights are ideal. When selecting a weight pick one that doesn’t hinder your speed, power or quality of movement. Don’t think about fatiguing any one muscle. Focus more on enhancing your movements.
When selecting movements try throwing and swinging versus pushing and pulling. The power should generate from the feet and surge through the body in a seamless manner. If this is done in a competent manner, by the time the force reaches the shoulder it can loosen up those tight areas (#1). This teaches the overused and tight muscle to wait its turn to activate in correct order and in a more appropriate manner. Ideally it should activate and let the power flow through it instead of tensing up and taking the brunt of the movement. When addressing tightness make sure not to move through pain or extreme tightness. Stop just short of these sensations. Trying to power through will shut down your speed mechanisms and can cause injury.
Over time and with precision and care you can make vast improvements in tight overused areas. Once this is accomplished you can now move onto sports specific movement. Once again use light weights and fast and flowing full body movements. Strive for graceful power in your movement with seamless transitions from one muscle to the next. Once that grace or power dissipates end the movement. Pushing or muscling through these movements for the sake of volume ultimately sets back your progress for athletic speed and power. Make sure and rest long enough not only to catch your breath but allow enough time for you to regain the ability to move with force and grace.
This isn’t by any means an easy process. Avoiding and improving on tight and injured areas while improving sports performance is a whole different creature than fitness. It takes time, dedication, precision and most of all patience. Keep your eye on the long term goals of longevity and quality of movement and feel your body heal and watch your athleticism reach heights.
Well lets first talk about what is needed to maintain your weight…it is recommended by ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) that the average individual gets 30 min of accumulated moderate intensity cardio most days of the week, strength train for 30 min for 2-3 times a week and stretch 2-3 times a week. When we want to start to lose weight those durations need to start to head towards 60 min of exercise at a moderate to hard effort. As we see the weight come off and the changes in our body our first reaction is usually, wow look at what I have accomplished. Some people however think that is 60 min is creating progress, and then even more time and effort will transform their body even quicker; but that is the wrong mentality.
Our body is an amazing organism that is great at adapting to stimulus…but it also needs time to recover from that stimulus. In general it takes your body 48 hrs to recover from isolating a muscle group. This means that as you do any activity you are breaking apart microscopic muscle fibers. The body’s defense is to build them back up stronger, bigger, and with more nerves attached to create a more forceful and coordinated movement. The largest majority of this rebuilding happens in the first 48 hours after that intense exercise. So if you see great results from doing squats, and continue to do leg exercises every day you are continually breaking down those muscle fibers, never allowing them to rebuild and make you stronger…this will eventually lead to injury. Give those legs muscles a two day rest before isolating them or using them heavily again. This is where doing a split body or push/pull type of workout come in handy. On one day you do legs and the next day you do upper body (lower/upper split) or one day you do push exercises like bench and the next you do pull exercises like rows (push/pull split) that way you are working opposite muscle groups and by day three you are fresh and ready to workout again.
Along with needing 48 hrs of rest between isolating a muscle group, studies have shown that over 90 min of moderate to hard exercise your body is breaking down too many muscle fibers and you are at risk of injury. As you continuously break workout or do cardio as you increase your duration you are also increasing muscle fiber damage. When you fatigue the larger muscle groups the smaller stabilizer muscle groups come to their aid; but as those start to fatigue and the muscle fibers break down our joints start to become susceptible to injury. It will also take longer to recover from very long duration intense exercises (more than 48 hrs), unless you are a very conditioned athlete. So the next time you are in the gym take a look at how long you are working out hard. If you do 45 min of weights and then go to do an hour of cardio right after you are playing the odds and perhaps you should cut down your cardio to just 30 or 45 min depending on how you feel.
So now that you know a little of the science what are some symptoms of overtraining?
Short-term inability to train hard or slight dip in competition-level performance
Failure to adapt and endure to training so that normal exercise performance deteriorates and increased difficulty recovering from a workout
Increased incidence of infections, persistent muscle soreness and loss of interest in high-level training
Increase in injuries
Altered sleep patterns and appetite
Mood disturbances (anxiety, anger, depression)
If you are experiencing those or take a look at your exercise schedule and say “wow I have not take a break in X amount of days” you need some R & R. It is usually suggested to rest a week at the end of your mesocycle of training (usually 3-4 months). This is an active rest/recovery of low intensity recreational activities which allow your body to recover, giving you a refreshed outlook on your training program so that you may jump back in full steam ahead. Just remember, more is rarely better, and that our bodies need both a stimulus and recovery time to perform optimally.
Living long and staying healthy are two common goals I hear as a personal trainer. It is great to see people of all ages heeding their health professionals’ advise to get active for all of the benefits exercise has to offer. But for some people, who may overdo or who do not properly train or warm-up, exercise can cause injuries.
Maybe you have done your training to prepare yourself for the demands of your sport or activity but still ended up sustaining an injury. Don’t worry it’s not the end of the world – just the beginning of a healing/learning process. Injuries can be annoying and inconvenient but sometimes they can be a blessing.
An injury to one part of your body can be an opportunity to focus your training efforts to a portion of your fitness that you may be deficient in. The idea here is to not do the usual routine of completely stopping all exercise when experiencing an injury. You do not want to waist all the hard work you have done to get to where you are. Yes you will need to still go see the doctor and go through the recovery process recommended by the doctor but just because you may need to give one particular body part a break it does not mean you need to let the rest of your body go to waste. Once you have started your treatment process for your injury you can give some good thought into what other parts of your fitness you would like to improve and if you have a hard time deciding what your options are maybe its time to talk with a personal trainer to get some new ideas on how to keep your level of fitness while letting your injury heal. Here are a few areas of fitness you could start to work on:
Speed / Coordination
If you have sustained an injury to your lower body maybe it is time to focus on upper body strength. The gym has equipment to accommodate just about any injury. Machines such as the upper body ergometer can be used for sustaining your cardiovascular conditioning when healing from a lower body injury. Maybe you have been restricted to light exercise only, which would be a good time to focus on flexibility through pilates or yoga. To keep your conditioning level you might add swimming to keep resistance low but allow a full body workout to increase blood flow to promote healing.
What ever your case may be, the personal training staff at the Seattle Athletic Club can be of great assistance. The next time you find yourself with an injury try to think of it as a time to improve a different area of fitness. The change in your routine just may help you break any of the unwanted plateaus occurring with your regular workouts.
If you are traveling this holiday season, remember to be kind to your body. In a plane, train, or automobile your muscles are forced into a shortened position for a prolonged time. Here are some basic stretches that can be done to mitigate the effects.
Chest stretch- A muscle commonly associated with poor posture is the pectoralis, or chest, muscles. As shoulders droop forward and upper back becomes stretched out, the chest muscles become shortened. An easy way to stretch the chest is in a doorway or against a wall. Make sure your shoulder blade is back and down, shoulder joint is back, elbow level with the shoulder line, lean in and slightly angle away from the wall. Putting the forearm flat against the wall makes it easier to have the correct alignment.
Lat stretch- In bad posture the shoulder blades move away from each other and you fall forward into a collapsed ribcage. This shortens the lattisimus dorsi of the upper back. It’s easiest to do this against a wall with the hands against a wall, hinging forward with straight limbs, shoulders down, which also effectively stretches the hamstrings.
Neck and upper trapezius stretch- The collapsed upper body slouch also causes shortness in the upper trapezius area. To stretch this muscle along with the side flexors of the neck take one arm bent behind your back, drop the opposite ear to shoulder and make sure to keep the shoulder back and down.
Spine stretch- To align your spine after being in a prolonged seated posture sit straight, twist to one side, focusing on an open chest and twisting the neck to look over the shoulder.
Piriformis stretch- Inside of your hips the muscles and ligaments can become tight and pull your sacroiliac joint out of alignment. This can cause all kinds of discomfort along the back. An easy way to stretch the hips is sitting straight with feet flat then crossing one leg up and over the other with the ankle over top the upper thigh. This opens the hip to allow a deep stretch.
Hip flexor/ quadricep stretch- The front of the hips also becomes tight from sitting in a fixed posture for a long time. Sit on the edge of a chair and swing the outside leg back while pushing forward with the back of the hip to ensure that you’re not arching your lower back. You should feel the front of the hip and thigh being lengthened.
Another great way to create length in the spine after gravity has worn on you is to hang from a bar above you. This just allows space between the vertebrae and can release any vertebrae that are subluxed, or misaligned. If you do these basic stretches, you can help alleviate any accumulated discomfort in the body that sets in because of travel. For any specific stretch advice contact me, Amber Walz, at the club (206)443-1111 ext.242.
The most common ailment to affect people to today, even more common than headaches, is low back pain. According to the American Chiropractor Association (ACA) as many as 80% of people will suffer from some form of low back pain, either chronic or acute, at some point in their lives. In fact, Americans alone spend nearly 50 billion dollars each year in order to correct this disorder. The good news is that most low back pain can be relieved or dramatically improved reduced following a few simple steps.
One of the most common contributors to low back pain is simply due to lack of strength in the core and lower back. Using a few exercises that can be performed at the gym and some at home can help address this problem:
Starting Position: Sit in the machine with the upper back pressed against the back pad. Flex the torso forward and move the body back to align the hips with the axis of the machine. Place the feet on the machine frame or foot supports. Grasp the handles or the sides of the seat.
Backward Movement Phase: Keeping the thighs and feet stationary, extend the torso (lean backward). Keep the upper back firmly pressed against the back pad. Maintain a tight grip on the handles or the sides of the seat.
Forward Movement Phase: Allow the torso to flex (lean forward) back to the starting position. Keep the upper back firmly pressed against the back pad and the thighs and feet stationary. Maintain a tight grip on the handles or the sides of the seat.
Starting Position: Grasp the bar with a closed, pronated (palms down) grip wider than shoulder width. Lift the bar from the floor to a position at the front of the thighs using the first pull phase of the power clean exercise. Adjust the feet to assume a shoulder-width stance with the knees slightly- moderately flexed. Flex the torso forward so that it is slightly above parallel to the floor. Assume a flat-back torso position with the shoulders back and chest out. Focus the eyes a short distance ahead of the feet. Allow the bar to hang with the elbows fully extended. Adjust the position of the knees, hips, and the torso to suspend the weight plates off the floor.
Backward Movement Phase: Pull the bar up toward the lower chest or upper abdomen. Keep the elbows pointed away from the sides of the body with the wrists straight. Keep the torso rigid, back flat, and the knees in the same flexed position. Touch the bar to the sternum or upper abdomen. At the highest bar position, the elbows should be higher than the torso.
Forward Movement Phase: Allow the elbows to slowly extend back to the starting position. Keep the torso rigid, back flat, and knees in the same flexed position. After the set is completed, squat down to return the bar to the floor.
Bent Knee Sit-up
Starting position: Assume a supine position (back facing the ground) on the floor or a mat. Flex the knees to bring the heels near the buttocks. Fold the arms across the chest.
Backward Movement Phase: Flex the neck to move the chin to the chest. Keeping the feet, buttocks, and lower back flat and stationary on the mat, curl the torso toward the thighs until the upper back is off the mat. Keep the arms folded across the chest.
Forward Movement Phase: Allow the torso, then the neck, to uncurl and extend back to the starting position. Keep the feet, buttocks, lower back, and arms in the same position.
Another all too common contributor to lower back pain is due to a lack of flexibility often due to lack of exercise, a job requiring extended period of sitting, and old injuries. Here are a few Stretches to help address these issues:
Lie on your back with knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
Place your bands on the back of your thighs and pull your legs toward your chest.
Pull until a gentle stretch is felt.
Hold for 15 seconds.
Return to the starting position.
Repeat 9 more times.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Keeping your back flat on the floor, rotate your hips to the left, lowering your legs down to the floor until a gentle stretch is felt.
Hold for 15 seconds.
Return to the starting position.
Repeat 9 more times.
Keeping your back flat on the floor, this time rotate your hips to the right, lowering your legs down to the floor until a gentle stretch is felt.
Hold for 15 seconds.
Return to the starting position.
Repeat 9 more times.
Lie on your stomach.
Prop yourself up on your elbows extending your back.
Start straightening your elbows, further extending your back.
Continue straightening your elbows until a gentle stretch is felt.
Hold for 15 seconds.
Return to the starting position.
Repeat 9 more times.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Push the small of your back down and into the floor by tightening your lower abdominal muscles.
Hold for a count of 10.
Return to starting position and repeat 9 more times.
The last step, and arguably the most crucial for a healthier back, is recognizing good and bad posture. Given that many of us work jobs that require extended periods of sitting, this step virtually everyone can improve on. Here is a tip to achieve better posture and potentially have the greatest effect on your lower back health…Lose the Chair! It is no secret that nearly all office chairs are mediocre at best in supporting good posture. With their sleek design and comfortable arm supports, who wouldn’t want to a go about their work day in a lazy boy? Unfortunately office chairs today are simply not built with back health in mind. Although comfortable, these chairs offer little benefit for supporting a strong core. One solution has come with the use of a stability ball or Swiss ball as a replacement for your chair. The added challenge of balance offered by the stability ball means proper spinal alignment is virtually impossible to cheat. Using the ball as a chair, forces the user to break the habit of slouching by positioning the pelvis underneath the core in order to stay balanced. It is recommended, however, that you phase in this chair replacement as this can initially be tiring for the muscles responsible for holding the spine in proper alignment. For more information on exercises, stretches, and other tips on low back health please feel free to contact Will Paton.
Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries that occur in athletes today (McGuine and Keene 2006). They are especially common among soccer and basketball players. Once an athlete has sprained their ankle and stretched the ligaments beyond a safe range of motion they are at a greater risk for another sprain. By introducing a well-rounded balance routine, athletes can strengthen their core, hips, and ankle stabilizers which will help to avoid these injuries. This is not only beneficial for athletes but for any person who worries about tripping, falling, or balance in general.
A study conducted by Timothy McGuine, PhD, ATC in 2006 at the University of Wisconsin showed a positive correlation between implementing a structured balance routine and a decrease in the number of ankle sprains. The study included over seven hundred high school soccer and basketball players. One group was given a specific balance routine to perform throughout the entire season, progressively getting more difficult. The second group was given a traditional conditioning exercise schedule without any balance training added. At the end of the season the group that performed the balance exercises had a total of 16 fewer ankle sprains than the control group.
Many people feel that all balance exercises are too difficult and frustrating to perform but that is not necessarily the case. Several times people are attempting exercises that their bodies are not prepared for and when they do not succeed right away they get frustrated. Balance is all about controlling the chaos and stimulus around the body to find your center alignment. Here are a few basic balance exercises to start with. Once you feel comfortable performing these exercises you can try some more challenging ones.
Basic Balance Exercises
Single Leg Stand – To be able to balance you need to be able to control your body weight on one leg for an extended time frame. This works the hip stabilizers and the erector spinae in the back to maintain proper spinal alignment. The lateral stabilizers of the ankle and knee will also be trained. Start by attempting to stand on each leg for 30 seconds without holding on to anything.
Single Leg Stand with Swings – Once you have mastered standing on one leg for 30 seconds with out holding on to anything you are ready to try to add minimal movement. While standing on one leg, slowly swing the hovering leg back and forth while maintaining your balance. This forces the stabilizing muscles to control the movement in a more active state which can translate to everyday movement (i.e. running, walking).
Single Leg Squat – With the body able to control the opposing leg swinging back and forth the next progression is to add a single leg squat. This makes the stabilizing leg move through range of motion while controlling the hip and ankle at the same time. On the first few, simply work on trying a small squat then stand back up. Try to get a little lower with each attempt. Ideally, you will reach a 30 to 45 degree angle with your squats.
Single Leg Stand with Eyes Closed – Once you can successfully complete 3 sets of 30second leg swings, trying closing your eyes. The body uses our eyes to find specific points to focus on when balancing. When we close our eyes while balancing we force our bodies to see for us, utilizing the inner ear to find stability. With your eyes closed you will immediately feel different muscles contracting and relaxing in an attempting to find your center. The more you can relax and extend your spine up (think the crown of your head trying to reach the ceiling) the better this exercise will be.
You can continue to progress along the same line. As you feel more relaxed with your eyes closed, try to perform both the single leg swings and single leg squats with your eyes closed. You can also try different types of surfaces such as balance boards or BOSU balls to train the ankle and hip in under different stimulus. The more you can subject the body to a variety of stimuli the better prepared the body will be for day to day activities.
Remember that a correct progression from basic to advanced is the safest and best way to advance the quickest in balance training as well as every day tasks. If you are diligent with your training you will notice a significant increase in your balance ability!