In this article, you’ll learn how to round out your fitness plan with balance training. We’ll explore different exercises and techniques that you can use to improve your balance and stability, how to do these exercises with proper form, and how to keep your workouts fresh and interesting.
Once you have a solid grasp of the basics of balance training, you’ll be able to breeze through these exercises in no time. Feel free to explore some of the other activities discussed at the end of the article as well, like yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi, which provide fun ways to improve your balance solo, with a friend, or in a class setting.
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Why Balance Training?
Not only does balance training engage and strengthen all the muscles of your core (which includes your abdominals and your back muscles), but training your core for balance can help you minimize the risk for other injuries as well.
A weak core can contribute to other sports-related injuries. Bicyclists with a weak core, for example, can suffer back and neck pain, sometimes even requiring medical attention. When you work on strengthening your core and your balance, you increase your control over other areas of your body, like your hips and shoulder girdle.
In this way, everything truly does connect to everything else. Because balance training helps strengthen your stabilizer muscles and your core, it also improves your joint stability. Your power comes from your core, so a stronger core means an overall stronger body.
Balance will help you with everyday activities as well as with physical exercise and movement. Better balance will help you avoid falls, which can become dangerous as we age. One-third of adults aged 65 and older suffer from fall-related injuries, so you can’t get started too soon on balance improvement.
How Much Do I Need?
Because you use your balancing skills for virtually everything you do, from getting out of the car to picking something up from the floor, your stabilizer muscles are working overtime to keep you upright and injury-free. As a result, you really can’t overdo your balance training.
Balance, autonomy, and self-confidence are all interrelated. Being consistent with your exercise program will help you focus and feel good, both mentally and physically, as you go about your daily activities. Although you can do as much balance training as you like, an effective balance-training program revolves around three to five training sessions per week, with four or more balance exercises per session.
Always remember to start with caution. You can progress to more challenging movements as you get stronger and are better able to balance. The longer you work at it incrementally, the more likely you’ll suddenly notice one day that you’re not grabbing for that countertop as often or that you can hold your leg in the air longer than you could at first.
Increasing the strength of your body, particularly your legs, through your resistance-training program will also help you boost your ability to balance, so all the effort you’re putting into your resistance-training program is also paying dividends when it comes to enhanced balance.
As you progress, you may want to experiment by working with unstable surfaces, like a BOSU ball. A BOSU (an acronym for “both sides utilized” or “both sides up”) ball has one flat surface (that’s usually on the ground) and one that’s soft and rounded, facing up.
The rounded, inflated surface of the BOSU provides an unsteady surface to help challenge your balancing skills and engage your core, resulting in a stronger centre and more refined balance skills all around.
Other ways to improve balance include activities like yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi. Yoga focuses on both physical and mental balance, helping to foster the essential mind-body connection. This connection helps you to tune in to your body, feel the exercises and poses as you do them, and release emotional and physical stress.
Yoga focuses on alignment (so that your body can be optimally stable), strength (to give you the ability to hold your balance), and attention (being mindful of your body and its positioning). When looking to build your balance, consider trying out Iyengar yoga or the more mainstream, popular Hatha yoga.
Pilates, founded in 1920 by Joseph Pilates, was initially designed for rehabilitation purposes. It aims to strengthen your core, improve your posture and balance, and help you stabilize your body for better overall posture.
This is a mode of exercise that uses resistance training and muscle-building tactics, but it is gentle and lightweight, so it doesn’t add bulk to the body or stress the joints, tendons, and ligaments.
While yoga focuses on many standing poses (which is why it’s great for balance training), Pilates tends to mostly take place either on a mat or on what’s called a “reformer,” which is a machine designed to help you enhance your stretches. Because many Pilates stretches are done from the floor, it’s naturally a more core-centric workout.
Tai Chi, or “meditation in motion,” can relieve stress, cultivate a mind-body connection, build better balance, enhance strength and flexibility, increase attention and mental clarity, and improve mood and sleep. Try taking a class (in a studio or online) and see what you think!
Along with balance training comes a modicum of caution. People with injuries, such as hip or knee injuries, should use caution when working on improving their balance. You don’t need to skip these exercises altogether if you are working around an injury, but always ensure that you have something you can use to steady yourself nearby, like a chair, countertop, or wall.
Practice your balance for short periods until you feel stronger and more confident. Doing balance-training exercises three to five times a week for a maximum of 10 to 15 minutes at a time should be plenty to help you boost your balance.
Although it may seem simple enough compared to other types of exercises within this book, the importance of balance can’t be overstated. After all, without a strong ability to balance, you can’t perform even the simplest everyday movements, let alone exercises. Within this section, you’ll discover some simple exercises to improve your balance using the floor, your own body weight, and a variety of optional additions like chairs, countertops, weights, aerobic steps, and BOSU balls.
TIGHTROPE WALK – Body-Weight Exercise (Home or Gym)
Muscle Groups: Arms, legs, core
#1. Start by standing with your feet together and your arms up and straight out to your sides.
#2. Keep your head in a neutral position and look straight ahead.
#3. Pick up your right foot and place your heel in front of your left toes so that your feet form a straight line. This completes 1 repetition.
#4. To complete a full set, repeat the steps with your left foot and continue your walk as far as space allows.
#5. As you get accustomed to this exercise and your balance improves, you can pause and hold your foot up for a few moments before placing it on the ground.
Safety Pointer: Make sure you have enough space to perform this exercise effectively without bumping or tripping over objects or furniture.
SIDE LEG RAISE – Body-Weight Exercise (Home or Gym)
Muscle Groups: Legs, core
#1. Start by standing with your feet together and your hands on your hips.
#2. Keep your legs straight during this exercise and your feet in a neutral stance.
#3. Lift your right leg up and out to the side, keeping your foot pointed forward and your leg straight.
#4. Hold your leg out to the side as long as you can before bringing it back to the starting position. Don’t worry if you can’t hold it out for very long at first. This exercise takes practice, and the idea is to improve over time.
#5. Repeat the exercise using your opposite leg. This completes 1 repetition.
Safety Pointer: For an added challenge, try this exercise while standing on an unstable surface like a BOSU ball. But because this is significantly more difficult than standing on a flat surface, consider doing this exercise near something secure that you can grab on to if necessary, like a sturdy chair or countertop.
ONE-LEGGED STAND – Body-Weight Exercise (Home or Gym)
Muscle Groups: Legs, core
#1. Start by standing with your feet together in front of a chair or a countertop that you can reach easily.
#2. Grab the edge of the counter or the back of a chair for balance.
#3. Lean forward slightly and lift your left foot off the ground.
#4. Bend your left knee until your foot is behind you and your calf is parallel to the floor.
#5. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds before returning your foot to the floor.
#6. Repeat the exercise using your opposite leg. This completes 1 repetition.
Safety Pointers: Once you get acclimated to this exercise and your balance improves, experiment by forgoing the chair or countertop. Reduce your chances of injury by practising for a few seconds before fully committing to the no-hands version.
WEIGHT SHIFTS – Body-Weight Exercise (Home or Gym)
Muscle Groups: Legs, core
#1. Start by standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
#2. You may need to use your arms for balance if you’re just starting this program. Otherwise, place your hands on your hips.
#3. Lift your right leg and hold it a few inches off the ground in front of you for 30 seconds. If you need to stabilize yourself, do this exercise near a countertop or a chair.
#4. Put your right foot back down on the ground and repeat the process with your left foot. This completes 1 repetition.
Safety Pointers: As always, start slowly and don’t be afraid to hold on to something like a chair as you get accustomed to the movement. Give yourself some grace as you work your way up to longer and more stable holds.
STANDING CRUNCH WITH UNDER-LEG CLAP – Body-Weight Exercise (Home or Gym)
Muscle Group: Legs
#1. Start by standing with your feet together.
#2. Pick up your right leg and lift it until your thigh is parallel to the ground.
#3. Raise your arms straight above your head and clap your hands together.
#4. Swing your arms all the way down under your right leg to clap your hands together again. This completes 1 repetition.
#5. To complete a full set, repeat the exercise five times on one side, then switch to the opposite leg.
Safety Pointer: This may sound like a simple exercise, but it can be quite challenging. Keep close to something stable that you can reach for, if necessary.
ROLLING FOREARM SIDE PLANK – Body-Weight Exercise (Home or Gym)
Muscle Groups: Abdominals, core, legs, arms
#1. Start in the normal plank position by resting on your forearms with your legs straight (see here for a refresher, if needed).
#2. Shift your forearms so that they are folded underneath your chest (instead of facing forward).
#3. Roll to your left and stack your feet to bring yourself into a side plank position.
#4. Extend your right arm out and upward as your rollover onto your left forearm.
#5. Hold this side position with your arm extended for a count of five.
#6. Bring your right arm back down to the floor and put your weight onto your right forearm.
#7. Repeat the entire sequence on your left side, then return to the centre. This completes 1 repetition.
Safety Pointer: This is a more advanced move, so before attempting to do this exercise, ensure you can hold a plank for at least 60 seconds.
ARM SEQUENCE WITH LIFTED HEELS – Body-Weight Exercise (Home or Gym)
Muscle Groups: Legs, core, arms, shoulders
#1. Start with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your arms straight down at your sides.
#2. Lift your heels off the floor a few inches so you’re standing primarily on your toes.
#3. Bend your arms and bring them up simultaneously into a biceps curl (see here for a refresher). This is your starting position.
#4. From the curl position, raise your arms straight up overhead.
#5. Bring your arms back down to the starting position. This completes 1 repetition.
Safety Pointers: This exercise can be done with or without dumbbells. If you choose to use them during this movement, use light dumbbells—about 2 to 3 pounds—to avoid overstraining.
TOE TAPS – Body-Weight Exercise (Home or Gym)
Muscle Groups: Legs, calves, core
#1. Start by standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart in front of a platform. Ideally, the platform should be at least 12 inches high, but you can use anything—a simple stair, an aerobics step, or a BOSU ball.
#2. Lift your right leg and tap the platform with the ball of your foot.
#3. Bring this foot back to the ground and repeat with the opposite foot. This completes 1 repetition.
#4. Once you have this movement down, try pushing off from your left heel while your right foot is touching the platform and switching foot positions in the air. Speeding up your pace or touching a higher platform can make this exercise harder. Just be sure to start out slowly and work your way up to more difficult moves.
#5. Pump your arms in a back-and-forth motion like you would if you were running.
#6. To complete a full set, continue alternating toe taps for up to 60 seconds at a time.
Safety Pointer: Make sure to keep your eyes on the platform to stay balanced, especially as you increase your speed.
Do you have to take supplements with balance training?
Core, back, and leg muscles are worked during balance exercises. Balance can also be improved with lower-body strength training.
By improving your balance, you can move freely and steadily as well as increasing your coordination and strength. It is easier to perform your daily tasks when you have greater stability, mobility, and flexibility.
However, balancing exercises are challenging at times. If you are obese your chances of suffering a sports injury are much higher. So, balance exercises should have weight loss as one of the major goals.
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Besides, it should be noted that pills or supplements only work when combined with a healthy weight-loss diet and regular exercise. Supplements are ineffective on their own and are hardly a solution to obesity.
In any case, it’s always best to talk with your doctor before you start taking a supplement, especially if you are taking medications or have any health concerns.