Spinning. Check. Barre. Check. Yoga. Check. If you’re a fitness lover, chances are you’re getting in your cardio and strength training. But one type of workout that is actually totally useful in your day-to-day life but you’re likely overlooking is balance. And moves that specifically target balance aren’t just for seniors.
“Balance is key to functional movement as it is necessary to perform your everyday movements like lunging, squatting, bending, pulling, pushing, rotating and locomotion,” says Michaela Raagas, Master Educator at Technogym. “These fundamental movements are used in everyday activities and a variety of sports. Improving balance can contribute to better performance and help with preventing falls and injuries.”
In fact, balance is key to all functional movement, and having good balance improves your posture, musculature, joints, and stability, to name a few. “Balance is the ability to maintain control while in a static or dynamic position,” Raagas says. “Maintaining equilibrium throughout movement is essential for all tasks as it helps the body remain in a stable position and allows for better motor and muscular control. Balance training can help with better joint stability and a stronger core. An activated, strong core can help to promote proper posture while seated, standing or in movement.”
It’s common for people to overlook balance training, but there are exercises that naturally incorporate it. “Any exercise where the person is changing points of contacts with the ground and/or moving away from point of stability require balance,” Raagas says. “For example: Going on your tip toes to reach for a high object or even standing on one leg to perform a quad stretch.”
To improve your balance, try incorporating a few balance moves into your regimen. How often you need to do them to reap the rewards varies from person to person and depends on how their balance is to begin with. “These balance exercises are easy to incorporate into your daily workouts, even as part of your warm up,” Raagas says. “Strength training should be done two to three times a week and can help improve your balance by working the muscles that keep you stable.” Raagas recommends giving one of these exercises a try:
- Stand on one leg.
- Squat down on the standing leg while the opposite leg straightens out to the front.
- Come up to return back to standing position on the one leg.
“The more points of contact you have to the ground, the more stabilized your positioning,” Raagas says. “Pistol squats consist of only one point of contact and require great control and strength in the working leg, thus challenging one’s balance. If the exercise is too difficult, start holding onto something stable. If you are looking for a challenge, try performing on an unstable surface like a balance dome or balance pad.”
Single leg dead lift
- Start by standing on one leg with the opposite foot slightly off the ground, look straight and keep the core tight. The hand of standing leg should be positioned on your hip while the other arm is relaxed.
- Simultaneously, lean forward by bending at the hips, keep the standing leg slightly bent and lift and extend the opposite leg behind you. Free hand reaches toward the ground but should not touch the ground.
- Return back to starting position without free foot touching the ground.
“The less points of contact you have to the ground, the more you challenge your stability and balance,” Raagas says. “Similar to the pistol squat, single leg dead lifts force you to engage core stability, balance and control in your movement. If the above was too easy, try this exercise adding weight by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in the reaching hand.
Sumo squat to one leg stand
- Look straight and position legs wider than shoulder width apart.
- Squat down.
- Return standing on one leg/one side raising opposite knee in front of you.
- Squat back down with both legs.
- Return standing on the other leg raising opposite knee in front of you.
“Wide stances create a more stable position,” Raagas says. “With an exercise like above, the person is going from a wide, stable stance to a single leg stand, challenging their equilibrium. One may naturally want to use their arms to help balance themselves out; try performing this exercise keeping hands on the hips or relaxed and straight down. This exercise can be advanced by adding weight with a pair of dumbbells. Or, try changing the stability of the surface and use a balance pad or balance dome.”
- Step out with one foot in front of you to a forward lunge.
- From the lunge position, push off from the floor and stand up to front foot bringing your back foot underneath you.
- Step forward with other foot to lunge position.
- Repeat 2 – 3 alternating leading foot or leg.
“Walking lunges require one to shift both weight and center of gravity,” Raagas says. “For a progression, hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands.”
- Stand on one leg.
- Swing opposite leg of standing across your body and then out to the side, repeat 10 times.
- Switch standing leg.
- Swing opposite leg of standing across your body and the out to the side, repeat 10 times.
“The above can be performed holding onto something like a chair to help with balance or performed on a balance pad for a more challenging experience,” Raagas says. “Swings can also be done forward and back. Vary the range of motion or speed of swings for further progressions or regressions. Leg swings require a great deal of control and balance.”
Plank with a wellness ball
- Hold a plank with forearms positioned on a wellness ball. Try holding for at least 30 – 45 seconds at a time.
“This exercise strengthens the core, which in turn can help to improve trunk stability,” Raagas says. “For a modification, try without a wellness ball. For a progression, lengthen the hold time or try alternating arm raises while maintaining the plank position to really challenge your core strength and balance.”
Alternating leg raises with active sitting wellness ball
- Sit on an active sitting wellness ball with both feet flat on the ground in front of you and hands rested on your lap or on your hips. The ball will naturally promote a pelvic tilt and encourage core engagement with proper posture.
- Raise one foot off the ground and extend in front of you.
- Place extended leg back to its starting position.
- Repeat 2 – 3 alternating legs.
“This exercise engages the core, promotes proper posture, challenges your balancing and coordination skills all at the same time,” Raagas says.
A version of this story was published July 2019.
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