Improve Your Balance in 3 Simple Steps

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
7/22/2009 11:15 AM   :  54 comments   :  19,513 Views

Hiking on a wooded trail. Riding a bike down the street. Doing crunches on a stability ball. Hitting the slopes. Walking up the stairs with ease. These are more than simple pleasures you can enjoy by living a healthy lifestyle. They're also proof that your body's ability to balance while doing a variety of things is pretty amazing. Even when you're not thinking about it, your body is balancing—in everyday life, when you exercise, and during your active pastimes.

Most people don't spend any time thinking about their balance until it's too late—when they actually fall or injure themselves. But balance isn't just a concern for the elderly who are more prone to falls (and the serious complications those falls can cause). Balance training is important for everyone, from athletes to casual exercisers.

Good balance and a strong core go hand in hand, and a strong core usually means better posture, less back pain and improved performance during exercise and athletics. Plus, the better you balance the less likely you are to fall or injure yourself. If you haven't thought much about maintaining—or enhancing—your balance, now is as good a time as any to start.

You've probably seen lots of fancy fitness gizmos that are designed to help you improve your balance—everything from a simple stability ball to balance boards, inflatable balance discs, BOSU trainers, foam rollers and more. While these items certainly add challenge to your workout, you really don't need ANY fancy equipment—not even a Wii Fit—to improve your balance. In fact, you can turn just about any standard strength-training or flexibility exercise into one that does double duty by improving your balance while you work your muscles. With multi-tasking moves like these under your belt, that means you won't have to spend more time exercising just to improve your balance. Find out how!

  1. Change Your Base of Support. Balance is your ability to maintain your center of gravity over your base of support. When you're standing up, your legs are your base of support. The wider your legs are, the wider your base is and the easier it is to balance. The closer your legs are together, the narrower your base of support is and the harder it is to remain balanced. One of the easiest ways you can challenge (and therefore help improve) your balance during any standing exercise is to gradually narrow your base of support until your feet and legs are together while you perform your exercise. Bring your legs closer together while you do standing biceps curls, shoulder raises, squats or other upper body moves. Be sure to keep your abs pulled in tight and make sure you're not leaning backward as you perform your exercises. Note: You can also widen or narrow your base of support while lying on or sitting on a stability ball to perform exercises, so try this progression when you're on the ball, too!

  2. Try It on One Leg. Once you've mastered doing an exercise with a narrow base of support, you're ready for the next challenge: balancing on a single leg. Instead of standing on both legs during some of the same moves above, try it on a single leg. Start by just lifting one heel (keeping your toes on the floor) while doing your upper body moves or working up to a single leg squat. As you get better, lift that foot off the ground completely. From there, you can play around with the position of your lifted leg—holding it behind you, in front of you, to the side or, for a greater challenge, moving that leg while you balance on the other leg and perform upper body movements. Just be sure to alternate legs to keep your strength and muscle tone balanced (no pun intended) between both sides of your body. Tip: You can also experiment with momentary one-leg balances. For example, on a forward lunge, lift your front or back leg for a moment each time your push up out of your lunge. Watch my 6-Minute Hips, Glues & Thighs Workout video for a few examples of this technique.

  3. Close your eyes. Your sense of vision is a big part of the balance equation. It works hand in hand with the vestibular (inner ear) and proprioceptive systems to maintain balance and prevent falls. By staring at a single focal point (minimizing your head and eye movement), you'll balance more easily. If you move your gaze or take vision out of the equation altogether, it's harder to balance. This option is definitely a challenge—not something for beginners and not something you can do in any given situation. You'll want to make sure you're in a controlled environment and that your body is planted (don't attempt this while walking or hiking or moving through space). You can start by just standing up tall and closing your eyes without moving. Over time, combine the narrow base of support with some one-leg balances while closing your eyes. You might be surprised how challenging it is to simply stand with your eyes closed, let alone stand on one foot or while doing a biceps curl. Just be sure to use your best judgment and listen to your body when trying this technique. Safety first!


Now you know how to make balance training a forethought instead of an afterthought in your workouts—without spending more time or money on exercise. By using these techniques and really paying attention to your body as you exercise, you should notice improvements in your balance, coordination, posture, core strength and agility—ones that you can carry with you as you age, help you prevent spills and falls, and build your confidence when trying new and exciting fitness pursuits!


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Comments

  • 54
    Can work on some of that one-legged stuff while waiting in line at the store or p.o. - 3/10/2013   5:41:37 PM
  • MAYMORRIS1
    53
    Great! I love it because it is so easy to do. - 8/21/2012   1:01:31 PM
  • LEIBROWN
    52
    Awesome video I will definitely incorporate into my routines. - 4/23/2010   12:39:05 PM
  • 51
    The videos for TAI CHI with Rodney Yee are wonderful to improve balance. - 1/15/2010   10:35:35 AM
  • 50
    I have had 2 falls in the last 12 months. One especially affected my health adversely as I broke a bone and was unable to exercise for several weeks. Balance exercises, I think, are as important as cardio and strength. - 1/6/2010   5:45:54 PM
  • FOX2566
    49
    I have been working on balance with core exercises. These are great ideas. Thanks! - 10/18/2009   9:58:20 PM
  • 48
    I am going to include this in my next upper body workout. - 8/16/2009   6:54:02 PM
  • 47
    As a new member, attempting various moves, I've noticed my imbalance.
    You have offered me some great pointers, thanks! - 8/8/2009   8:38:51 AM
  • 46
    So glad to get this info. Just recently I have been concerned about my balance so will make use of this information. Thanks, Nicole - 8/2/2009   6:44:22 PM
  • 45
    Boy, I needed this information. Thanks for providing it. - 8/2/2009   11:27:04 AM
  • NUNANA
    44
    These tips will also add spice to my current program! - 7/27/2009   1:00:49 AM
  • 43
    Wow! Thanks for those tips, Coach ... I do the single-leg thing, but hadn't heard about the narrower base of support idea! I'll also be trying the closed-eye version ... sounds like FUN! - 7/25/2009   7:30:20 AM
  • 42
    Good article. When I was receiving balancing training for vertigo, for the closed eyes session while standing, the physical therapist had me stand in a corner with a chair in front of me to catch me if I should start to fall. This is a good idea, especially if you are practicing alone. - 7/24/2009   1:12:30 AM
  • 41
    Well, unlike the other commenters I wasn't impressed. I was hoping for something else b/c I am blind and balance is a big issue. I practice standing on 1 leg in the pool and after every strength training program. I can't even begin to do the 1 legged lunges; I've tried! Plus, every teeter scares me as I am still recovering from a broken leg. But, I will try the feet together more closely to see if this will help, but my eyes are "closed" all the time whether I'm moving through space or not! It does make balance much more difficult! - 7/23/2009   9:24:54 PM
  • SCHWARTZYG
    40
    Thanks for the great information:) - 7/23/2009   9:22:58 PM
  • 39
    Thank you. - 7/23/2009   8:58:52 PM
  • 38
    Having trouble with balance found this article very informative and useful - 7/23/2009   5:25:42 PM
  • 37
    Thanks for this blog. It's a good one. I do use Wii Fit and can tell where that has helped improve my balance. For off-Wii exercises I plan to try your suggestions, leading up to the single leg & closed-eye versions. Sure not ready for them yet though. LOL - 7/23/2009   4:52:19 PM
  • 36
    I have been getting lots of balance games on my Wii fit, when I first tried them they were hard and now they are improving and I also see myself improving balance wise. - 7/23/2009   4:38:24 PM
  • SOPALTENBASS
    35
    This was a great article to read. I have hydrocephalus (corrected with an endoscopic third ventriculostomy in 2005) and that severely impaired my balance prior to correction due to the increased pressure on my brain. Balance has improved since correction, but it is still something I have to work on.

    Another good "exercise" to try is to walk a straight line, as if you were on a balance beam but do it while you're flat on the floor, so that if you lose your balance you don't fall off of anything. This is something my neurosurgeon always has me do when I see him, and I still can't do it very well, even four years post-surgery. (It's a good thing I don't drive and that when I drink, I drink in moderation, because if I did drive and got pulled over, I'd fail the straight line test...lol) - 7/23/2009   1:48:13 PM
  • SDPAPA
    34
    Thank you! I have been yearning to improve my balance. Is there such thing as over doing it? Is it like an exercise where there is a time, set, or rep? - 7/23/2009   1:26:24 PM
  • MIRYROADS
    33
    I've been needing this. Thanks! - 7/23/2009   12:19:37 PM
  • DOCJUD
    32
    Thanks coach, I needed that! My problem seems to be that when decending stairs, I feel off balance, enjoy when holding the handrail. - 7/23/2009   11:19:17 AM
  • STEPFANIER
    31
    I often stand in tree pose (with one foot on my inner shin) or tuck one foot behind me when I stand to practice balance and core strength. Plus, it's a nice break for aching feet! - 7/23/2009   10:08:47 AM
  • 30
    Last winter when I tried cross country skiing for the first time I realized that despite all of my other significant accomplishments, I still have a HORRIBLE sense of balance! I can't tell you the numbers of times I landed on my behind as my feet zipped out from under me whenever there was even the slightest downhill movement! Argh! So frustrating! But despite that I really haven't paid attention to improving my balance since...I appreciate the suggestions and will have to PUSH myself to following through on them as I don't want to simply sit back and say: Well, I guess cross country skiing is not for me!

    Don, Co-Leader of All Health Professionals SparkTeam, Binghamton Area Losers & Laid Off But Staying Tough SparkTeams - 7/23/2009   9:59:26 AM
  • 29
    Thanks, Coach Nicole - keep the excellent posts coming! - 7/23/2009   7:58:04 AM
  • 28
    Since surviving a ruptured brain aneurysm, balance is a real challenge for me. This blog gives me hope that it is not an irreversible problem. I have found, however, that keeping my eyes closed during yoga practice actually improves my balance. Anybody have insight on this? - 7/23/2009   7:26:00 AM
  • 27
    I sometimes lift one leg and close my eyes when I am by the copy machine or stand in line somewhere. It's very challenging to balance with eyes closed, but I think I'm slowly getting better. Will definitely try to narrow my base of support when working out at the gym. - 7/23/2009   6:24:01 AM
  • 26
    I hadn't thought of changing my stance - putting my feet/legs together, but I have closed my eyes and that really does make balance more of an exercise! I've been exercising and not knowing it! - 7/23/2009   5:51:49 AM
  • 25
    Why is that I always seem to find out that I could have done something for free or cheap after I have bought some expensive exercise equipment. LOL.

    Good blog. Now if I could just balance and read at the same time. LOL

    - 7/23/2009   5:50:05 AM
  • 24
    All good points, but I find the practice of Tai Chi to be a great help in maintaining balance. - 7/23/2009   5:41:41 AM
  • 23
    Great blog & tips. Thanks. - 7/23/2009   3:45:42 AM
  • 22
    Tough to do with your eyes closed. - 7/22/2009   11:09:31 PM
  • 21
    Thank you! - 7/22/2009   10:44:19 PM
  • 20
    Another great article by Coach Nicole! I was clueless as to my how impaired my center of gravity was until I began using Wii Fit. I will try to incorporate these suggestions (gradually) as I gain more strength. - 7/22/2009   9:09:34 PM
  • 19
    More evidence that Coach Nicole rocks. When I went to a chiropractor with unexplained upper back pain, one of the things he suggested was that I buy a stability ball. Now I use it for a chair and for most of my strength training, and the back pain is mostly gone. Besides, the challenge helps keep me engaged in my workout. - 7/22/2009   8:37:22 PM
  • STEPFANIER
    18
    I think you CAN improve your balance. I don't think flexibility has much to do with it, from my experience, but I've noticed that my balance has improved as my strength has increased.

    Vrksasana, or Tree Pose, is a great way to work on your balance. But CAUTION: The woman in this photo is INCORRECTLY holding the pose. The foot should be either inside the ankle, the shin or the thigh--NEVER at the knee. In this pose, you press your foot into your standing leg to help stay balanced. Keeping it at the knee puts undue pressure on that joint. If you lose your balance while you're pressing on your knee, you could injure yourself. This is a popular yoga pose that's often done incorrectly. - 7/22/2009   2:23:35 PM
  • 17
    I had a yoga instructor once tell me that you can improve your flexibility but you can't really improve your balance, that was developed early on in life. So I'm surprised to see this. I'll have to try some of these techniques! - 7/22/2009   2:21:53 PM
  • 16
    I use this type of training all the time. Thank you so much for bringing this up, it really adds a challenge to the simplest of moves.

    My favorite is the single leg dead lift. - 7/22/2009   2:16:20 PM
  • 15
    Good article. I am guilty of not appreciating my balance. However I think I will try some of the exercises listed during my regular routine just for improving my balance. - 7/22/2009   2:09:45 PM
  • 14
    I am using my chair. - 7/22/2009   1:48:22 PM
  • 13
    I am gonna have to try using the stability ball for a chair at my desk, in fact I am excited about giving it a try. - 7/22/2009   1:34:31 PM
  • 12
    As soon as I read the title of this article, I traded my computer desk chair for my stability ball. Using a stability ball as a chair aids in balancing even while reading SparkArticles:) - 7/22/2009   1:08:08 PM
  • 11
    In martial arts, it is taught to command the moment and not prepare the body for the next movement lest balance be lost for the current stance. Balancing with one leg raised backwards is still difficult for me, as in the Half-moon pose in yoga. - 7/22/2009   1:03:01 PM
  • 10
    I used to teach a balance & falls prevention workshop for seniors, & this is bang-on! Another thing I did w/ them was varying gait training. We'd all walk in a circle, normal, faster, then backward, then sideways one way, then the other, stopping on a dime & changing direction at my discression (too fun!). We'd also walk looking up & down (similating grocery store activities) & side-to-side. They also loved the obstacle course I would set up for them.

    ***SEONAG*** If you have vertigo (I do, too), practice turning your head side to side, slowly building up to 60x/minute. I know, that strikes fear into you, but you gotta "train" your inner-vestibular system (& your brain) that head movements are normal & OK. Yes, it very well might bring on vertigo, so start slowly, & build your way up. If you get dizzy, stop. - 7/22/2009   12:49:07 PM
  • 9
    I am a regular stability ball user. I think it has exonentially improved my balance. I sit on it to exercise, but I also sit on it just to watch television. It helps balance and also improves the strength in your lower back and your abs. I love my stability ball. - 7/22/2009   12:44:27 PM
  • 8
    I also use the Wii Fit - it has been great in showing me just how far off my balance is. It is getting to the point that I know before I even get on it that I'm a little off kilter that day, and it helps me correct it. - 7/22/2009   12:41:21 PM
  • 7
    After having both knees replaced, I'm very aware of balance! It's part of physical therapy, and boy I can understand why! I had such a fear of falling until I gained my balance! Work hard at it everyday! - 7/22/2009   12:31:26 PM
  • 6
    Having a daughter in gymnastics and occasionally helping coach I am quite aware of balance and how I need to improve on mine.
    Lunges - they may be a great exercise for the legs and glutes but I hate doing them only because I can't keep my balance.
    Balance is definately something one has to work on to improve, just as you do cardio and strength.
    Being in great shape is a key factor for good balance. - 7/22/2009   12:07:12 PM
  • LITENMEUP
    5
    Never realized I was out of balance until I tried the exercises in my workout class. Now I'm proud to say I can balance myself quite well. - 7/22/2009   11:52:23 AM

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