7 Ways to Improve Your Balance

By Steven Jew, PT, DPT | Therapydia Pearl

 

From putting on your pants (one leg at at a time) to walking the tight rope, balance is necessary for everyone. Seniors use it while navigating uneven sidewalks. Athletes must recruit hundreds of muscles in an instant to coordinate in accurate and powerful movements. No matter where we are on this spectrum, we can all benefit from training and developing our balance further. 

What is balance?

Balance in general is the coordination between muscle groups, acting around your core muscles, to promote a desired action. These muscles use quickly firing “proprioceptive” nerve endings that send signals to your brain. Your brain then automatically send signals back down to all of your muscles, directing which muscles fire, and by how much. As long as you are Upright, these actions are continuously occurring. Ultimately there are two kinds of balance:

  • Static balance is the ability to maintain your center of gravity (the majority of your weight) over your base of support (usually your feet).
  • Dynamic balance is the ability to move your center of gravity outside of your base of support while still maintaining your desired posture.

Think of static balance as your ability to maintain a position without moving or falling over. This could be simply sitting or standing, but just as easily translates over to a one handed tree pose utilized by only the most advanced practitioners of yoga. Whereas dynamic balance is balance in motion. It’s utilized when you walk, run, kick, spin, pivot, or jump. With these kinds of activities, the majority of your body’s weight is located away from your base of support, requiring a much faster and powerful response from supportive muscle groups.

Why is it important to have good balance?

Both elements of balance are equally important and heavily influence each other. But why is this important to talk about? We’ve all experienced that sickening feeling at some point in our lives when we lose our balance and cordially greet the floor. So, the obvious answer that comes to mind would be to avoid blunt force trauma to our extremities or face. After all, injuries following a fall are responsible for about 54% of all hospital visits. But balance covers so much more than just falling. From a Physical Therapist point of view, balance throughout the body also heavily influences our predisposition for sustaining overuse injuries, tendinopathies, sprains, strains, and degenerative diseases.  

So, to help reduce  your risk of sustaining an injury, here are 7 exercises to help promote your coordination, both statically and dynamically. 

Exercise 1: High Knee Single Leg Hold

How to do this move?

Raise your arms out to the sides. With your stance leg, grip the floor with your toes, your arch should elevate slight, assisting further with your ankle’s stability. Lift your opposing knee towards your chest, as high as you can. Hold this position.

30 second hold, 5 times each side

Modifications:

Modification to make this exercise easier: Lower your opposing knee until you are able to maintain balance.

Modification to make this exercise more difficult: Try balancing on an unstable surface like a pillow or couch cushion. 

Exercise 2: Back Lunge

How to do this move?

From a standing position, slide one foot backwards. Bend your knees so that your leg in front bends to 90 degrees, staying behind your toes, and your leg behind you bends to touch the floor gently. Keep your chest upright through the whole movement. Stand back to your neutral position. Try to keep your forward knee from collapsing inwards.

3 sets of 10 repetitions, each side

Modifications:

Modifications to make this exercise easier: Hold onto a chair on the same side as your backward leg.

Modifications to make this exercise harder: Hold a dumbbell on the same side as your back leg to challenge your balance further.

Exercise 3: Bird Dog

How to do this move?

Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Tighten your abdominal muscles and carefully lift your arm and opposite leg in an outstretched position no higher than your body. Keep your spine flat and avoid rotating your body. Hold the position. Return to your starting position and repeat on the other side.

2 sets of 16 repetitions, hold for 5 seconds.

Modifications:

Modifications to make this exercise easier: lift only one limb at a time, concentrating on keeping your spine from moving.

Modifications to make this exercise harder: turn into a bear crawl bird dog. Do this by lifting your knees off the ground and perform the exercise as previously described.

Exercise 4: Single Leg Russian Dead Lift

How to do this move?

From a standing position, squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you, lift your chin slightly. Keep your spine straight. Begin lifting your opposing leg in an outstretched and straight position. Begin tipping forward until you reach your end range of motion or you become horizontal with the ground.

Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 10 times each side.

Modifications:

Modifications to make this exercise easier: bend your stance leg’s knee slightly and using a chair back for support. 

Modifications to make this exercise harder: add a dumbbell to the opposing side.

Exercise 5: Single Leg Y Reach

How to do this move?

Standing on one leg, reach with your opposite leg as far as you can in three different directions: forward, backwards to the left, and backwards to the right. 

10 times each leg, each direction. 

Modifications:

Modifications to make this exercise easier: shortening your reach. 

Modifications to make this exercise harder: reach in the opposite direction with dumbbells.

Exercise 6: Single Leg Squat 

How to do this move?

Method 1: Opposing leg reaches in front of your body, squat as low as you can without your knee collapsing inwards or progressing past your toes. Keep your chest up and your foot flat.

Method 2: Opposing leg reaches behind your body, squat as low as you can without your knee collapsing inwards or progressing past your toes. Keep your chest up and your foot flat.

3 sets of 6 repetitions

Modifications:

Modifications to make this exercise easier: turn into a split squat. Place your back leg on a chair or bench. Perform the squat with 90% of your body weight on your stance leg.

Modifications to make this exercise harder: perform on an unstable surface like a pillow or Bosu ball.

Exercise 7: Ice Skaters

How to do this move?

Starting Position: Begin in a partial squat with the weight focused through your heel, quads, glutes and abs doing most of the work.  Knee stays behind and in line with your big toe.  Movement: Leap to your side, landing on your outside leg, inside leg reaches behind and across your body. Focus on decelerating and loading in a partial lunge position.Repeat to the opposite side.

2 sets of 16 repetitions

Modifications:

Modifications to make this exercise easier: take a large step side to side instead of jumping and keep your body more upright. 

Modifications to make this exercise harder: add a resistance band around your ankles.

 

One of the most important aspects of balance training is to stay mindful of it throughout the day. Think about where you lean when you’re standing, if you favor one leg over the other while squatting, or if your knee collapses inwards as you climb stairs. Try to control your alignment and engage your core even for simple tasks and you’ll begin to see your stability, and even strength, improve. If you have any difficulties with these exercises, pain, or noticeable issues with your balance, Therapydia’s physical therapists are ready and excited to help you improve your wellness.

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