When I think about having
good balance, I imagine a tightrope, balance beam, or unicycle. That’s the high-performance side of it, but balance is actually a huge part of your everyday life and movements–and it deserves training time.
In fact, everything you do requires balance, like stepping off a curb, walking, skiing, practicing yoga, and even getting up from a chair. “Balance is being able to control one’s body during movements and activities, and to keep our bodies in position while remaining static,” says Allison Kalsched, CPT, a certified personal trainer and the founder of AK+. “Keeping our bodies balanced is so pervasive in everyday life, so it’s important to think of most exercises as not only training specific muscle groups but also as a way to maintain and improve balance.”
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Training balance is always a good idea, it becomes even more important as you get older to reduce the risk of injury, adds Kalsched. “With good balance, our chances of accidents due to falling from a misstep or from muscle weakness decrease greatly.”
Another bonus? Good balance can reduce your muscle aches and pains. “When you have control of your body, it moves more efficiently, reducing the body’s natural inclination to compensate for weakness and instability,” explains Kalsched. “It’s impossible to overstate the importance of good balance.”
Luckily, balance exercises are easy to incorporate into your daily routine and can be as simple as walking (which can be made more challenging by adding weights or other forms of resistance), building core strength, or done by working one leg at a time, explains Kalsched. See a pattern? Balance is indeed everywhere.
Ready to find balance in all areas of your life? Read on to find out the best ways to test your balance and optimize your workout, followed by the five best balance exercises you can do, according to a trainer.
How To Test Your Balance
If you’re curious how good (or not so great) your balance skills are right now, Kalsched suggests trying out these three balance tests and noting how you feel on both sides:
- Start with support. Stand near a counter or wall so you can hold on or lightly touch for stability. Feel your right foot firmly planted on the ground and lift your left foot off the floor. Hold the position for 10 seconds. Then progress up to 30 seconds or 60 seconds. Switch feet and repeat.
- Free your hands. Lift your hands off the counter or wall and try the sequence again holding steady for 10 seconds, 30 seconds, and one minute. Aim to remain as still as possible and try to minimize any wobbles. Swap feet and repeat on the other side. Take note if one side feels more stable than the other.
- Close your eyes. Now, try holding the one-legged standing position on each leg for 10 seconds, 30 seconds, and one minute with your eyes closed and hands free. “When we close our eyes, or can’t see where we’re going, we are relying on our proprioceptive skills (your sense of how you move in space) that help us understand where our body is in space,” says Kalsched.
Benefits Of Balance Training
It bears repeating: Anyone and everyone can benefit from better balance. Balance training should be a core component of any physical fitness program, says Kalsched.
“If you are interested in pursuing athletics, you will benefit from balance training, because think about how much balance and body control athletes even beyond gymnasts and dancers must use,” she explains. “In combination with your strength, agility, and coordination training in the gym, adding balance work will help you control your body in situations both expected and unexpected.”
Additionally, if you’re thinking about having a baby, balance work is extra important. “Pregnancy is a big variable when it comes to balance, because as the baby grows and your body changes shape, the center of gravity changes and balance is affected,” says Kalsched. Start balance training and strengthening your core before you get pregnant, so your body is strong and ready for those physical changes.
Lastly, for those 60 and older, balance training is an especially great way to prevent injury. “It’s never too late to start and improve your balance, because think about how often we hear stories of older folks falling, breaking bones, and then having a long and challenging recovery,” explains Kalsched. “An exercise that includes both balance and strength work will help reduce the risks associated with falling.”
How To Optimize Your Balance Workout
Improving your balance can definitely take some practice, but Kalsched says there are a few things you can do to optimize your workout.
- Focus on your breath. The biggest factor in optimizing your balance is building a strong core by focusing on your breath, says Kalsched. “We can build core strength with some simple breathing exercises, because breathwork that focuses on a dynamic rib cage in alignment with the pelvis will help strengthen our abdominal muscles so that when we move, we are moving from a place of strength.” By maximizing your breathing, you’ll be able to control your energy and become aware of your alignment and stability. “Think of your breath as dumbbells for your abs,” she adds.
- Train barefoot. Training barefoot allows you to truly feel the floor, since shoes can change the way your feet connect with the ground, says Kalsched. Think about rooting the inside and outside of the heel, inner arch, and mound of the big toe on the floor, she explains. “Feel your heels because this will help build glute strength, which is part of the core.”
- Practice in open space. Balance training may seem simple, but it can be a recipe for disaster if you lose your footing. Always train in a safe environment and be aware of your surroundings. “Make sure if you do lose your balance while practicing, you won’t fall onto something that will cause severe injury,” says Kalsched. Practice on a stable floor and steer clear from kids, pets, or glass.
- Be patient. Balance training can be challenging, and you may feel more balanced on one side over the other. That’s okay! “Some days your balance will be good, and some days it won’t, but that doesn’t mean what you are doing isn’t working,” says Kalsched. “Keep working on it and the good days will be better.”
Best Balance Exercises
1. Single Leg Stand
Why it rocks: A single leg stand is one of Kalsched’s go-to balance exercises since it improves the proprioception and stability in your entire leg, including the ankle, knee, and hip. Plus, working one leg at a time can help address any side imbalances and build muscle endurance. Oh, and your abs will also engage, so it’s a sneaky core workout too.
- Stand with feet hips-distance apart.
- Plant right foot firmly on the ground and shift weight into right side. Think about keeping entire foot planted on the floor and ankle stable. Make sure right knee is soft (not locked out) and keep hands at sides.
- Lift left foot a few inches off the ground. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds then return to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Complete 6 reps on each side.
Pro tip: If you’re ready to level-up, Kalsched suggests extending your leg in front of you after you lift the foot off the ground and think about showing someone the bottom of your foot.
Why it rocks: Marching is an awesome warm-up exercise before a cardio session, but it’s also a great exercise to strengthen your glutes, says Kalsched. With each step, you should also focus on breathing and engaging your core which will help promote balance and stability.
- Stand with arms at side and shift weight to right foot. Keep a soft bend in right knee and inhale through the nose.
- Bend left knee as you lift left foot off the floor and bring left knee and right elbow toward the midline of your body. Your right arm should be bent at the elbow at 90 degrees. (Don’t bend over to get elbow and knee to touch, just bring knee and arm toward the center of body.)
- Exhale through your mouth and place the left foot down in front of you as though you are walking forward and return your arms at your side.
- Now shift weight to left foot, keep a soft knee, inhale, and lift right foot by bending right knee. Bring left elbow and right knee toward the midline as you exhale. Repeat and move forward slowly. That’s 1 rep. Complete 10 reps then switch sides and repeat.
3. Alternating Reverse Lunge
Why it rocks: Alternating reverse lunges are Kalsched’s favorite for a reason: They work your *entire* lower body and your core. Not to mention, the smaller stabilizer muscles in your legs will fire-up because lunges naturally have an element of balance since you end on one leg at a time.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms at your side.
- Inhale and step one leg back, lowering into a lunge by bending both knees about 90 degrees, keeping good posture, and abs engaged. Keep front knee tracking over or slightly in front of ankle.
- Exhale and with control, return to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Complete 10 reps then switch sides and repeat.
4. Single-Leg Deadlift
Why it rocks: This is a more advanced balance move because it requires extra core strength, says Kalsched. You’ll also be working your back, glutes, and hamstrings to keep you stable in each rep, and working one leg at a time can help identify muscle imbalances.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Shift weight to right leg, while maintaining a soft bend in the knee, and begin to drive left foot back like you’re stamping the bottom of foot on the wall behind you, keeping leg straight.
- Simultaneously, slowly start hinging at waist, and tip torso forward until it’s almost parallel to the floor (think about hinging and not bending at the hips).
- Keep arms straight, at shoulder height, and perpendicular to the floor at all times. At the bottom of the position, body should be in a straight line from the top of head to the bottom of left foot. Always keep hips even.
- Then, begin pulling left leg forward while keeping it straight, and lift torso up until you’re standing again. That’s 1 rep. Complete 6 reps on each side.
5. Bird Dog
Why it rocks: “The bird dog is a very common exercise that increases core strength and improves balance while challenging your coordination,” says Kalsched. It’s also a great warm-up move to fire-up your abs, glutes, and back, she adds.
- Start on all fours (i.e tabletop position) with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips.
- Engage core and pelvic floor muscles, then raise left arm in front of you and right leg behind, engaging glutes to form a straight line from left hand to right foot.
- Hold for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.
- Repeat on the other side with the opposite arm and leg. Complete 10 reps on each side.
Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.