Last month, my challenge to you was a quick balance test.
Now I’m back – as promised – with some simple-yet-effective balance exercises for you to practice.
Challenge #13 – Develop a home balance practice.
Balance training . . . should really be part of your regular strength training practice. The stronger the muscles in your legs, glutes, feet, and core . . . the better your balance will be! Almost any kind of movement practice will improve your balance — Tai Chi, yoga, weight training, dancing, cycling, aerobics classes — are all excellent ways to work on your balance skills and minimize your fall risk. But. Some forms of movement or exercise are better at developing your balance than others!
“If your only movement is walking on a smooth surface, with no side-to-side movement, it’s not going to significantly improve your balance. If you really want to improve your balance, you’ll get the most benefit focusing on several specific exercises.”
— Dr. Rachael Seidler, a professor in the Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology at the University of Florida (quoted in the New York Times)
How to begin?
You can start right at home. Basic balance training doesn’t require any special equipment. And you don’t need to wear special work-out clothes or anything. Heck, you can do these moves in your pajamas if you want to! You can wear shoes . . . or go barefoot. (You can probably guess my preferred option. . . )
I do have a couple of notes for you, though . . . before you read further.
First, there will seem to be an overwhelming amount of information about these exercises in this post. A photo. A description. An indication of how many “reps” to do, and (sometimes) for how long. Suggestions for making them more challenging. It seems to be . . . a LOT. But, really, it isn’t. These are very straightforward exercises. Simple. Quick. It’s just . . . a lot of words. I just want to describe them so you can DO them.
Second, HOLD ON . . . until you feel absolutely comfortable. You should begin these exercises with a chair nearby for support — just to get a sense of the movements. When you feel strong and confident about the various exercises, you can try holding the chair with just one hand, and – eventually – without holding on at all. Just remember — it’s all about when YOU feel ready. (And you’re the best judge of that.) (And . . . if you ever find the exercises become too easy for you, well . . . you can try them with your eyes closed!)
Third, you need to develop a regular balance practice if you want to develop your balance skills. It’s important for you to do all 5 exercises, as each one works your balance in a slightly different way. Together, they add up to a solid balance training practice.
Last, it might seem like all this is going to take too much time. But that’s not true. I ran through the entire series of balance exercises this morning, and it took me just under 5 minutes. Short. Simple. Effective. Really . . . trust me.
Okay. It’s time to move ahead with the challenge. . .
Try these five balance exercises two to three times a week, gradually increasing the difficulty as you feel comfortable and start to improve your strength.
Now . . . I’m going to describe 5 balance exercises for you to do on the regular (accompanied by wonderful, high-quality photos shot right in my bathroom by my trusty photographer, Tom). Let’s go!
Balance Exercise 1 – Single Leg Stance
Stand behind a chair, holding on with both hands. Lift one leg off the ground, bending the lifted knee toward your chest and stand on one leg for five seconds. Repeat five times, then do the same with your other leg. Too easy? Hold onto the chair with one hand, release both hands, or for a big challenge . . . try closing your eyes.
Balance Exercise #2 – Body Weight Squats
Stand with your feet hip distance apart, toes forward. Bend your knees and lower yourself until your thighs are parallel(-ish) to the floor, keeping your weight in your heels. Extend your arms in front of you; hold on to a chair if you need help with balance, or squat lower if it’s too easy. Repeat 10 times. Hold a dumbbell to add to the difficulty. (Note: This is the same body weight squat from my very first Fitness Challenge . . . only you’re not ending up on the couch.)
Balance Exercise #3 – Bird Dog
Start on your hands and knees, back flat. Lift one leg straight behind you and lift the opposite arm straight in front, so you are balancing on one knee and one hand. Hold for five to 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side. If you can’t manage this one at first, keep both hands on the floor and just lift your leg. As you develop your balance (and your core), you’ll be able to try lifting the opposite arm.
Balance Exercise #4 – Lateral Leg Lifts
Stand behind a chair, holding on with both hands. Lift one leg to the side, trying to keep your body as still as possible. Repeat with the other leg, five times per side. Increase the intensity by holding the leg up longer or letting go of the chair.
Balance Exercise #5 – Tandem Stance
Stand up straight and put one foot directly in front of the other, with your heel touching your toe. Keep equal weight on both feet, knees slightly bent. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch feet, repeating three times. Close your eyes to make it more difficult.
And . . . that’s it. I know it sounds like/looks like a lot, but once you try it a couple of times . . . 5 minutes is all you’ll need, 2 or 3 times a week.
See what happens.
(And be sure to scroll down the page for the outtakes of our photo shoot.)
Previous Get Strong Monthly Fitness Challenges:
(For now, most of these links will whisk you back to Stepping Away From the Edge. I’m working at transferring them over to my new space, but it hasn’t happened yet. Bear with me.)
And now, the Outtakes . . . just for fun.