Balance exercises are one of the four types of exercise that everyone should incorporate into their physical fitness routine, according to the American Heart Association.
Performed several times per week, exercises for improved balance will build strength, mobility, and flexibility. Though we don’t realize it, we are balancing with any movement we do, from standing to going up and down the stairs, to running.
Increased balance is better for our foot health, athletic performance, and general health, especially as we age. Often, we don’t realize how poor our balance is until we try out some balancing poses. Try out the ones listed below and see how you fare!
Why Balance Matters
Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or getting into a sport after a sedentary period, incorporating balance exercises into your regular fitness routine will support any active endeavor, whether it’s running or picking up your dropped keys.
Balance is the essential foundation of every moment we make. It keeps the body’s center of mass over its support base. Even standing still requires balance.
This is especially important during movement, particularly over uneven surfaces, like trails.
Regular balance training provides a number of benefits for people of all ages and activity levels. Advantages of regular balance training includes:
- Strengthening core muscles
- Improving stability
- Reducing injuries
- Increases power
- Better posture
Adults with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or those who have suffered a stroke will all benefit from balance exercises.
Zero-Drop Shoes and Balance
If you’re wearing zero-drop or minimalist shoes, ahem, like Lems, then you’re starting off on the right, well, foot!
Since wearing zero-drop or minimalist shoes closely mimics how your foot sits when you are barefoot, your balance will naturally begin to improve.
The lack of a raised heel, keeps your foot closer to and even with the ground and the wide toe box allows the toes to splay naturally. This position provides more surface area for your foot to stand, therefore improving balance.
Additionally, using the feet as they were intended to move will build the muscles that have been weakened after years of wearing traditional shoes with raised heels and tapered toe boxes.
Balance and Aging
As we age, so goes our balance. Older adults who don’t continue to practice balance as they age are more likely to fall and hurt themselves. Some falls can result in serious injuries, like hip fractures, that can have long term repercussions on quality of life.
Further, maintaining a regular balance routine as you age helps make daily activities easier, such as walking, getting into the shower, or walking up and down the stairs.
Balance Exercises for Athletes
Balance exercise can be performed on a daily basis, with a minimum recommendation of three days a week.
There are two different types of balance: static and dynamic balance.
Dynamic balance refers to balance in movement, like with a single leg deadlift.
Static balance refers to maintaining balance in a steady position, such as standing on one leg.
Both types are important to practice regularly. We include exercises for both below.
While you don’t need any special equipment for these exercises, you may find that you want more of a challenge as you become more practiced.
To start, you can use a pillow to stand on. Eventually, you may want to consider a BOSU ball or a MOBO Board. Designed by the same podiatrist who created Correct Toes, the MOBO board is designed to specifically target the foot muscles to help build strength.
Static Balance Exercises for Athletes
The advantage of static balance exercises is that they can be performed pretty much anywhere!
You can stand on one leg while you shower.
Try balancing on one foot while you put on your shoe and tie the lace.
Dropped your keys? Do a single leg deadlift to pick them up.
This classic yoga pose is great for building ankle strength and core engagement.
Stand on the floor, a pillow, BOSU ball, or another surface and slowly lift one foot and place it on the side of your calf or thigh. Just avoid placing it directly on the knee. Arms can stay on the hips or raised above your head in a “Y” shape.
Hold for up to one minute, starting with 30 seconds. Switch legs.
Single Leg Stand
Shift the weight to one foot and lift the other leg so that the thigh is parallel to the ground. The leg should be at a 90° angle. Place the hands on the hips and hold for up to one minute, starting at 30 seconds. Switch legs.
While standing on one leg, in the same position as the Single Leg Stand, point one arm in the different quarters of the clock. To up the challenge, ask a friend to call out times to you.
Perform for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
Dynamic Balance Exercises for Athletes
Dynamic balance exercises will test your balancing act! Since these all incorporate movement, you may find it helpful to pick a spot on the ground to focus.
Single Leg Deadlift
Feel free to use a weight for this one, if you like. If you’re just starting out then, try it without weight to get a sense of the motion.
Stand on one leg and hinge forward at the hips, until your back is parallel to the floor. Keep the back straight and the standing leg slightly bent.
Squeeze the glute as you rise back up and return to the starting position.
To make the move more challenging, continue the moment without setting your free leg back on the floor. You can also do this on a BOSU or other uneven surface.
Do 8-10 deadlifts on each side for three rounds.
Single Leg Squat
This is a super important exercise for hip strength and balance, especially for runners.
If you’re new to this exercise, then feel free to use some sort of assistance like a TRX, chair, or trekking pole.
The exercise is pretty simple! Just stand on one leg and perform a squat. Go as low as you can while keeping the hips even. Rise up to starting position.
There are many different variants of the single leg squat. You can do this over a chair. Once your butt hits the chair, rise back up to the starting position.
You can do these on a BOSU or other uneven surface. Once you get really good, you can point the raised leg to rotate to different positions of the clock.
Perform 8-10 squats on each side for three reps.
Reverse Lunge to High Knee
This is a great exercise for anyone who not only wants to improve their balance, but also their hill strength.
Perform a reverse lunge on one side, lifting the back leg all the way up until the thigh is parallel with the floor. Continue this movement and try not to let the free leg touch the ground.
Aim for 8-10 on each side for three reps.