Fitness Articles

Improve Your Balance in 3 Simple Steps

Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Core and Prevent Falls

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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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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • BEEKON
    Thank yu so much for the great tips and reminders! - 7/17/2014 2:37:58 PM
  • EMERALDISLES
    Oh just what I needed to see. I'm working on riding a bike outside and hopefully being able to inline skate someday, and these were some very great tips. A lot of it comes from balance and basically practicing and not giving up. - 4/12/2014 8:03:27 PM
  • I recently have been using a slackline kit to develop my balance. It's not for everyone but I don't think there is anything out there that will challenge you and build overall body balance better than this unique fitness equipment. - 3/13/2014 2:09:39 PM
  • Thanks for sharing - 11/15/2013 7:24:49 AM
  • Thank you. Losing over 100lbs, I struggled with regaining my balance in a thinner body. It has been a challenge. Additionally, as someone with clinical depression, balance is affected. Great ideas to help me continue to improve. Love the closing eyes exercise! - 11/9/2013 8:31:03 AM
  • Thank you. Great info - 8/7/2013 12:29:00 PM
  • I had to laugh at the tip to close your eyes! I am blind and my balance is an issue. I try to work on it, but some things just seem out of my training level! Sight is important to balance. But, it makes you realize how important sight is... I took so much for granted before losing my eyesight! Great tips if you can see! - 6/6/2013 6:34:04 PM
  • RUNESHADOW
    Interesting ideas. I have back, hip, and knee problems, and keep a fairly wide stance much of the time to alleviate the pain. I would be terrified to try any exercise with my eyes closed. I have an extremely poor sense of my body and rarely take off my glasses... even in the shower (I keep the spray at shoulder height) and at the chiropractor's. I get extremely disoriented very quickly and go into panic mode. I have a heck of a time getting Xrays or MRIs... the techs usually take my glasses and tell me to follow them, which is silly, because I can't see them to follow them and I wobble and start to fall... so I ask that they take my glasses after I am on the table! After surgery once, the post-op nurses couldn't wake me, but the doc had my glasses in her pocket, and when she put my glasses on me, I popped up and awake. Even with my glasses on, from time to time I lose my body sense and repeatedly crash into a doorway... in the apartment where I have spent 18 years. The doorways never change, and I get frustrated with myself because I'd think I should KNOW to go through the doorway two inches to the left! I have nightlights in several rooms... crashed into my bedroom wall racing to the bathroom early one dark morning. I've broken my toes more times than I can count. So, sorry, but I won't be trying to exercise with my eyes closed! Better balance would be nice, but not with my high risk of injury. - 4/3/2013 7:13:44 PM
  • Working with balance is HUGE for me. After surviving a severe brain insult some years ago, I've worked my way from relearning to walk (amongst many other things) to adding balance/core strengthening aspects into my workouts through the additions of bosu and physio balls, one-legged work, jumping rope blind folded, ... , and a 5x a week yoga practice. Balancing poses are challenging for me. I once dreaded them. Now I say, bring 'em on! - 4/3/2013 6:14:02 AM
  • NITSIE1
    Very helpful article, thank you!
    - 1/19/2013 8:10:04 PM
  • I truly do think balance is a core problem for those of us 65 and older. I am heavy, diabetic, with a bad back, serious arthritis in both knees, and very sore feet with two nonmalignant tumors. Walking is painful and the mornings are really a struggle. I fell last year and broke my arm and my back, although they have healed nicely. I do stretching and focused breathing from a seated position because that is all I think I can safely do for now. As the weight comes down, I expect some pain issues to reduce and maybe by the end of 2013 I can safely do some standing exercises. Forward, slow and safe is my goal. - 1/15/2013 1:23:46 AM
  • It's really important as we get older, especially if we experience knee pain, that we work on our balance. Proprioception is the ability we have at any given moment to sense the position and movements of our body. We should be able to tell without even looking if our legs are bent or straight, crossed or uncrossed. This ability is crucial when we want to do an activity that involves getting something done using our vision. For example, walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night without falling, pushing down on the gas or brake pedal in your car, or finding your keys in your pocket all involve proprioception. We risk knee injury if we lose any of that ability to sense our position or movement.
    For more info. on improving your balance and relieving minor knee problems at home, read the book, Treat Your Own Knees, by Jim Johnson, a physical therapist at Emory University. - 11/23/2012 12:34:41 AM
  • When I started the Livestrong program at the Y, one of my goals was to improve balance. We worked on that and many other things for 9 weeks. At the final assessment, I had increased from 1 second to 5 seconds on a foot, but I needed to touch a stabile surface with an extended index finger.

    So then the ear doctor said my ears were great, nothing there to cause the balance, migraine, and tinnitus problems.

    Xrays at the chiropractors showed my neck going every which way, and my head was sitting on my spine at a 30 degree angle. After daily visits for 3 weeks, migraines and tinnitus were gone. And I could balance for 30 seconds with no need to touch anything.

    I appreciate your suggestions and I plan to follow them to be sure so other issues pop up here.

    But you might have unknown physical problems that need to be evaluated by an ENT specialist or a chiropractor.

    Stay healthy and vibrant!! - 11/14/2012 12:15:36 PM
  • Thanks! I needed this! - 11/14/2012 7:17:19 AM
  • Using the Wii is great for balancing exercises. :) - 9/29/2012 7:34:20 PM
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