Fitness Articles

Improve Your Balance in 3 Simple Steps

Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Core and Prevent Falls

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By Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor         
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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
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

Member Comments

  • I'm very weak due to being sedentary all my life and then getting cancer during which I lay in a recliner for two or three years. I've learned that just doing exercises to strengthen my thighs, ankles knees and back all worked to give me better balance. I haven't fallen in two or three years.
    - 2/12/2016 2:55:06 PM
  • JMB369
    I will definitely be trying some of these. I don't have any of the serious issues some people mentioned, so I think These ideas will work well for me. I do have one leg that is not as strong as the other (old injury and too many years if unconsciously favoring it), so part of improviing balance for me is equalizing strength. Great article and one I plan to share! - 12/12/2015 7:14:03 AM
  • I am glad Coach Nicole suggested gradually working on balance. My proprioceptive system has been out of whack most of my life, although it was just several years ago I encountered the term and learned what was wrong. I have virtually no sense of where I am in space and bump into walls, etc on a regular basis. I am working on gradually improving my balance overall, but no way would I try these things with my eyes closed. Without visual cues, I rapidly get disoriented and fall.

    Great suggestions... just please use caution if you already have balance issues. - 12/11/2015 10:06:01 AM
  • You never know that things like balance are gone until they're gone. I've never been very coordinated but now I trip over my own two feet. I fell down 3 times last month. At my age that's a dangerous thing. I'm definitely going to try these strategies. Thanks for the timely information. - 12/11/2015 8:20:16 AM
  • JULIANNEB1
    Thank you...I have BPPV, Vertigo and this is really good for balance..I appreciate all your great information! - 12/11/2015 7:34:19 AM
  • thanks for reminding me that I need to incorporate balance practice into my routines - I am 60 and have noticed that my balance has deteriorated. - 6/14/2015 6:20:10 AM
  • SIELKE
    The BEST help for balance I have found is Qi gong/Tai Chi. - 5/13/2015 7:36:39 AM
  • Please use caution when closing your eyes. I have proprioception problems big-time, and this is very dangerous for me. My chiropractor and I finally figured out what the problem was, and I still do not know how to improve proprioception. I have zero body sense, and sometimes I wonder how I manage to get by. I apparently compensate somehow, but I urge caution -- stay close to something you can grab if you don't know for sure this is safe. - 4/30/2015 5:58:34 PM
  • LUPE_SEIN
    Typo alert: I'm thinking the "6-Minute Hips, Glues & Thighs Workout" video mentioned in tip #2 actually involves glutes, rather than glues. :) - 10/17/2014 4:10:12 PM
  • JST4MENOW
    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

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