If you think about it, many of our everyday movements require us to balance on one leg. When you break into a light jog to catch a bus or catch up to your colleague in the hallway, there’s a brief period in each step when you’re balancing on one leg. When you climb stairs, you push up with one leg at a time. The last time you jumped over a puddle or off a curb, you landed on one foot. For athletes—by which I mean anyone who participates in any sport or physical endeavor, novice to elite—the need for impeccable balance is even greater. Runners obviously spend a lot of time on one foot, but so do hikers, dancers, and aerobics buffs. Sports like basketball, tennis, Ultimate Frisbee, flag football, squash, and soccer add an extra degree of difficulty by introducing lateral movements where you move in one direction, land on one foot, and then juke in another direction. Being bipedal creatures, you’d think balance would come naturally to us. And it surely did for our ancestors who moved every day, climbing over rocks and walking on uneven terrain, running and sprinting as needed. Sometimes they stumbled and succumbed to fall-related injuries surely, but honed their balance every day doing the simple acts of living. We modern humans aren’t tripping over ourselves all day, but we certainly don’t push ourselves in the ways our ancestors did. Chairs, cars, and paved sidewalks have made us soft. Even super fit athletes often struggle with the type of single-leg balance and stability exercises we’re presenting today. Just like we need to lift weights to develop the strength that our ancestors would have developed naturally, we need to intentionally cultivate excellent balance. That’s what the exercises below, presented by my pal and collaborator Brad Kearns, are for. 6 Functional Balance Exercises (Medium-to-Advanced Difficulty) Before attempting these exercises, you should feel comfortable balancing on one leg while standing still. Folks still working on building that solid foundation must start with beginner balance exercises first and work your way up to these more advanced movements. That said, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself! You might be surprised at how wobbly you are the first time you attempt these exercises. Stick with it. If you’re serious about working on your balance, do the following exercises a few times a week. Before launching into the specifics, here are some guidelines that will make these exercises safer and more effective: Keep your core engaged throughout the exercise. When you bend your knees (lunging, for example), keep the knees tracking over your foot. Do not allow them to cave inward or flare outward. Land softly when you jump. When you first start out, have a wall or pole nearby that you can grab for support, but don’t hang onto it. Use a light touch if you need it. Do these exercises barefoot or wearing the most minimal shoes possible. Remember, balance starts in the feet. You can do all six … Continue reading “6 Functional Exercises to Improve Balance and Stability”
Everything in the world is conspiring to make you fall over. The ground is slippery, slick, and studded with protrusions. The earth moves under your feet. Discarded banana peels are an ever-present threat. Gravity itself exerts a constant downward pull.
You probably only think about balance when you decide to test it—or when you lose it. But you’re relying on it every second that you’re not lying prone. Whenever you work at your standing desk, step out of the shower, hustle across a busy intersection, or ride your kids to school on your bikes, you can thank your balance for allowing you to successfully move through your day without injury.
Stop for a second and think about how much goes into maintaining balance:
Musculoskeletal strength and coordination: Balance requires not just adequately strong bones, muscles, and joints but also proper alignment. Muscles that are too tight or too weak can cause imbalances.
Vision: Visual input provides an overview of the physical surroundings, and external focus (looking at a point in the environment) helps keep us from losing our balance as easily.
Vestibular system: The fluid in our inner ears acts as a kind of level, telling us where our bodies are in space.
Somatosensory system: The nerves in our muscles and connective tissues relay information about our position in the surroundings.
Cognition: The brain has to integrate all the information coming in from the body and make adjustments on the fly to fight gravity.
That we (usually) manage to stay upright at all is impressive!