There are numerous reasons to participate in a fitness program. For some of us it may be to lose a few pounds and have more energy, while others may simply want better overall health. As a result, most of us follow a program that consists of a combination of strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. And justifiably so! There are many physical benefits to both and they should be a major part of every fitness routine. However, one important area that often gets overlooked is balance. Balance enables a person to maintain their center of gravity during movement and in stationary positions. This can be the case during a sporting event or in simple day to day activities. Also, improving balance can help increase joint stability, improve posture, and increase overall strength. And even better, it’s easy to work into your existing routine! But before diving right in, there are three things we need to remember when training for better balance.
First, exercises should challenge your limit of stability. In other words, the distance outside of your base of support without losing control of your center of gravity. Second, is maintaining core engagement and postural control. Postural deviations are often exaggerated if the challenge is too demanding. At any point during the exercise if you cannot maintain good posture, core engagement, or control your base of support, modify to an easier option. Last, remember balance exercises require a slower speed of movement and should be executed with less weight. Besides going a little slower can tax the muscles effectively as well!
Here is a description of basic balance exercises and strength training moves with a balance component.
Single Leg Balance: Stand with tall posture and contract your core muscles. Slowly lift one leg 4-6 inches off of the ground while maintaining balance and posture. Balance for 1 minute and repeat on the opposite leg. For added challenge try it with a ½ foam roller, BOSU, or airex pad.
Lateral Hops: Begin by balancing on your right leg. Stand with tall posture with your right knee and hip slightly flexed. Engage your core muscles and hop sideways towards your left leg. Focus on landing softly and sinking into the landing by flexing your knee and hip. The goal is to hop from side to side without losing balance. Remember to stay within a distance that you can control and pause with each landing for at least 2 seconds. Perform 10 reps each direction.
Reverse Lunge with Balance: Begin by balancing on your right leg with your left leg elevated about 4-6 inches off of the ground. Step back with your left leg and slowly lower your hips towards the floor by flexing at your knees and hips. Maintain tall posture and lower your body until your right thigh is about parallel to the floor. Return to the starting position by extending your right hip and knee and slowly raising the left leg back into the balance position. Repeat for 10-15 reps before switching sides.
Stability Ball Chest Press: Begin by lying on a stability ball while holding a pair of dumbbells. Keep your head, neck, and shoulders in alignment with the rest of your body. With your knees bent at 90 degrees, slowly raise your hips until they are parallel to the floor. Now fully extend your arms above your chest, shoulder width apart, with your palms facing towards your legs. Slowly lower the dumbbells to either side of your body until the the dumbbells are to about chest level with your arms bent at 90 degrees. Return your arms to the starting position and repeat for 10-15 repetitions. If you are uncomfortable balancing on a stability ball, modify the exercise by using a BOSU trainer.
Single Leg Bicep Curl/Shoulder Press Combo: Begin by balancing on your right leg, standing with tall posture and holding a pair of dumbbells. With your palms facing in, perform a bicep curl by flexing at your elbows. Now, slowly raise your arms overhead by extending while maintain balance. Slowly lower your arms back into the starting position by reversing the movement. Repeat for 10 repetitions and switch legs. If more challenge is desired, try performing the exercise on a ½ foam roller, BOSU, or airex pad.