Whether you’re passionate about fitness or just trying to get in shape, the need for core strength is universally recognized these days. Many training sessions are dedicated to strengthening this part of the body, known to be our greatest source of our physical strength. However, one area of training that often goes neglected and that can have a huge positive impact is core balance training. Studies show that increasing dynamic balance greatly reduces the risk of injury and falls in athletes and non-athletes alike, in addition to improving performance. By working on stability that engages your core muscles (in the hips and trunk), so you’ll strengthen your glutes and abs while simultaneously improving your balance. These exercises are also excellent for preventing knee issues, as they promote proper hip – knee – ankle alignment.
Here are 4 simple and effective balance exercises we love, recommended by Ace Fitness. By doing them just twice a week before your regular workout, you’ll notice significant improvement in 6 weeks. They take less than 10 minutes and can make a world of difference. To keep track of your progress, take the *Single Leg Balance Test for both legs before incorporating these exercises, and again after 6 weeks of including them.
* Single Leg Balance Test: Grab a stopwatch and stand with your feet directly underneath the hips. Cross your arms over the chest. Lift one leg off the floor, making sure your legs do not touch each other.
Start the timer the instant your foot leaves the floor. Stop the timer when your foot touches back down, or if your body starts flailing to regain balance. The test should be performed with minimal bodily movement.
Record your score for each leg. The longer the time spent on one leg, the better your balance. (Note: There’s no scale of comparison; the only number that matters is your own. The goal is to increase the time you’re able to stand on one leg from before incorporating these balance exercises until after, thus improving your stability.)
Stand with one leg in front of the other and your feet hip-width apart (i.e., your feet shouldn’t be directly in line with each other). Your front foot should be far enough forward so that the front shin remains vertical upon descent. Keep your front foot flat on the floor while balancing on the ball of the back foot. Lower and raise your body by bending both knees and keeping your back heel off the floor. Go as low as you comfortably can without compromising balance. Perform 10 repetitions on each side. For more of a challenge, add a small jump on the way up. Be very careful that the front knee stays in line with the toes and doesn’t cave inward.
For less of a challenge, try holding the position (without raising or lowering) for 30 seconds on each side.
To start, stand with your feet together. Take a long step out to the side, as if you are performing a side lunge. Quickly push off the floor and return the leg, but instead of placing the foot beside the other one, raise your knee up toward the chest and hold for a count of 2. Essentially, you’re performing a quick side lunge directly into a single-leg balance without letting the foot touch the floor upon the return. Perform 10 repetitions on each side.
For more of a challenge, hold a dumbbell in the same-side hand as the lunge leg.
For less, return the lunge foot to the starting position beside the other foot, instead of lifting the knee.
Begin by standing in a wide squat. Pull one knee up toward the opposite shoulder, while driving the opposite elbow to the outside of the knee, creating an across-the-body rotation with opposing limbs in a single-leg stance. Keep your torso as vertical as possible as you rotate through the trunk. Perform 10 repetitions on each side.
For more of a challenge, hold a dumbbell or small medicine ball with both hands. Lift the weight up on a diagonal and then drive the weight to the outside of the knee that is lifted. To make it easier, bring the foot in to tap the floor beside the other foot, instead of lifting the knee.
Adopt a plank position on your elbows and toes. Be sure to engage your abs to prevent the hips from rocking side to side. Squeeze the glutes on the same-side to lift up one leg at a time. Make sure the lifting movement is controlled by the glutes. Keeping the knee straight while you lift will help prevent overusing your hamstrings. Perform 20 reps (10 on each side).
It’s important to perform balance work early in your exercise session (ideally first), as Ace Fitness points out. This will help you avoid the risk of neuromuscular fatigue, generally occurring if you wait until late in your workout. Research shows that the best strategy to improving balance is to incorporate a multi-component exercise program that consists of strength, endurance and balance training. It’s not rocket science, but it does take discipline to incorporate balance training into regular workout routine. A little goes a long way in terms of experiencing improvement in your balance; however, as with most physical training, it’s all about consistency. Working on your stability just twice a week will save your body a lot of unnecessary stress, increase your efficiency and greatly reduce your risk of injury.
* Song For This Moment: “Sweat” Snoop Dogg + David Guetta Remix.
Rejuvenation Research, 16, 2, 105-114.
Astrid, Z. (2010). Balance Training for Neuromuscular Control and Performance Enhancement: A Systematic Review. Journal of Athletic Training, 45, 4, 392–403.