Balance is a component of all movement.
I’ve read once that sprinting, for example, requires us to lose and regain our balance on one leg in less than 1/10th of a second. Now, I am not a sprinter, but like many of us, I am well aware of the downside of losing my balance. Today, that might mean a minor injury or a bit of embarrassment, but as we get older, the loss of balance and a resulting injury could seriously impact our ability to live on our own, complete activities of daily living with ease or bring a loss of confidence when moving through the world.
Balance is a complex process that involves our vision, inner ear and constant communication between our central nervous system and sensory receptors in our musculoskeletal system. Balance plays a key role in preventing injury at every age, especially for women.
As women age, we experience 75% of all hip fractures. (Greater than 95% of all hip fractures are caused by falls and result in a diminished ability for independent living). Women both fall more and are likely to have osteoporosis than men, increasing our risk of fracture.
Young female athletes are 4-6 times more likely to injure their ACL than their male counterparts. Balance training can reduce the incidence of ACL injuries.
The good news is that it is relatively easy to incorporate exercises that help develop and maintain balance into our daily lives.
Here are 6 exercises (in increasing difficulty) that can be done daily to improve our balance. Choose 1-4 exercises and do 1-3 sets depending on the time you have available. I have listed the exercises in order of increasing difficulty.
For each of the exercises, start with support such as a wall or chair nearby. You want to accomplish these without stumbling, twisting or falling. As you get more comfortable you can decrease the support needed. Also, make sure the area is clear of rugs, mats or anything you could trip on.
1 - Towel Curl
While sitting, place a small hand towel on the floor and rest your foot on top of it. Try to scrunch the towel toward yourself by curling the toes. Then try to push it away by spreading the toe.
How does this help? - The big toe plays a role in single leg movement and how we control our weight shift forward and backward on our feet. It is also critical in stability and propulsion in walking and running.
2 - Heel Toe Walk
Begin by standing with one foot directly in front of the other while steadying yourself. Walk forward heel to toe by placing one foot directly in front of the other foot for as much distance as you have available, with 10-12 feet or 30 seconds being ideal.
3 - Step Over Cones
Any obstacle will do here, as long as it is tall enough for you to need to raise your knee. The goal is to mimic activities such as stepping out of the tub, over the sleeping dog, or over a curb. 6-8 obstacles is a good number and place them 18-30 inches apart depending on your stride.
Watch how to do it - Step Over Cones
4 - Single Leg Balance
Stand with your feet shoulder’s width apart, toes forward. Lift one leg up off the ground, knee coming up in front of you. Focus on keeping your hips and shoulders level and tighten your gluteal (butt) muscles in the standing leg to help stabilize the lower body. Draw your abdominals in to stabilize the core. Hold for 5-20 seconds and repeat on the other leg. Do 6-10 repetitions per leg.
Give these modifications and progressions a try. : Single leg balance with hip rotation;
Single leg balance/reach;
Step Up to Balance
5 - Reverse Lunge to Balance
Stand with your feet shoulder’s width apart, toes forward. Step back into a lunge position so both knees are at a right angle. Push off the middle/rear of the forward foot as you balance on it, bringing the knee up to the front. If you’re struggling to maintain balance as you bring the back leg forward, try lightly tapping or touching the toe at the midpoint. Alternate legs for 12-20 repetitions.
6 - Single leg squat
Start just like you would a single leg balance. Slowly squat as if sitting in a chair, go only as low as you can keeping your hips and shoulders level. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Stand slowly, pushing through the rear of the standing leg foot so that you engage the gluteal muscles. Do 6-10 repetitions per leg.
Here are a few last tips.
Try these with and without shoes. You’ll likely be surprised at the difference.
Make balancing easier by finding a place on the wall or floor (3-6’ in front of you) and focus your eyes and attention on that spot.
Finally, because balance is complex, expect each side of your body to have different abilities and don’t worry if one day your balance feels great and the next it doesn’t - that’s ok and it happens to all of us. Lack of sleep or illness (even just a head cold) are just 2 things that can affect optimal balance. Work to the level of exercise you need that day, not to where you have been or think you should be.
“Balance isn’t something you find, it’s something you create” - Jana Kingsford
If you want to explore more balance exercises, check out my YouTube Channel Playlist for Balance Exercises or Book a Balance Session
If you want a personalized strength and balance program to help you stay strong, independent and on your feet, schedule a free consultation with me here. I help women of all ages enjoy more freedom by reducing their physical limitations, constraints and pain so they can enjoy the activities they love, with the people they love right now and for years to come.