Balance is fundamental to everything we do, whether we're sitting in a chair, running on a treadmill, carrying groceries or even standing still. Everything comes back to our ability to stay upright and centered — but balance doesn't always come easily.
"It's a natural movement category that [many people] are missing," says Galina Denzel, a restorative exercise specialist and personal trainer who specializes in chronic pain and trauma. She notes that our increasingly sedentary lifestyles are removing us from the settings where we'd naturally develop better balance.
But balance tools like stability balls, BOSU balance trainers and, yes, balance boards act as supplements, she says, for creating the variability and unsteadiness our bodies need to react against in order to improve our balance.
What Is a Balance Board?
A balance board is, well, a board you balance on. It typically has a flat, hard surface on top with a soft or rounded bottom (the bottom may or may not be attached to the actual board portion). Balance boards are commonly made of plastic or wood. They're used not only in exercise settings but also in physical therapy and rehabilitation.
Users stand on the flat surface and work to create or maintain balance. When you use a balance board, you may end up looking a bit like a surfer on dry land, as you stand on the board and extend your arms out to help you stay centered.
Benefits of Using a Balance Board
Nearly anyone can benefit from using a balance board. According to Denzel, in general, the device helps to develop:
- Balance and coordination
- Motor skills and reaction time
- Strength and steadiness that can contribute to injury prevention
- Core strength that helps you keep moving at any age
Working out with a balance board can have deeper benefits, though, says Denzel, who co-authored Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well. For starters, balance exercises (like the ones you'd do on a balance board) are a great addition to a core-strengthening program, as your deep abdominal muscles work to keep you upright, she says. "Think of balance as a component of a well-rounded movement program that might include flexibility, mobility, strength and endurance training."
That's why athletes — including skiers, surfers, dancers and tennis players — train on balance boards. And for people with jobs that require a lot of standing, Denzel says balance board training keeps muscles active and supports healthy "lymphatic flow," which is part of the way the immune system removes bacteria and abnormal cells from the body.
Balance board exercises are considered low-impact, weight-bearing exercises that can increase bone mass, which is key in osteoporosis prevention. And these exercises can improve capacity for everyday functional movement, the bending, reaching and turning motions that serve us throughout each day.
Denzel even points to a 2017 study published in Scientific Reports that found improvement in memory and spatial cognition in participants who practiced balance training. "And anecdotally, I have seen people have less anxiety and less fear of movement," she says.
Balance Board Exercises
Something as simple as trying to stand still on a balance board can do a lot for stability, coordination and spatial awareness. But Denzel shared a few additional balance board exercises she practices with her clients that challenge them even further.
If any of these exercises feel too easy for you, try them with your eyes shut. But make sure you've really mastered all of the below balance board exercises first, and try closing your eyes when you have a spotter, especially during your first attempt.
Move 1: Simple Starting Position
This challenges the visual system and proprioceptive system (spatial awareness).
- Stand with both feet hip-distance apart, feet pointing straight ahead. Steady yourself and maintain proper posture.
- Once you can balance and stand still, rotate your head side to side and move your eyes to look up, down, left and right.
Move 2: Mini Squat
You may not be able to squat as low as you do on solid ground, but this exercise will really develop lower-body and core strength.
- Plant your feet a little wider than hip-distance apart and practice squatting without losing balance.
- Slowly bend at the knees and drop into your hips, and then rise.
Move 3: Playing Catch
- From standing with feet hip-distance apart and pointing forward, toss a ball with either one or two hands to and from a partner.
- No partner? Toss the ball back and forth to yourself, either bouncing it off a wall or tossing up in the air from one hand to the other.
Move 4: Kneeling Spin
- Place your hands on your hips and kneel on the board.
- While focusing on your abdominal muscles, begin to slowly rotate your body.
- Once you've successfully finished a few rotations, slow down and then reverse so that you're rotating in the opposite direction.
Move 5: Side-to-Side Tap
Work up to this slightly more advanced balance board exercise.
- Stand on top of the board with bare feet.
- Slowly lean back and forth, left and right, keeping your balance so that the side of the board touches the ground.
- Repeat this for 60 seconds.
How to Use a Standing Desk Balance Board
If you use a standing desk at work, you can increase the physical benefit by adding a balance board to your work day. To get the most value out of using a balance board at work — and to ensure your safety — Denzel recommends:
- Wearing flat-soled shoes so that toes and heels are level with the board
- Distributing your weight evenly with slightly more toward the heels
- Stacking your pelvis, torso and neck vertically to find a steady center of mass over the board
- Once you're steady, introducing micro-movements that aren't too distracting, like shifting balance from one leg to the other
- Taking breaks to stand steady on the floor so you don't spend the entire day on the balance board
Brands of Balance Board
Designed for indoor use, this balance board is universally accessible to kids, seniors and professional athletes alike. It's made of Baltic birch plywood and indestructible molded plastic, and it's available in three styles and a variety of designs. The board supports up to 350 pounds.
Buy it: Indoboard.com; Price: $124.95 and up
2. Wobble Board
This balance board features a secure-grip surface on a wooden base that offers 360-degree rotation and up to a 15-degree tilt while supporting up to 300 pounds. Plus, it's available in four different colors.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $16.99 and up
3. Wii Balance Board
An accessory to the Nintendo Wii Fitness game, this hardware is made of white plastic and requires batteries to operate. With the software, it can assess BMI, test center of gravity and perform balance tests. It can support up to 330 pounds.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $79.99
4. Bongo Board
Looking for more of a challenge? This balance board is recommended for "extreme balance training" and those with a moderate to high fitness level. It's made of maple plywood with end bumpers for added safety and includes unique double ball bearings on the underside to provide end-to-end movement.
Buy it: Fitter1.com; Price: $129.95
5. Simply Fit Board
Featured on the ABC show Shark Tank, this board's unique design supports the motion that allows you to twist your core from side to side. Built of plastic in four neon colors, it can support up to 400 pounds. There are three supplemental workout DVDs available for purchase to guide your practice.
Buy it: SimplyFitBoard.com; Price: $39.99
6. Rocker Board
This uniquely curved, U-shaped balance board is ideal for small children developing motor skills and adults working to improve balance alike. Each rocker board manufacturer has their own specs, but the trainers are typically made of wood and may come with traction grip on top to prevent feet from slipping. Weight limits will vary.
Buy it: Etsy.com; Price: Varies