Everything you do — from lifting weights to taking a simple stroll — requires balance. Without it, you'd teeter and fall flat on your face. While we all lose our footing every once in a while, it's possible to improve your balance, and doing so can help you avoid injuries, build strength and sharpen your focus.
Benefits of Balance Exercises
"The main universal benefit of balance exercises is the prevention of injury," says Ava Fagin, a New York-based certified personal trainer. Balance training can help you avoid problems like sprained ankles and wobbly knees by strengthening your muscles (especially your core) and improving joint stability.
Balance exercises are especially important as you age, because they can help reduce your likelihood to have a serious spill or fracture. "The difference between a devastating fall and an inconsequential wobble depends on how well a person can catch their balance and right themselves," says Jennifer DeLuca, Pilates expert and owner of BodyTonic Pilates Gymnasium.
But balance exercises can also have a positive effect on mental health. "Through balance exercises, people learn that they can handle the shifts that come their way, not only in their bodies but in their lives," DeLuca says. Finding a state of steadiness involves focus and thoughtful breathing, much like the pursuit of emotional balance.
Balance Exercises to Build Stability and Strength
Incorporating balance exercises into your regular workout routine can help you build full-body stability. Ready to get started? Check out these balance exercises you can do in the comfort of your own home for improved core and lower-body strength. We've even included simple ways to make each exercise even more challenging that you can try after you've mastered the moves so you can keep improving your balance.
"Balancing on one leg increases ankle, knee and hip stability," says DeLuca, who suggests this one-legged move because it's a great way to warm up all those muscles in your legs. So add this dynamic stretch to the beginning of your workout.
- Stand with your feet together, arms out wide.
- Raise your right leg, balancing on your left foot, and swing it forward and backward, right and left. Switch up the pattern regularly (for example, right to front, left to back).
- Continue for one minute, then switch legs.
Amp It Up: Pass a five-pound weight from hand-to-hand while you swing your leg or try the move with your eyes closed to make this move even more challenging. "Balancing without the eyes forces more muscles to work and encourages a deepening sense of body awareness," says DeLuca.
Did you know that lunges do way more than just build lower-body strength? Sure, they chisel your quads and tone your booty, but they're also one of the best core-strengthening exercises you can do to improve balance and stability, says Fagin. This three-way lunge, which involves changing direction, gives you triple the balance benefits.
- Step forward with your right foot into a lunge, creating a 90-degree angle with each leg.
- Push off your front foot and come back to a standing position.
- Step out with your right leg to the side. Bend your knee and sit your hips back and down, keeping your left leg straight.
- Push off your bent leg and come back to standing.
- Step back with your right leg into a reverse lunge, again maintaining a 90-degree angle in both knees.
- Push off your front foot to come back to standing. That's one rep.
- Repeat for three sets of five reps on each side.
Amp It Up: Hold two dumbbells to increase your strength, stability and balance all in one shot.
"Building a strong core and adding agility exercises that challenge your reaction time can radically improve your balance," says certified personal trainer Robbie Ann Darby, creator of the RAD Experience. Speed skaters do all that and more. They're a classic cardio-strength move that fires up your quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings and obliques.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- In one explosive movement, leap to the right with your right leg, landing on your right foot. As you do, sweep your left leg behind you.
- Repeat to the left.
- Complete three sets of 30 seconds followed by a 30-second rest.
Amp It Up: Add time in 10-second increments, increasing the speed of your movements or leaping in different directions using an imaginary clock as your guide, says Darby. Or have a friend or coach test your reaction time by calling out random spots on your "clock."
The name may sound silly, but this exercise has serious strength benefits on top of improving your balance. Not only does it target your hamstrings, glutes, shoulders and postural muscles, it also supports healthy hips and tightens your abs, says DeLuca.
- Start on hands and knees with hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
- Raise your right arm out in front of you and your left leg out behind you, both parallel to the floor. Hold for three breaths. Keep your pelvis square to the floor.
- Slowly bring your right elbow and your left knee to touch under your abdomen. Round your back as the limbs touch, and then extend them away from each other.
- Repeat for three sets of three reps on each side.
Modify It: If being on all fours is uncomfortable, she suggests propping a rolled-up blanket under your knees for extra cushion. Likewise, if you have sensitive wrists, try balancing on closed fists.
Amp It Up: Wear light ankle and wrist weights (two pounds or less) for a little more resistance, says DeLuca.
This lunge variation involves balancing on one leg while you swing the other back and forth. You might feel a little wobbly at first, and that's OK. It just means that your core is working to stabilize you. The key to this balance exercise is control: Focus on form and don't rush.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Put your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows wide and shoulder blades squeezed together.
- Step forward with your right leg into a lunge. Your right thigh should be parallel to the floor, but don't allow your right knee to go past your toes.
- Push off your
front heel and propel your right foot back into a reverse lunge, maintaining
your 90-degree angles.
- Repeat for three sets of 30 seconds on each side.
Amp It Up: Hold a heavy set of dumbbells and/or trying not to let your stepping foot touch the ground as you pendulum back and forth, Darby says.
The Homemade Obstacle Course
"When you go on a hike, the ground is a mixture of textures and level changes," says DeLuca. These variations challenge your muscle coordination and vestibular system (the body's sensory system that contributes to balance and spatial orientation). But most people aren't hoofing through uneven terrain to get to work or the grocery store. You walk in your driveways and parking lots, i.e., where the ground is level. The result? You don't get to exercise these stabilizing muscles regularly.
Instead, recreate an uneven, irregular environment to enhance balance and improve your body's ability to react to unexpected bumps in the road that may cause injury.
- Find objects in your home that make for interesting obstacles. For example, use a seat cushion, low step stool, workout bench, rolled-up area rug or anything that offers a variety of levels, cushioning, width and texture.
- Line up these items to form an "obstacle course," and walk across them at a pace that feels natural to you.
- Continue for three minutes at a normal pace, then try three minutes at a slow pace and one minute at a fast pace.
Amp It Up: Have someone play catch with you while standing on your squishiest surfaces (think pillows, rolled-up towels and rugs). Unlike a hard surface which provides a stable base, a soft one will make you work harder to maintain your balance, so you'll have to try doubly to keep steady when catching a ball, says DeLuca.
Standing Weighted March
"Being able to shift your weight well is vital at any age," says Fagin. Practically everything you do — from climbing stairs to running to changing direction quickly — involves weigh-shifting. This exercise challenges your core and prepares your body for these everyday activities.
- Stand holding a kettlebell or a dumbbell of a moderate to heavy weight in your right hand by your side. Don't let the weight touch the right side of your body.
- Try not to lean to your right as you bring one knee up toward your chest.
- Hold for two seconds, and then return to a neutral standing position.
- Lift your other knee up.
- Begin marching, alternating legs for three to five sets of 30 seconds.
Amp It Up: Up your weight when you're ready. "The heavier the weight on one side of your body, the more challenging it is to counter balance and not lean over," says Fagin.
If you're a fan of traditional planks, you'll love this balancing variation, which improves balance and coordination while it targets the core, says Darby. Bonus: It'll get your heart pumping too.
- Start in a high plank with hands shoulder-width apart and feet hip-width apart.
- Hold this for 10 seconds, and then lift your right hand off the ground and extend it out in front of you for 10 seconds. Keep your neck aligned and your eyes on the floor in front of you.
- Return to regular plank for 10 seconds and repeat with the left hand.
- Then, do the same with each leg, coming back to a regular plank in between each lift.
- Complete three rounds.
Amp It Up: For an extra challenge, add five seconds each round, says Darby.
Single-Leg Deadlift With Forward Reach
"Standing on one leg is a fantastic way to train and improve balance," says Fagin. These single-leg deadlifts not only engage your core, they strengthen your lower-body stabilizers too. Basically, prepare for your glutes and hamstrings to burn. A lot.
- Stand with your feet together and set a chair a little more than arms-length in front of you.
- Reach your left leg back as you simultaneously reach both arms forward toward the chair, hinging forward with the hips. Think about getting as long as possible, aiming to get your body parallel to the ground.
- Engage the glute of your supporting leg to stand back up.
- Repeat for three sets of 10 reps on each side.
Amp It Up: Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Instead of reaching forward, lower the weights down toward the floor until your arms hang perpendicular to your body, and then return to an upright position.
Split Stance Chop and Lift With a Medicine Ball
Whenever your feet aren't planted firmly and flat on the ground, your core will instantly contract to brace your body, says Fagin. In this exercise, simply staggering your feet will affect your ability to balance. Plus, the low-to-high arm movement adds an extra challenge for your obliques and your deltoids.
- Stand with your right leg forward and your left leg back. Your knees should be slightly bent with your back heel slightly off the ground.
- Grab a medicine ball (anywhere between six and 12 pounds) and bring it to your left hip.
- With slightly bent elbows, raise the ball overhead in a diagonal motion toward your right side as you exhale.
- Use the same amount of force to bring the ball back to the starting position.
- Complete three sets of 10 reps on each side.
Amp It Up: Narrow your stance to an "in-line split stance" so that your back foot is directly behind (and in line with) your front foot, says Fagin. The narrower the stance, the less grounded you are — and the harder your body must work to keep you stabilized.