You can run for miles, swim countless laps, and lift heavy, but as soon as the instructor asks you to stand on one leg, it’s game over. “Having balance is so important—not only in fitness but in our everyday lives,” shares fitness trainer, Katie Austin. “Balancing is a huge aspect of any movement we do—even when we’re standing on our own two feet, we’re maintaining balance whether we’re aware of it or not.”
As we age, our balance begins to decline, and our risks of accidents like falls increases. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that one in four people over 65 experience a fall each year, making it the leading cause of injuries and injury related deaths. This is why incorporating balancing exercises into our fitness routine (at any age) is important, says Austin. “It helps to reverse age-related loss of balance, prevent falls and accidents, improve posture, assist in recovering from injuries faster, improve coordination, allow for more effective efficient workouts, build muscle, and improve cardio.”
Where does balance come from?
“Our balance comes from our core,” Austin says. “Your core entails the central part of your body, including your pelvis, lower back, hips, and stomach. When we train our core muscles, they help the other muscles work cohesively and in harmony, which leads to better balance and stability.”
Why isn’t my balance improving?
1. Muscular instability and weaknesses
Balance requires overall muscle strength, not just a strong core. “The best way to strengthen the core for balance is to target the full body,” Austin says. So if you’re struggling with balance improvement, make sure you’re frequently incorporating muscle-building and resistance training into your workout regimen. It helps not only stabilize and strengthen the muscles but the joints as well, and the stronger these areas are, the more control you have over how their body moves in space. This contributes to better balance and recovery time in the case of a fall.
How long it takes to improve your balance through strength training will be different for everyone, but after six weeks of strength training for 16 minutes four times per week, participants improved their one-leg standing times by 32 percent with eyes open, 206 percent with eyes closed on a solid surface, and 54 percent with eyes closed on a compliant surface, according to a 2016 study.
2. You’re choosing movements that are either too easy or difficult
When we’re working on our balance slow and steady wins the race, but you also need to be progressively challenging yourself. Pushing too hard, too fast can lead to injuries, which is why it’s best to start with simple balance exercises and build from there. If balance poses like standing on one leg while flexing the other out straight is too difficult, simplify it. Start by ever so slightly lifting the other leg off of the ground, or even have a wall next to you to hold onto for support. Once you’ve mastered a move, it’s time to move on to the next level.
3. You’re not being consistent
Like everything, improvements take time and dedicated effort. A 2015 study found that doing three to six training sessions per week for 11 to 12 weeks, with four balance exercises per session, was effective in improving people’s balance. And the good news is that it doesn’t have to be overcomplicated.
“You don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment to improve your balance,” shares Austin, adding her favorites include single-leg Romanian deadlifts, bird dogs, and modified pistol squats, all of which are unilateral movements, meaning they work one side of the body at a time, something that’s ideal for improving balance and building strength without developing muscular imbalances by letting your dominant side take over. “Try each side and see which needs the most improvement,” Austin suggests gets.
Work on your balance regularly and you’ll be standing on one leg with your eyes closed in no time.