Here’s a test for you.
Stand up. Grab your phone and open the timer function. Set the timer for 15 seconds. Lift one leg up-knee up towards chest-as high as possible, aiming to have the knee above the hip. (If you can’t lift your knee above your hip then go as high as you can, but know that this is a mobility or strength issue that you should work on to get the knee higher) Hit start and balance for 15 seconds.
Did you hold it without excessive movement? Yes? No?
Try the other leg.
Was this side better, the same, not as good?
Now go back to the first side and put yourself in the same set up. Then close eyes and hit start on the timer.
Did you balance for the 15 seconds? Yes? No?
Was there excessive movement in your body to try to balance? Yes? No?
Try the other leg.
Was this side better, the same, not as good?
If you found it challenging to do either of those tests, than keep reading. I personally find the one with my eyes closed quite hard and don’t often make it to 10 seconds let alone 15 seconds. So this post is quite personal for me. I could blame it on years of sprained ankles that are now hyper-mobile, and sure that’s some of it, but I also have muscle imbalances around my pelvis that contribute to the cause of spraining my ankles. But I digress.
News Flash: If you can’t stand steadily on one leg for 15 seconds with your eyes closed, than this is a sign you need to start working on gaining strength and proprioception in your pelvis and lower limbs.
Believe it or not balance does not sorely come from your ankle. Balance begins with your deep core musculature (pelvic floor and transverse abdominals), with the muscles around your hips and of course your feet and ankles. Our center of gravity is located close to, or in, our pelvis. This makes having a strong hip complex important for our balance as well as many other movements throughout our day and our life.
We balance on one leg more than you may realize. With every step we take there is a moment that we are standing on only one leg. The duration of balancing on one leg increases when a person jogs/runs and sprints. This can be said for each time we climb stairs, march in place, skip, step up and out of the bath tub and numerous other one leg moments in our day.
There is also a phenomenon that as we age there’s an increased risk of falling. There are a few reasons for this: vision impairments, loss of muscle mass and strength in the muscles, decreases in proprioception-just to name a few. There is also the fear of falling that sometimes comes with age. I read an article about how the fear of falling can actually cause a fall or have a person change how they walk to shuffling their feet and than this actually increases their risk of falling.
Sadly there is many studies (here are 2:  ) that link hip fractures in older adults with mortality. This is why working on our balance and the muscles that help with balance is not only important now, but especially as we age. However, there are also studies (here are 2:   showing that resistance (strength) training and balance training are beneficial for reducing falls and improving balance.
Start Now, Here’s How
Why wait till you slip on the ice, step off the curb funny or any number of other reasons a fall may happen. Start training your balance and strengthening your muscles to improve your balance now!
There are many more then these few exercises to improve balance, but these are a good start if you are not currently working on specifically targeting these muscles. AND, even if you are doing regular strength training several times a week, adding in these balance and strength and endurance exercises will be a great addition to train and stabilize your body.
- Balance on one foot. If you feel unsteady begin near a chair or wall for additional balance support. Work your way up to not holing on with either hand, by progressing from holding on, to lightly holding, then maybe only holding with a couple of fingers and then not holding on at all. After you feel steady for 15+ seconds and you can comfortably do this drill in the middle of a room on either foot, try doing this drill with your eyes closed. Move back near a wall or chair for safety when you start training the single leg balance with your eyes closed.
- Grab a towel with your toes. Place a towel on the floor while standing or siting (try this both ways) with your toes on the edge of the towel closest to you. Grab the towel with your toes and pull it towards you with both sets of toes. Then when it’s all scrunched up near you, push the towel away with your toes.
- Walk heel−to−toe. Position your heel just in front of the toes of the opposite foot each time you take a step, like you’re on a tight rope. You may want to start first trying this near a wall. Another challenge is stand in this position too and try to stay balanced there for 20-30 seconds. Then switch which foot is in front.
- Stand on an uneven surface. Try using a foam pad or other stability cushions, or balance disc or even cushions or pillows of varying firmness from your house, and stand on them with your legs together and apart. Begin near a wall or chair to ensure you don’t lose your balance. Once the unstable surface feels under your control with two feet and no hands (progress to no hands holding on as outlined above in the One Leg Balance), try on one foot using your hands. When you first start this drill hold on and progress to no hands on a support via how it was outlined above. *** If you want to challenge yourself even further you could work with even more unstable surfaces like a BOSU or wobble boards.
Strength Training Exercises
Pilates Glute Bridge with ball squeeze
Heel Raises (double & single) and Glute Medius Exercises
Your glute medius muscles are found more on the side of your hips compared to your glute max that is more on the back. (see photo) Glute medius is a stabilizing muscle and one of the primary muscles used when we are trying to balance. There are numerous glute medius exercises, but the video above provides two that can be done anywhere. Once your own body weight is no longer challenging you can add resistance (a band around knees in the clams and weights on ankle for the leg lift). Make sure not to add additional resistance before you can do 3 sets of 20 and really feel it in your glute medius, otherwise you may compensate with other muscles.
If these exercises are new to you, begin with trying these 1-2 days a week, working up to 3-4 days a week. You can do them on their own or incorporate them into your strength training program. The first four drills listed above (balance on one foot, etc) can be added into your training as part of a superset as a bit of active recovery in that set or you can do them all on their own.
As always if you have any questions, please reach out via the contact form below or leave a comment. If you are looking for a more individualized programing for your needs, I train people online and in person.
CPT, TRX, PN1, 200 RYT, FMS2, FRC Mobility Specialist