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My Top Five Ways To Improve Your Balance
Balance is one of those skills we don’t always think about when we’re planning a workout. Or any other time, really. It’s just there, until one day it’s not. And then you realize that being stable is actually really, really fantastic. Balance has been a big focus for me over the last few months, so today I thought I’d share the reasons it’s so helpful and my top five favourite strategies to help you work on your balancing skills.
#1 Improve Your Proprioception – Balance With Your Eyes Closed
Did you know that there are two ways your brain can figure out where you are in space? You can use a visual reference, or else you can use proprioception, where your brain makes calculations about position based on information coming in about how your muscles are moving. Most of the time, our visual system is dominant, which means that our proprioception doesn’t always work as well as it should. Try this simple test!
- Stand in your best alignment – outside edges of your feet straight, ankles pelvis-width apart, weight in your heels (check out this guide if you want more details).
- Notice what you feel like – steady? A bit unsteady? Very unsteady? Hang out and spend 30 seconds just checking in
- Now, close your eyes. Hang out for 30-60 seconds and notice what happens to your body.
If you’re like most people, you probably noticed some swaying around once you closed your eyes. If so, you can make this simple eyes-closed balance a part of your movement practice this week to give your brain a chance to recalibrate. Just doing this a few times a day will often create great improvements, but for even more changes, add some calf stretching and foot rolling.
#2 Healthy Hips Help You Balance
There are a lot of ways to stand on one leg. You can bend the knee of your non-standing leg. You can use your abs to hike up the floater leg. Or you can do a pelvic list by contracting the lateral hip muscles of the standing leg, which will tilt the pelvis and allow the other leg to float up. Only one of these ways promotes stronger bones, smoothly working hip joints, a responsive pelvic floor, more stability and a nice butt 🙂
Learning to pelvic list is a total game changer when it comes to your whole body health, and really, what is more balance-y than standing on one leg? Try it out in this video from Katy Bowman, or come to a class some time!
#3 Balance For Stronger, Healthier Feet
Feet are the foundation of most movement, and most of us have basically immobilized and atrophied our feet our whole lives. Balancing on a 2x4 on the ground is a fantastic way to improve your foot strength as you work on your balance. Start by facing forward and walking. I recommend landing on the balls of your feet for this – because if you were balancing on a log in a forest, you’d want to test your footing at every step. Make it harder by turning to walk sideways. Stay up on the balls of your feet – if you can! This is a great foot & calf workout – and you can add a few squats if you’re feeling energetic!
If you want to really up your game, try practicing some Calf Elevators. These refined calf raises will help you build the strength you need to cross a balance beam in style!
#4 Challenge Your Core And Shoulders With Quadruped Balance Practice
Want to get a bit more full body? Get on your hands and knees and practice crawling!
Use the floor to practice before you add balance to the mix. Make one side ‘short’ – right hand and foot next to one another – and the other side ‘long’ – left hand all the way in front and left foot all the way in the back. Move your right hand forward in front of your left hand, then the left foot goes in front of the right foot (you can do this with your knees on the ground or not – your call). Here’s a great tutorial on crawling from Danny Clark of MovNat.
Just crawling on the floor might be enough to challenge your balance, but if you want to kick it up a notch, try it on your 2x4. When you’re comfortable there, you can try raising your 2x4, using the narrower side, or even placing it on an unstable surface like a BOSU.
#5 How To Actually Fit This In To Your Busy Life
One of the best things about balance practice is that it’s actually really easy to squeeze it in to real life.
Now that it’s summer, I am keeping my 2x4 on the garden pathway, and every time I water the plants or get something from the garage, I practice a little sideways walk or quadruped crawl. In the winter, I do the same thing down our main hallway.
Balance is also easy to fit in when you’re out in nature. Last Sunday, Chris and I went to High Park and spent 2 hours exploring the huge fallen logs (being very careful to avoid the poison ivy!).
As I’m writing this, I’m standing with my feet on my half-dome practicing little calf raises. I also do a lot of pelvic listing when I’m working.
And I got the BEST tip from one of my readers, who practices her eyes-closed balancing when she brushes her teeth. Which helps her be a bit more gentle and careful with her teeth as well as getting the benefits of improved proprioception. You could also practice eyes-closed balancing any time you’re waiting for a bus, on a phone call, or counting to ten while you wait for a family member to get ready to leave the house 🙂
Balance work is truly a win-win-win – you nurture your long term future health by decreasing your risk of falls, you improve your strength and stability RIGHT NOW, and you can do it any time, anywhere. Give it a try, and let me know what you think in the comments!
Petra is a movement educator and personal trainer with a passion for helping people find greater ease, joy and health in their bodies. She believes that better movement can help every body - and she's always happy to chat about it. When she's not teaching, you'll probably find her hanging out on a set of monkey bars.