Feel strong and steady on your feet with these simple training tips
Here’s why you should incorporate balance training at any age.
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Depending on your age and activity level, you might not think about your balance all that much. Perhaps you notice an occasional wobble during tree pose in yoga or maybe you’ve begun to feel less steady on your feet than you used to. The fact is, balance diminishes as people age, and exercising for stability is important, even before any issues arise. Balance training develops strength in your lower body and core, will help keep you stable on your feet, and can help you avoid injury.
The good news is, you don’t need to find the time for a “balance day” in your workout routine to get the benefits of balance training, says Pete McCall, a certified trainer and the host of the All About Fitness podcast. Here's what you need to know to better your balance at any age.
What is balance training?
Balance training focuses on maintaining control of your center of gravity and improving your stability on your feet. It often involves exercising to strengthen your legs and core, as these are the main muscle groups that keep you upright while sitting, standing, or moving. Exercises can range from standing on one leg for a few moments to navigating full-blown obstacle courses designed to challenge your reflexes and keep you on your toes (possibly literally).
There are two types of balance you can work on. Simpler standing exercises can help improve your "static" balance, or your stability while holding still. Exercises where you must maintain your balance as you move, like sidestepping or grapevining, develop your "dynamic" balance and can improve your overall coordination.
Why is balance training important?
Balance naturally diminishes over the years, with an increased risk for falls starting around age 50. And while you’re more likely to fall as you get older, injuries don’t discriminate by age. Balance training at any age can keep you safer from taking a nasty tumble as well as set you up for better stability in your later years. “Improving balance can enhance overall coordination and body control which helps to reduce the risk of injury from a fall or making a sudden change of direction,” McCall says.
In addition, focusing on dynamic balance may also improve your athletic performance. All exercise, be it running, lifting weights, or yoga, requires some degree of stability. Improving your balance can help you perform better during these activities. It can also help develop strength, particularly in the legs, hips, glutes, and core.
Who should incorporate balance training in their routine?
“Honestly, everyone,” says McCall. “Older adults can reduce the risk of falls—which is critical for enhancing the overall quality of life and extending the life span. Athletes can improve their skills with balance specific drills during a warm-up or between sets. Working on balance helps improve overall body awareness and control.”
Even if you don’t exercise regularly, making time for balance training can be beneficial. It can help improve your overall coordination and get you moving if you’re someone who sits for long periods during the day.
How often should you balance-train?
Older adults should balance-train at least three days a week, according to the American Heart Association. Anyone else should aim to do one or two balance-focused exercises every time you work out, or at least once or twice a week if you’re not as consistent with your fitness (assuming no underlying conditions that affect balance).
This doesn’t mean you have to dedicate a half-hour to standing like a flamingo. Many exercises that are great for improving balance also improve your strength, flexibility, or endurance. Yoga, for example, improves strength, flexibility, and balance.
How can I start balance training?
There are four main types of exercise—strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. While strength and endurance (which you probably call cardio) get loads of attention for their benefits, the less prominent categories can fall to the wayside. But it’s important to get a good mix of all types of exercise for a well-rounded active lifestyle.
A good place to start with balance training is by standing on one leg. You can do this at home while on the phone or during a commercial break, and can steady yourself by holding on to a chair or wall if necessary. Once you get the hang of it, challenge yourself to balance for longer without assistance.
Once you feel comfortable on one leg, you can include some movement to work on your dynamic balance. Many movements, like lunges or banded side steps with a looped resistance band, can be done right from home.
You can also stand on one leg while doing other exercises in your routine, such as bicep curls or shoulder presses. This will require your core muscles to kick in to keep you stable and will improve your core strength, McCall says.
You can also make the surface you exercise on less stable as a means to challenge your balance. Squatting while standing on a squishy mat or even a folded towel, for example, will make your core and the smaller muscles in your hips engage to keep you upright. If you really want to improve your balance skills, consider working with some extra wobbly equipment, like a BOSU ball. These dome-shaped pieces of exercise equipment can be used flat or rounded side down—the former will be easier, the latter more difficult—to work on your balance. You can use the BOSU ball for toe taps, lunges, step-ups, and more.
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