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5 Simple Exercises for Improving Your Balance and Stability

Maintaining balance is crucial as we age. Good balance is important to prevent falls and injuries.

Balance has been defined as your ability to control your body in space. There are two types of balance: Static and Dynamic. Static balance is the ability to maintain the body's center of mass within its base of support. Dynamic balance is the ability to move outside the body's center of mass while maintaining postural control. This is important not only to the aging adult but anyone to prevent or treat injuries and athletes.

I grew up as an athlete and was always active. When I became a Physical Therapist, I learned in my studies how important it was to work on my balance as well. One day (3 months into my first PT job) after work I was driving to meet my husband to go work out and was hit head-on while I was in the turning lane. I worked on my physical therapy for the next year. Unfortunately, I was not assessed for concussion or vestibular issues. I had all the symptoms but that was not being checked post-MVA as it was years later. I learned to compensate as I was recovering but with aging my vestibular system had its say. I would wake up and attempt to get out of bed and the room was spinning. I would veer to my right while walking when I was fatigued. My balance felt off when I would least expect it. Eventually, I worked in a clinic where I was fortunate to work with great Physical Therapists who were trained as Vestibular Specialists. I also had training regarding concussions, fall prevention, and sports therapy to guide me. I was seeing even in my 30s-40s that balance issues had a great impact on my life.

I worked with a group of Physical Therapists for years doing ACL knee injury prevention. We worked with hundreds of young people from 5th to 12th grade. I was amazed at how many young people struggled with simple single-leg balance. I was seeing balance issues with almost all of my patients in the clinic as well. It became obvious that balance work needed to be done at all ages.

What balance exercises are most important and how do you do them correctly? There are several and many ways to progress them.

Let's focus on 5 you can start with today.

  • Single-Leg Balance

  • Tandem Balance

  • Squats

  • Multi-direction Lunge

  • Single-Leg Deadlift

Number one: Single-leg balance!

  1. Start by facing a counter with both hands resting on the counter. Then bend one knee as you raise your heel to knee level. Take one hand off the counter and see if you can maintain balance. If you can do this for 20-30 seconds, try to lift your other hand. Again, if you can balance without the use of your hands for stability great!

  2. Then return to both hands on the counter. If you are nervous about closing your eyes, have someone stand behind you or place a sturdy chair behind you. Now with both hands on the counter, close your eyes. If this is no problem then you are ready for the next phase.

  3. With open eyes, now try single-leg balance. Again if you can do this progress to closed eyes. The goal is to get to 20-30 seconds with each.

  4. This can be done for dynamic stability with standing on an uneven surface like a foam balance cushion or other balance equipment.

You can work on this daily. I brush my teeth while doing my single-leg balance each morning.

Number two: Tandem Balance

  1. Just like single leg balance face the counter and progress from both hands on to single hand and eyes open to eyes closed. If you feel uneasy about this, have a chair or even stand with your back to a corner. Tandem balance is placing one foot in front of the other. For example: left foot in front of your right and then switch. Once you can progress to eyes closed, keep working on this.

  2. The dynamic balance progression would be to do tandem walking. you might do this with a wall to your side in a hallway.

Number three: Squats

  1. Yes to be able to do a proper squat, you need to have good balance. Depending upon your level of fitness you may progress at a different pace. Start facing the counter. with hands on begin to shift your weight back like you are going to sit on a chair (You may have a chair behind you if you are unsure about your balance). Only go parallel to your knees initially. If you are uncertain about your mechanics, it is best to work with a Physical Therapist or Personal Trainer like myself;)

  2. Two important aspects to pay attention to are if your knees are in line with 2-3rd toes and not collapsing inward and that the knees are not going too far forward past your toes.

  3. The dynamic progression would be to squat on an uneven surface like a foam pad/s.

  4. The goal is to be able to do at least 10 reps and progress your sets from there.

Number four: Multi-direction Lunges

  1. In the Physical Therapy world, we call this Star lunges as well. See the link below for video instructions.

  2. You can always modify lunges to be forward, back, and to the side and progress to the more challenging directions. You will also want to start more shallow and increase your depth as you improve.

Number five: Single-Leg Deadlift

  1. This is an advanced exercise that you may have to modify to begin. You may have to hold onto a counter and reach to where you are just being challenged and return up. You may also limit your leg lift.

  2. If you can progress without holding onto a counter, then progress to adding weights like dumbbells to increase the challenge on your balance.

#Live Inspired,

Karen Baltz Gibbs, PT, DPT, CSCS, LMT, CMP, Owner Garage Training & Rehab Gym


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