Anyone who’s ever wobbled around in warrior III pose during a vinyasa yoga class knows the importance—and the challenge—of balance. Of course, balance is a critical part of yoga, but it’s also hugely important for other aspects of fitness routine, including cardio and strength training.
Balance is essential for everything from preventing you from falling, quickening your reaction time, and helping you with all those functional movements you do in your day-to-day life. So, not only does balance improve your workouts, but certain workouts can, in turn, improve your balance. Read on to learn more about balance and the best exercises to improve your equilibrium.
The Importance of Balance
Balance and day-to-day function go hand-in-hand, explains Lauren Lobert, D.P.T., certified strength and conditioning specialist at Apex Physical Therapy.
“Balance impacts your daily life in many ways,” she says. “It allows you to be able to walk on uneven surfaces such as grass while hiking. It allows you to be able to walk in the dark without falling. It allows you to be able to walk in busy areas or a grocery store where you are scanning the shelves and looking back and forth without falling over. Poor balance has an impact on many tasks that seem simple or mundane.”
When exercising, you also need balance to get through your workout. This almost always starts with a strong core. “Balance comes from the body’s center of mass known as the core,” explains Lisa Nichole Folden, D.P.T. at Healthy Phit Physical Therapy. “When training or exercising, balance should be a priority, because a lack of balance and core strength increases the likelihood of falls and other injuries.”
Aging and Balance
As we age, our balance naturally starts to decline. Seniors can stay independent and healthy by doing exercises to improve their balance, Lobert says. “Generally speaking, balance declines as we age. This can be due to the loss of sensation in your feet, issues with your inner ear or vestibular system, or a decline in strength or vision,” she says. “The good news is, we can do things to help prevent the loss of balance. Continuing to stay active at home and with recreational activities will challenge your balance and keep it sharp.”
She recommends strength training and exercises like hiking, walking, swimming, cycling, and yoga, if possible. “If you continue to stay active and strength train, your balance should remain fairly stable,” she says.
The Strength and Balance Connection
Speaking of strength training, it’s important for your balance, no matter your age. In fact, some experts believe that it may even be as effective as yoga. “While exercises like yoga can be beneficial with improving balance, recent research shows that resistance training has the biggest effect on improving balance,” says Rafael Salaza, occupational therapist at Rehab U. “If you have limited time or limited endurance, strength training through resistance exercises like band exercises, modified push-ups, planks, and dumbbell exercises will provide the most benefit.”
Lobert agrees about the importance of strength training. “It’s important to have good ankle, knee, hip, and core strength, as well as overall power. This means that your muscles can react quickly and powerfully to keep you upright when you lose your balance,” she says.
That’s not to say that yoga won’t help with your balance or help you gain some major muscle, too. But, look to yoga workouts where you focus on strength, not just stretching, recommends Folden. “Often, people look to strength training as just weights, but yoga can be an awesome strength training workout,” she says. “Lifting, balance, and carrying the weight of the body is just as effective, if not more so than lifting weights.”
If you can find a class that combines yoga and weights, that’s even better for improving balance and strength. Otherwise, for best results, Folden recommends a combination of yoga, core strengthening, and weight workouts throughout the week that challenge your balance.
Exercises to Improve Balance
To help with balance, Caleb Backe, certified personal trainer and health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, recommends practicing the following exercises several times per week. They can each be modified to make them accessible for all levels, too.
“This is a classic strength and core building exercise,” he says. Lie down on your front and curl your toes onto the mat. Push yourself up onto your forearms and make sure that your back is streamlined with your neck and legs; hold this for 30 seconds. To make it harder, alternate reaching your arms out in front of you as you hold the pose. You can also modify planks by doing them on your knees.
“This is an easy beginner move to get your core and stability going,” Backe says. Pick up one foot and bring your leg to the side in an almost right angle to your hip. Hold this for 20 seconds and switch legs. Repeat for five reps on each foot. If you’re struggling to get your knee up to that height, then just lift the foot off the floor and hold.
Standing upright, lift your knee up in front of you so it’s at a right angle to your thigh. Crunch and clap your hands under your leg and then reach above your head and clap; repeat for ten reps on each leg. To increase the difficulty, make the claps more dramatic and over-pronounced. To lower the difficulty, lessen the intensity of each clap. (Seniors can also do this move seated.)
You might feel like you are wobbling and shaking now, but rest assured that exercises that challenge your balance are helping you build up strength that will help you in the long run.