Happy Fit Friday Everyone!
Today I’m talking about balance and sharing with you some of my top exercises for achieving expert-level balance, injury prevention, and taking your workouts to the next level!
It’s all in the hips
When it comes to balance that is. The muscles in your hips and core are your main stabilizers to help you stay on your feet. This is especially true when you’re doing movements while standing on ONE foot, like you’ll see in pictures below. When a person has ‘weak hips’, which is primarily a lack of strength in the outer hip, or the glute medius, they are not able to support their body weight as effectively on one leg. This means the hips are uneven, which puts excess pressure on the knee.
Who cares? You might think. But in reality this seemingly insignificant shift in weight can lead to big problems over time.
Picture someone running. Most people think that the hamstring muscles are the ones we primarily use to run, when in actuality it is the muscles in our hips. When you run you are literally jumping from one foot to the other, back and forth thousands and thousands of times. Every time you land on your foot, your hips (in particular the gluteus medius) need to stabilize your ENTIRE body weight (plus the additional force of landing), then push off for the next stride. If you are dropping your hip down and slamming all that force into the knee during an entire run, guess what? Injuries. In a recent post I highlighted the importance of strength training for running, you can read more about that here
So, a nice strong running stride that stands up over miles and miles is only as good as your hips
The other important thing about balance is it’s functionality in our daily lives. Doing exercises that primarily target balance means that you are strengthening the core, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. The stronger you are, in these areas, easier time you’ll have completing daily tasks (ie climbing stairs, picking up kids, moving boxes, etc)
So, without further adieu, here are some of my top exercises for challenging your balance, staying injury-free, and unlocking advanced exercises that will make you feel like an elite athlete
Don’t worry if you find these challenging at first, or if you need to stay near a wall for support until you are more stable. With practice comes perfection!
Side Facing Step Ups
The important thing to remember here is that all your weight should be in the leg that is up on the step. Don’t pop up off the toe on the ground (this isn’t your mom’s step class!). The movement should be slow and controlled. Lean forward a but, and work on keeping the knee stable (no wobbly knee as you push up). Start with a very small riser and work your way up to a taller one if you’re a beginner.
One Leg Deadlifts
I make every single client that walks through my door do this move. It can be very frustrating at first when you’re tipping over all the time, but as you practice you’ll get stronger and it will get easier. I do mine on one foot on a bosu with a 20lb Kettlebell in my hands, but you can bet I started here too!
This one isn’t for beginners! If you have yet to master a lunge (or feel pain in your knees when you try this), start with a lunge and try this one again in a few months. All of your weight should be in the foot that is resting on the ground. Lean forward only slightly at the hips and engage your core to keep you upright. If you have really tight hip flexors you might not be able to squat down very far, so make sure to include some flexibility work in your program!
One-Foot Calf Raise
Stability in the foot and ankle are just as important for solid running as the hips are. Calf raises are especially important if you have achilles tendon issues. When you walk or run, the calf muscles are flexing over and over again with each step you take. Strong calves means more power in your stride.
Single Foot Stands
What better way to practice your balance than by standing on one foot? When I’m working with a client who struggles with balance I tell them to work on standing on one foot ALL THE TIME. Stand on one foot while you brush your teeth, stand on one foot while you wash dishes, stand on one foot while you do other exercises like bicep curls or shoulder presses.
If you can do this for one minute with good form (ie no hip drop!), then you’re ready to move on to something more challenging…
Single Foot Bosu Stands
Same as above, but on a bosu ball. You’re one step away from being a circus performer!
Whether you’re a newbie exerciser, an avid runner, or weight lifting pro, we can all benefit from including some balance training in our routines!
Want a personalized fitness program tailored to your goals? Contact me today!