By @chrisbardawil founder of @coreflexpilates
Balance is a vital component of life in general, but it is especially important when it comes to fitness. It can have an impact on our daily lives, including our ability to enjoy regular exercise and movement. As a Pilates instructor and studio owner, I’ve heard clients say “I have no balance” or “my balance is terrible” countless times. My response is always the same “we have to work on it”.
The truth is that balance is something we all learn from an early age. Sure, some of us are naturally gifted when it comes to balance and coordination but that is a minority of us. The majority of people with good balance have worked on it through a mix of exercises and trusting their bodies during movement.
Improved balance will not only help you exercise better but can reduce the risk of injury by lowering the risk of falls and even preventing ankle and knee rolls. So whether you're a recreational exerciser, pro-athlete or just someone who likes to keep active through hiking, walking, or tennis, improving your balance is essential for long-term health.
I believe there are three requirements for improving and maintaining balance:
Good balance starts with a strong core. Your stability comes from the centre of your body, therefore if your core is strong the rest will follow. A strong core doesn’t only encompass your abs, but also the muscles through your back, spine and even the pelvic floor. Planks, supermans, and shoulder bridges are some basic pilates exercises that can aid with this because they work the whole core as a unit. If working your core is something you struggle with doing in your own time, this is where a weekly pilates or yoga class can really help as they include a variety of core based exercises that will force you out of your comfort zone.
This is an essential aspect of balance - many people have a strong core and muscles but struggle with focusing on an external fixed point. Many clients I work with try to focus on the exercise in itself or a specific body part rather than focusing on a fixed point externally. Here is how you can work on this:
1. While standing, focus on something a few feet in front of you that does not move.
2. Remind yourself of the general exercise teaching points. For instance during a lunge: shoulders back and down, head up, knee above ankle, weight through the heel.
3. Concentrate on the fixed point and perform the exercise. This is why athletes tend to have good balance, they have learnt from an early age to focus on something external (usually the ball) and then having to move their bodies around that point without having to look down at themselves or think about their body positioning.
Lower Body Strength
Finally, good balance relies on strong legs. The glutes, quads, and calf muscles are especially important as they carry the body and activate while balancing. Once you have mastered squats, lunges and step-ups with good technique, you can begin working on more unilateral balance exercises. My favourite is the single leg touch:
1. Start by balancing on one leg
2. Lean forward and reach toward your standing foot with the opposite hand
3. Lift your non standing leg back and extend it behind you
4. Rise up slowly and squeeze your glutes as you come up
5. Repeat 8 to 10 reps on this side then switch.
The second thing to do is start to practise doing tasks while standing on one foot. See if you can brush your teeth in the morning standing on your right leg only, then in the evening brush standing on your left leg.
Our balance starts deteriorating as young as our early twenties so it's something to keep on top of for long term health and fitness. A bonus tip is to take up a sport - tennis, squash or padel are especially helpful as they force you to focus on an external object while using core and leg strength to move and generate power.
References: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6873344/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4713821/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26707903/