Balance is an aspect of fitness that tends to go overlooked until it’s too late. Most people spend time trying to put on size, add pounds to their bar in the big lifts, or finally see visible abs. For older adults and senior citizens, balance is not only a key aspect of health and fitness but general safety as well.
However, if you find yourself falling over while trying to perform certain exercises, addressing undeveloped stability and motor control might just be the key to getting more out of your training overall. Below are some exercise options that should make you more sturdy on the turf, platform, or posing stage.
Best Balance Exercises
- Pallof Press
- Single Leg Medicine Ball Transfer
- Overhead Barbell Carry
- Single-Leg Box Jump
- Inverse Kettlebell Arnold Press
- Turkish Get-Up
- Bulgarian Split Squat
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The Pallof press is often prescribed for injury prevention or rehabilitation, but that doesn’t mean it has no place in a stability or balance training routine. In fact, the Pallof press has a few unique perks that make it great for more than just balance.
How to Do the Pallof Press
The Pallof press can be performed with either a resistance band or cable tree, with the latter being easier to control. Take a half-kneeling position perpendicular to a cable or band that is fixed at shoulder height. Hold the band or handle out in front of your body at arms length with both hands.
Under rigid control and without allowing your torso to lean, twist, or wobble, draw your hands into your chest and then press them out again.
Benefits of the Pallof Press
- Provides a way to train trunk control and torso stability.
- Has strong carryover to general weight training, especially for compound movements.
- Trains you to move the arms independently of the torso or hips, which can be crucial for maintaining balance.
Whether it’s carrying a tray at a restaurant or catching a football on the field, stabilizing the torso and using the arms while balancing on one leg is a skill that has a lot of carryover to everyday activity.
How to Do the Single-Leg Medicine Ball Transfer
Stand on one leg with the suspended leg drawn slightly off the ground. With your upper arms tucked at your sides, pass a medicine ball slowly back and forth between each hand.
Try to avoid holding the ball with both hands for more than a moment during the transition. Avoid gazing at the floor or around the room, keep your eyes fixed on the ball itself. To greatly increase the difficulty of this drill, perform it with your eyes shut.
[Related: No Barbell, No Problem — The Best Medicine Ball Exercises for Power]
Benefits of the Single-Leg Medicine Ball Transfer
- Provides a low-risk introduction to single-leg balance training, making it great for beginners.
- Allows you to develop core control without relying on intricate bodyweight movements or heavy loading.
Any competitive weightlifter can tell you the importance of being able to stabilize a loaded barbell overhead — it can be the difference between making a do-or-die lift on the platform. Overhead carries are common in Olympic lifting regimens, but are great for balance even if you don’t snatch or clean & jerk.
How to Do the Overhead Barbell Carry
Perform a press or push press to fixate a barbell overhead. Ensure that you have ample free space to walk in front of you, and make sure your shoes are tied if you’re wearing any. Take slow, controlled steps while thinking about pushing the weight up to the ceiling the entire time.
Pick a spot at eye level in the distance and fix your gaze on it. If you have to turn around, do so very slowly, making sure that both your arms and the barbell rotate in tandem with the torso and hips.
Benefits of the Overhead Barbell Carry
- Trains you to maintain balance and control throughout the entire body under load.
- Provides a healthy amount of stimulus for the upper back, shoulders, and rotator cuff.
- Has carryover to the Olympic lifts if you partake in weightlifting or CrossFit.
The box jump is a plyometrics staple for a reason — it’s a fantastic way to train both explosive power and force absorption. However, a standard box jump can be a little too easy if you’re trying to really develop stability. Jumping from and landing on one leg will significantly increase the difficulty, but the rewards can be noticeably better.
[Related: 10 Box Jump Variations to Boost Strength, Athleticism, & Explosiveness]
How to Do the Single-Leg Box Jump
All the rules that apply to a regular box jump are present here as well. Stand facing a box that comes up to just below knee height — for a single-legged jump, starting lower is better. Lift one leg and sink into a high partial squat with the other.
You may want to extend the arm on the same side as the lifting leg outward to stabilize yourself as you load your working leg. Hop up onto the box, landing only with the leg that initiated your drive. Hold the landing posture for a moment before using the suspended leg to guide yourself back to the floor.
Benefits of the Single-Leg Box Jump
- Jumping from and landing on one foot has significant carryover to other sports and everyday activities.
- Provides some decent stimulus to the quads, glutes, and core musculature.
- Helps develop power output in the lower body.
Kettlebells are among the most versatile implements you’ll find in the gym. You can train just about any movement or muscle with a good kettlebell, and their design makes them inherently stable — until you flip them upside down. Performing a press with the kettlebell held “upside down” (bell above horns) requires a great deal of balance.
How to Do the Bottoms-up Kettlebell Press
Grab a light kettlebell by the handle and draw it up to shoulder height without allowing the handle to move freely in your palm. The bell — the spherical part that has most of the weight — should be above the handle. From here, perform a standard shoulder press.
Grip the handle very tightly to prevent the bell from slipping, as any errant movement will encourage it to tip over.
Benefits of the Bottoms-up Kettlebell Press
- Teaches you how to balance an awkward weight under load while moving the arm in space.
- Provides an opportunity for a bit of extra grip work, as you have to squeeze the handle very very tightly.
- Reinforces healthy shoulder patterning and rotator cuff control.
At a glance, the Turkish Get-Up looks like a bizarre movement that isn’t good for much other than taking up a lot of floor space. However, people tend to change their tune once they try it and realize how much balance, patience, and stability it requires. There aren’t many exercises in the fitness ledger that demand as much coordination, proprioceptive awareness, or multiplanar stability as the Get-Up.
How to Do the Turkish Get-Up
There are so many moving parts to the Get-Up that you will absolutely want to utilize a good video reference. That said, the goal of the Get-Up is pretty literal — get yourself from the ground up to a standing position.
Hold a kettlebell overhead while lying on the floor. Perform a series of adjustments to your posture such that you gradually ascend to sitting, kneeling, and then a standing position, all while maintaining eye contact with the weight and a completely vertical, rigid arm.
Benefits of the Turkish Get-Up
- Makes for an incredibly effective full-body warm up while only requiring a single piece of equipment.
- Demands a high degree of trunk stability and awareness of your center of gravity in space.
- Forces you to move your limbs in multiple planes in the same exercise, something most other exercises do not require.
Almost every good lower body routine will include some form of single-leg squat movement. After all, unilateral training is known for being both good for strength and great for hypertrophy. However, if you’ve ever tried to set up for a Bulgarian Split Squat, you know it tests your balance as well.
How to Do the Bulgarian Split Squat
Place the non-working leg behind you on a raised surface such as a weight bench or plyo box. With the floor leg planted just slightly in front of your hips, sink into a squat while maintaining a vertical and upright torso.
The Bulgarian Split Squat can be performed weightless, with arms extended for stability or hands-on-hips for a bit more of a challenge. If you want to really test your balance, hold a weight in one arm at a time.
Benefits of the Bulgarian Split Squat
- High degree of transference to most sports where generating power from one leg is crucial.
- Improves bodily coordination and spatial awareness.
- Provides a good bit of stimulation to the quads, glutes, and core, without having to go as heavy as you would for a standard back squat.
When it comes to balance, gymnastics reigns supreme. Gymnasts at the Olympic level can perform some borderline inhuman feats of suspension on a single leg or hand, so it stands to reason that learning to do a handstand will yield some similar benefits, even if you don’t plan on going to the Games.
How to Do the Handstand
When learning the handstand, you’ll want to practice against a wall. Face a wall and tuck your body forward, planting your hands between six and 12 inches away on the floor. In one fluid motion, kick your legs off the ground and up over your head. Think about making them as rigid as possible as you turn over and let your feet rest against the wall for support.
Avoid arching your lower back by tucking the pelvis and exhaling hard. Don’t look at the floor, but allow your head to remain neutral such that you end up looking behind your starting position. Gradually try to free your feet from the wall and hold yourself suspended for a few moments.
Benefits of the Handstand
- A proper handstand reinforces vertical alignment of your joints from the wrists to the ankles.
- Provides a good deal of stability training for your shoulders and core.
The Two Types of Balance
In practical terms, balance is the even distribution of weight allowing you to stay upright while maintaining your center of gravity. However, there is a distinction to be made within this definition.
“Static” balance is the ability to maintain postural control and orientation over your base of support. Examples of static balance would include standing still on one or two legs, or maintaining an airtight handstand.
is the ability to stay aligned and in-control while engaged in movement. Examples include jogging or sprinting, but also refer to many of the movements and actions performed in the weight room or on the field of play.
Most physical actions incorporate elements of both static and dynamic balance. When a weightlifter receives a heavy snatch, they must stabilize themselves in the bottom of their squat (static) and then proceed to stand up while keeping the bar stationary overhead (dynamic). Knowing the difference can help you determine what exercises in this list are most applicable to your specific needs.
How to Implement Balance Training
If you’re sick of shaky legs and have decided to commit to becoming a pillar of stability, taking action is the obvious next step. But before you rebuild your routine from the ground up, there are some factors to consider.
Know Your Goals
If you’re happy with how you feel in the gym from a stability perspective, you may not need to include a litany of movements designed to enhance a quality you’re already satisfied with. That said, several of the exercises here come with more than a few other benefits beyond just helping you keep your footing.
A Winning Warm-Up
If you’d like stability training to be the centerpiece of your exercise regimen, great. Heavy split squats, overhead carries, and even Turkish Get-Ups will get you there. However, some of the other movements we’ve suggested make for fantastic primers for your main workout. You can double-dip efficiency to save time in the gym by making your stability work the first thing you check off your list when you start your daily session.
Balance is considered a developable skill just like anything else. Like most aspects of fitness, gains come easily at first and slow down over time. If you’re just looking to get a little more stable and spry as an augmentation to your normal training, a single-arm handstand, dragon flag, or planche might be more effort than the return justifies.
If you’re a barbell-only athlete, do barbell-centric stability training. If kettlebells are your favored tool but you’ve been neglecting your Get-Ups, get going with them. Fitness attributes develop more quickly when they have some type of overlap.
More Balance Training Tips
There should be enough here to set you up for success if you decide to make stability a personal priority. That said, knowledge is power, and this is one area where more is always more.
Some of the prescriptions we’ve outlined today demand a lot of your joints and connective tissue — particularly the overhead carries and Turkish Get-Ups. Since balance training often involves inverting the body, the arms take the place of the legs.
This means that the work usually performed by your ankles and hips, which are well-versed in bearing your body’s full weight, is passed off to the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. As such, be diligent about stretching and prehab work to ensure you can keep working on your first handstand.
It can be tempting to drift away mentally if you’re performing your fifth set of dumbbell curls on arm day. However, if your mental game slips while practicing balance exercises, you could be endangering yourself or others. As such, go out of your way to stay mentally engaged with the task at hand. Not only does cognitive presence help reduce the risk of accidents, it should also lead to more refined technique and faster progress.
While we can’t promise that you’ll develop acrobatic skills that will rival Peter Parker or Simone Biles, adding balance work to your training should improve almost every other aspect of your fitness.
After all, just about everything you do inside — and out of — the gym requires some degree of balance and stability, and this is doubly true for sports, where you’re often performing high intensity tasks with only one leg or arm contacting the ground at a time.
A secondary but equally welcome benefit is that balance exercises absolutely demolish your abs. If you’re a little burnt out on crunches or planks and want to shore up your stability for powerlifting, weightlifting, or whatever life itself throws at you, start working on your balance.
Featured Image: Greshi / Shutterstock