Whether it’s falling over from a sprained ankle on the field of play or losing your balance doing a single leg exercise, balance isn’t a priority until it’s brought to your attention.
But it’s an important and neglected skill that’s plays a role in myriad other movements skills such as running, jumping, squatting, lunging, hinging, twisting and rotating. And that’s just to name a few.
Balance is an essential foundation, a fulcrum of your fitness. Yes, it is that important. Here are some hacks to improve it.
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
The Two Types of Balance
In human terms, balance is an even distribution of weight allowing you to stay upright while maintaining your center of gravity (COG).
Static balance is the ability to maintain postural stability and orientation over your base of COG. Examples of static balance are a one-legged stance and two-legged stance.
Dynamic balance is the ability to stay balanced over your COG while engaged in movement. Examples of this include riding a bike, jogging, running and sprinting.
And there are combinations of the two also. An example of both static and dynamic balance is a gymnastics routine on a balance beam. Unfortunately, we can’t all be like Simone Biles.
The 3 Balance Centers of the Body
Lucky for you, the body came with three in-built balance systems which are:
The Vestibular system: which is in the inner ear. This system provides the brain feedback about the body’s motion, equilibrium and spatial awareness.
The Musculoskeletal system: skin, muscles, ligaments and tendons send sensory information to the brain that makes you aware of your body’s position in space and the changes that happen in your environment.
The Neuromuscular system: information from the eyes, vestibular, and musculoskeletal systems travel via the neuromuscular system to the brain, which then sends information to respond to changes in the environment via the central and peripheral nervous system.
Balance is probably the most overlooked factor in the weight room and you only find out when it’s too late. Dan John’s book, Can You Go? suggests that only being able to balance for less than 10 seconds on either leg is a cause for concern, and an underlying medical condition could exist.
Here’s a little test balance test for you to complete. Don’t worry, I will wait.
Grab a stopwatch and see if you can balance between 10-20 seconds on either foot. If your foot touches the ground, the test is over.
If it’s less than 10 seconds, stop reading and take Dan’s advice and go see your doctor. It may save your life. However, if you balanced between 10-20 seconds (or longer), take these balance exercises out for a spin.
Static Balance Exercises
Although there are plenty of cool balance exercises using unstable surfaces like Bosu balls that may (or may not) work, one of the best ways to improve your static balance is to reduce your base of support.
After all, you play with your hands and feet on the ground and that’s the way you should train also.
Note that Bosu balls and other unstable tools can have fantastic applications for rehab and balance.
Pallof Press Variations
Pallof press variations in the half and tall kneeling work well here. Both positions reduce your base of support while the resistance is pulling you to one side, making it a great balance exercise.
This exercise and its many variations trains the core to resist rotation, lumbar extension and posterior pelvic tilt. Pallof presses train the core in a dynamic fashion which simulates what happens on (and off) the sporting arena.
They are the total package.
Or if you’re up for more of a challenge, balancing on one leg with weight and your vision shifting from side to side will test all 3 of your balance systems. Fifteen to thirty seconds on both sides will have all your balance needs taken care of.
Single Leg Med Ball Transfer
Reducing your base of support helps your balance and improves your lifting technique also. If anything is out of whack, your loss of balance will give you instant feedback.
Dynamic Balance Exercises
Riding a bike and doing gymnastics takes up a lot of space in the weight room, so they’re out. However, a couple of great ways to improve your dynamic balance in the weight room is through weighted carries and lower body plyometrics.
Weighted carries provide a ton of benefits, and improving your balance and gait are underrated ones. If anything is off with your foot placement or your overall balance, having weight in your hands gives you instant feedback.
Overhead Barbell Carry
There are a ton of carry variations out there, but overhead carries will test your balance and gait in ways you never thought possible. Every step is a single leg balance.
And you’ll look like a total gym badass.
[Related: 4 benefits of overhead carries]
Lower Body Plyometrics
With lower body plyos, being able to absorb force, apply force while moving in different directions explosively will not only improve your balance but strengthen your legs (for squats and deadlifts) but improve your athleticism too.
Note that this video is an advanced example. You might want to try starting off by just jumping on one leg.
Improving your balance helps you in and out of the weight room, improves movement and (hopefully) reduces injuries.
But it’s a skill that needs training. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.