Balance is crucial for everybody, not just older adults. Here, fitness pros recommend their favorite balance moves to make you stronger and steadier every day.

By Karen Asp
Updated April 10, 2020
Advertisement
yacobchuk/Getty Images

You may not think much about your balance—until, that is, you no longer have it (or you’re doing yoga and fighting hard not to topple out of warrior three or eagle pose). Yet balance involves more than just being able to stand on one leg.

“Balance, as it relates to function in daily life and activity, has more to do with the ability to quickly contract your muscles to stabilize or produce a desired movement,” says Joshua Bonhotal, MS, CSCS, strength coach and vice president of operations of Future Fit, a digital personal training service. When you’re active in sports, for instance, balance can be a game changer. “Having better balance means you’re able to stop under control, recover momentum, and react quickly,” Bonhotal says.

In other words, balance is critical for everything you do, no matter your age or level of fitness. “Balance improves overall fitness, quality of life, and performance, and decreases risk of injury,” says Corey Phelps, personal trainer in Washington, DC, and founder of Cultivate by Corey, a mobile fitness company.

And as you get older, balance becomes critical to maintain quality of life, especially considering that an injury sustained from a fall, often from loss of balance, can significantly impact that quality. “As you age, you lose your ability to perform these quick muscle contractions at twice the rate that general strength declines,” Bonhotal says. Worse? If you’re not actively training balance, that decline could accelerate.

This is where balance training comes into play. While your balance will change from day to day—injury, muscular fatigue, soreness, and lack of sleep can all affect balance, Bonhotal says—the key is to work your balance regularly, daily if possible, but every other day at a minimum.

Bonhotal says that you’re already getting a good dose of balance training if you’re doing moves like:

  • Single-leg exercises (like step-ups)
  • Exercises where you’re in split stances like lunges
  • Exercises where the load is unbalanced, meaning you’re holding or moving a weight only on one side
  • Or core exercises

If any of these are part of your regular fitness routine, you might only need five to 10 minutes of structured balance training on days you’re not doing any of them. Also, if you're short on time, space, or energy, an easy and effective balance builder is standing on one leg with eyes closed until you lose balance (switch sides). Do this for as long as you can (time it!) and watch your time get longer with practice.

But if you're looking to get more targeted balance training into your life, here are seven awesome balance exercises that specifically help build stability and strength. Do them as one workout or pick two if you only need a short balance training session or want to incorporate them into another workout.

1. Standing Crunch With Under-Leg Clap

  • Start by standing with feet together. Shift weight to right foot and lift left leg in front of you to hip height, with knee bent to 90-degree angle.
  • Lift arms overhead and press hands together.
  • Bend torso forward as you clap hands under left leg.
  • Release to start position (arms lifted overhead), keeping left leg in place, and repeat 12 times.
  • Switch sides and repeat.

2. Kneeling Alternating Superman (or Bird Dogs)

  • Get down onto hands and knees.
  • Lift and extend left arm forward as you simultaneously extend right leg behind you.
  • Keep the back flat like a table and straight, not rotated, even as you raise each leg (it's helpful to do this move in a mirror).
  • Hold for five counts. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
  • Alternate sides, doing five reps on each side.

3. Single-Leg Deadlift With Side Bend

  • Start by standing with feet together. Shift weight to left leg and lift right knee in front of body to hip height, knee bent to 90-degree angle.
  • Extend arms to side at shoulder height.
  • Hinging from hips and tightening core (imagine your navel squeezing back into your spine), extend right leg behind you to hip height as you reach right hand to touch inside of left ankle. (Don't forget to engage both left and right glute muscles)
  • Release to start. Repeat eight times. Switch sides and repeat.

4. Isometric Split Squat

  • Get on floor in a half-kneeling position with right knee down and left foot planted firmly on ground in front of you. (Check that both knees are at 90-degree angles and hips are aligned.)
  • Keeping right foot on ground, bring right knee just barely off ground and hold this position (it will look like the bottom half of a stationary lunge).
  • As you do this, keep chest lifted so that shoulders stay in line with hips and knee.
  • Start by holding five to 10 seconds each leg, building to 30 seconds without having to rest. Do two to three sets per leg.
  • Challenge: Work your way up to five minutes each leg.

5. Single-Leg Reach and Row

  • Grab a resistance band and anchor it to something stable in front of you.
  • Hold handles of band in right hand, keeping tension in band. (No band? Mimic the move with your arms.)
  • Start by standing with feet hip-width before shifting weight to left foot.
  • Hinging from hips, let shoulders fall forward and reach left arm straight in front of you as you extend right leg behind you until it’s hip height. As you return to standing, pull right elbow back (with or without band).
  • Try not to let right foot touch ground during entire exercise. Repeat 10 to 12 times. Switch sides and repeat.

6. High Plank Shoulder Taps

  • Get on floor on hands and knees, hands slightly wider than shoulders.
  • Extend legs behind you until you’re balancing in one long line on hands and feet in high plank position. (To make it easier, bring knees down to floor like you would for modified push-up position)
  • Bracing your core, lift right hand off ground and tap left shoulder. Slowly release hand to ground and switch sides, trying not to let weight shift as you do this. Do 10 reps each side.
  • Struggling to maintain balance? Position feet wider.
  • For more of a challenge, bring feet together or even do exercise with one foot off ground.

7. Curtsey Lunge With Oblique Crunch

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, fingertips at ears and elbows out wide.
  • Cross right leg behind you and lower until back knee is about one to three inches off ground (into what's called a curtsy lunge).
  • Rise and return right leg up to right side (careful not to rotate the hips), bend torso to right moving right elbow as close to right knee as you can (into a standing oblique crunch).
  • Release to start and repeat 12 times. Switch sides and repeat.