Do you find that you have terrible balance while standing on one leg? Do you constantly look like a drunk person trying to walk home after the bar? Good news – we’ve got a few tips to share that you can use to help build stability and balance!
While our vestibular system (in our inner ear) plays a huge role in balancing our body, our muscles and joints also play a significant role. These tips are geared towards building strength in the muscles and joints that affect our balance the most.
1. Train in socks or barefoot
Our first contact with the ground is our foot, so it obviously plays an important role in our balance. Shoes are fantastic for a lot of things; absorbing shock, protecting our feet from terrain or looking fly as hell. What they are not great at is allowing our feet to build a connection to the ground. This allows our feet to be lazy and deconditioned. But, a strong and stable foot is the first link to a strong and stable body. So when you’re doing your squats, deadlifts or lunges, kick off those shoes and let those puppies breathe.
In order to get our feet working, we want to create 3 points of contact with the ground; the ball of the foot, the base of the pinky toe and our heel. After that we want to think of actively gripping the ground with our feet. This is going to activate the muscles of the foot and be the key building block to a stable body. A shoe does not allow us to do this. Trying to grip the ground with shoes on is like trying to grip a dumbbell with boxing gloves on.
2. Single Leg Exercises
Now that we have a solid and sturdy foot to stand on, let’s work on the hip. Single leg exercises are a fantastic way to strengthen the hips and increase our pelvic control. When the muscles surrounding the hips are weak, we will see a lot more sway in our pelvis. This can affect our balance too.
Picture the stereotypical model runway walk. The hips dipping from side to side. One side raising as the other side drops. This is what we want to avoid. Strengthening the hips will help us keep that pelvis neutral and stable and limit that excessive motion.
Lunges, single leg deadlifts and step ups are all great ways to train single leg strength while controlling the pelvis. Just make sure you always start with that stable foot. If you don’t, you’re going to have a bad time.
“But Mitch, I can barely stand on one leg, let alone do a lunge.” Remember the main reason we’re doing these exercises are to strengthen the hips, not practice balance. So hold onto something for support or use your other leg as a kickstand. And make sure you’re picking a staring point 5-10 feet in front of you on the ground. Stare at that point like you’re trying to win a 6th grade staring contest.
3. Loaded Carries
Offset loaded carries (different weights on each side), single arm suitcase carries (one heavy weight on one side) or single arm overhead carries (pretty self explanatory I think?) are great ways to incorporate the core into your balance. The core works with the hips to stabilize the turn and keep a neutral pelvis. The key here is to create tension through the entire body. Picture your body as a tree trunk. There should be no shifting of the pelvis or swaying of the torso. Carries are also a splendid way to practice connecting your feet to the ground while actually moving.
Notice how I haven’t mentioned standing on a bosu ball or a balance board with your eyes closed while juggling dumbbells? While these may look fun, or the trainer at your local gym makes them look badass (I promise you they’re not), they provide absolutely zero value if your goal is to actually make your body more stable. Outside of climbing in a bouncy castle, how often in life are you actually standing on an unstable moving surface? I’m going to go out on a limb and say pretty close to zero. So throw away that balance board, and start paying attention to your feet, hips, pelvis and core.