Exercises to improve balance can be split into two categories, static balance vs. dynamic balance. Static balance is our ability to hold our body in a specific position and posture while dynamic balance is our ability to maintain balance while moving our body and walking.
In static balance the body remains stationary, and the centre of mass is over the base of support. This type of balance is important when doing activities such as squatting or standing on one leg. Dynamic balance is required when your body is in motion and most mimics real life situations, such as walking. Having good dynamic balance is essential in your body’s ability to react to sudden changes in your balance.
Both types of balance training are an important part of an exercise routine. Depending on a person’s ability, static balance exercises may be used initially until they are able to progress to more advanced dynamic balance tasks.
The following exercises are designed to improve the various aspects of balance and lower body strength. Always begin by performing the exercises with support, as you master each move you may reduce the amount of support by holding on with one hand and eventually no hands.
Static Balance Exercises
Perform 2-3 sets of each exercise as indicated. Begin with 10 seconds holds and gradually increase the time as you master each exercise.
1. Feet Together – Stand with your feet touching or as close together as you feel comfortable. Maintain a tall upright posture and hold this position for 10-60 seconds as tolerated.
2. Semi-Tandem Stand – Stand with the toes of one foot should be touching the arch of the other. Maintain a tall upright posture and hold this position for 10-60 seconds as tolerated. Repeat on the other side.
3. Tandem Stand – Stand with one front directly in front of the other, the toes of one foot touching the heel of the other. Stand as tall and still as you are able to for 10-60 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
4. Single Leg Stand – Stand on one leg while maintaining a tall, upright position. Begin with 10 second hold on each leg and gradually build your way up to 60 seconds per leg.
Dynamic Balance Exercises
Complete 10-15 reps or 2-3 sets per move on a daily basis
1. Front/Back Weight Shifting – Begin with feet hip width apart. Weight evenly distributed between both legs and along both feet. Using your ankles, gently shift your weight forward towards the toes and then back towards the heels.
Tip: when you shift your weight backwards stick your hips back slightly to maintain balance.
Challenge: Stagger your feet and shift your weight forward and backwards between the front and back foot in a smooth motion. Lift the opposite arm up as you shift forward each time. Complete 10-15 reps per side.
2. Lateral Weight Shifting – Starting with your feet slightly wider than your hips and weight evenly distributed between both legs and feet, shift your weight from right to left. Ensure the movement begin at the ankle so that your entire body moves right to left as one unit.
Tip: As you shift your weight, feel your glute and leg muscles engage to support your body weight.
Challenge: To increase your range of movement, lift your arm and gaze as you shift your weight as if you were reaching into the top shelf of a cupboard.
3. Hip Abduction – Standing upright holding on to a chair or other support, gently shift your weight to one side as you lift the opposite leg out to the side.
Tip: Turn on your core muscles and ensure your supporting leg muscles are strong to maintain a tall upright position. The goal is not to lift your leg as high as possible but think of extending your leg as long as you can while maintaining a tall posture.
Challenge: As you master this move with support, gradually reduce the amount of support by holding on with one hand and advancing to no support.
4. Hip Extension – Stand upright holding on to support, if needed. Kick one leg back behind you, return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Tip: Keep your chest lifted and avoid leaning forward during this exercise.
5. Stationary Marching – Begin standing upright, lift one foot off the floor and knee up towards your chest. Return the foot to the ground and repeat on the other side. Continue marching while keeping tall.
Tip: Keep your core muscles tight as you march to get some core strengthening in as well.
6. Leg Curls – Begin standing upright with your chest lifted and core engaged. Lift one heel up behind you, keeping the knees close together.
Tip: Imagine your hamstring muscles (behind the thigh) squeezing as you lift your heel behind you to get the most out of this exercise.
7. Calf Raise – Start standing with your feet close together, keep your weight positioned on the balls of the feet as you rise up on to your toes, lifting your heels of the ground. Hold for 1-2 seconds and lower the heels gently.
Tip: Keep your weight on the balls of your feet as your lower your heels back to ground.
Challenge: Perform single leg calf raises
8. Squat – Stand with your feet hip width apart, weight evenly distributed between both legs. Hinge at the hips as you bend your knees as if you were going to sit in a chair. Push through your heels as you return to a standing position. Modification – hold on to a chair as you perform a squat or perform a sit to stand.
Tip: Keep your chest lifted and stick your hips back as you lower in to your squat.
9. Side Step – Start standing with tall posture, step one foot out to the side. Transfer some weight over to your stepping leg as you gently bend the knee and push off to return back to the starting position. Repeat on the other leg.
Tip: slightly hinge at your hips to prevent your knee from going over your toe.
10. Step Forward – Start standing with tall posture. Step forward with one foot, gently bend your knee and return to the centre. Repeat with the other leg.
Tip: Keep your hips and shoulders facing forward throughout the entire exercise.
Challenge: Combine stepping in all directions to challenge your body’s ability to step in different directions.
11. Gait/Funny Walks – Funny walks challenge our balance by forcing our bodies to adopt different postures and adapt to those changes. Ensure you have support during the exercises (counter top, table, railing) for safety and gradually reduce support as you master each exercise. Keep your posture tall and focus on quality of movement rather than speed. Perform 4 lengths of each walking pattern as tolerated daily.
Heel Toe Walking
Tips for Practising Balance Exercises
Practising isolated balance exercises on a daily basis for at least 20 minutes are recommended to see improvements in balance and prevent falls. Strength, specifically lower body strength and core strength, play an important role in improving our balance. The following tips can help ensure that you avoid injury while getting the most out of your balance exercise program:
Ensure the environment is free from clutter and is well lit.
Ensure you have access to a supportive surface such as a counter top, table, sturdy chair or railing.
Maintain a tall upright posture during all exercises by engaging your core muscles, lifting through your chest and gently squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Perform each move in a slow, controlled manner.
Ensure the best quality of movement over quantity.
Training the proper muscles for balance and core stability requires proper assessment, instruction and feedback. At Propel Physiotherapy our experienced and knowledgeable physiotherapists and exercise specialists are well trained in providing comprehensive and challenging balance and core stability training for fall injury prevention.
Our therapists are skilled in adapting, modifying, and working with seniors to develop the programs that are best suited to the clients needs. Our passionate and skilled staff can help keep you independent and pain free to help you live your best.
Shriya MaharajCertified Exercise Physiologist
Shriya believes in finding ways for clients to be active no matter their mobility or fitness level. She uses a combination of education and exercises principles to help clients, including the elderly and those with musculoskeletal, neurological, metabolic and cardiovascular conditions, complete daily activities and manage pain.