December 4, 2013
Balance is an important aspect of fitness, one that figures prominently among the three components of physical activity that we need on a daily basis—cardiovascular, strength and flexibility. In fact, adding an aspect of balance into our regimes can help to prevent falls, increase agility and enable us to enhance our movements of everyday life. Balance is a necessary requirement of daily life, for even stepping into and out of a car and simple gait patterns like walking forward require balance.
Before beginning the following balance-focused workout, remember that proper sleep and hydration can also affect balance. If you’ve had less than eight hours of accumulated sleep in the last 12 to 24 hours (Khalsa, 2004), and/or have not had enough water to make your urine clear (Kravitz, 2008), your balance may not be as optimal as it could be.
These moves can help you improve your approach to balance regardless of your fitness level, requiring nothing more than an open mind and a willingness to try. For an easier approach to balance, try these moves with shoes on first and then progress to a barefoot option if appropriate for you.
Balance in Cardio: 2 minutes
Stand with your feet hip-width-distance apart. Hop back and forth between both feet seven times, and on the seventh repetition try to freeze, holding one knee up and extending the opposite arm out to the side. Hold this position for seven seconds and repeat the sequence once again, freezing on the opposite leg after seven alternating hops. Repeat this drill for a total of two minutes.
Balance in Strength: 2 minutes
Kneel on all fours, with the palms under the shoulders and fingers spread out wide. Position the knees directly under the hips. Reach the left arm forward and the right leg back, holding for seven seconds. Change the position seven times (reaching with the opposite arm and leg, alternating sides), holding on the seventh repetition. Repeat this drill for a total of one minute.
For the second minute of this drill repeat the same moves as above, but this time reach the same arm and leg forward and backward, respectively. This is much more challenging than working in oppositional patterns, so you may wish to start by bringing the knees together and having the thumbs touch each other under the chest.
Balance in Strength: 2 minutes
This version of the bridge—an exercise that usually sculpts the glutes and hamstrings—adds an element of balance, which translates into improved standing balance due to the way it trains the legs and hip complex.
Lie on your back with the knees bent as much as feels comfortable, with the knees and ankles touching each other. Place your arms at your sides with palms down. Squeeze the knees together and extend the right knee to full extension. From here, raise the hips toward the sky and hold this position for seven seconds. Lower the hips slowly and change legs. Repeat this drill, alternating sides, for a total of two minutes.
Balance in Flexibility: 2 minutes
A chopping-like movement in muscular strength/endurance training produces a multi-planar, full-body response. This version adds an element of balance to a hip flexor and oblique stretch.
Begin standing, with your feet positioned under the hips, and take a large step forward with the left foot. Bend the right knee toward the floor and lift the chest so the left hip area begins to stretch. Rotate the torso and touch the left ankle with the right hand; hold this position for seven seconds while breathing deeply to promote the stretch. Switch sides and repeat the movement, continuing to alternate sides for a total of 2 minutes.
Khalsa, S.B. (2004). Treatment of chronic insomnia with yoga: A preliminary study with sleep-wake diaries. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 29, 269-278.
Kravitz, L. (2008). Water: The science of nature’s most important nutrient. IDEA Fitness Journal, 5, 10, 42-49.
Lawrence Biscontini, M.A., creates award-winning group fitness and personal training programming at an international level for clubs and spas, including Equinox, 24 Hour Fitness, Gold's Gym International, Bally and Golden Door Spas. As Nutritional Counselor, Biscontini has created complete nutritional menus for spas from Manhattan to Mykonos. He regularly contributes to fitness industry publications, such as AFAA's American Fitness Magazine, IDEA Fitness Journal and Spa Asia. His books include, Cream Rises: Excellence in Private & Group Education, and he dedicates a percentage of his website sales to charity, as well as to inspire career wellness development. As a movement specialist, Biscontini trains celebrity clients, including cast members of ABC TV's soap opera "General Hospital," and has made appearances on CNN Headline News and LIVE! With Regis and Kelly.