Balance is a vital component of health and physical performance and is essential for activities of daily living like climbing stairs or carrying heavy loads. Balance also improves athletic performance, allowing athletes to move and transfer energy more efficiently. Balance is especially important for older adults hoping to reduce the risk of falls and injuries.
Core stability is essential to both static and dynamic balance. Unfortunately, many traditional core-training exercises, such as crunches and leg raises, do little to improve stability. To enhance balance, core exercises should be functional (activities that mirror what you might do in real life), multiplanar and involve both single- and double-leg movements.
Here are five core exercises to you use with your clients to help them boost balance and improve health, fitness and athletic performance.
Banded Triplanar Foot Taps
Place a Versa-Loop band directly above the knees and shift into a single-leg, quarter-squat position. While balancing on the stance leg, tap the alternate foot forward, to the side and directly behind you. The core and hip muscles will fire to maintain single-leg balance against the band’s resistance in three different directions.
Amp it up: Drop into a deeper squat with the standing leg.
Pare it down: Perform the movement without a band, using only bodyweight.
Single-leg Cross-body Punches
Hold two dumbbells at chest height and move into a single-leg, quarter-squat position. With control, alternate “punching” the weights across the body, while maintaining stability in the stance leg.
Amp it up: Perform the exercise on a non-slip mat or foam pad to create more instability and increase the core challenge.
Pare it down: Perform the movement without weights, using only bodyweight.
Plank With Elbows on a Stability Ball
Place your elbows onto a stability ball and walk your feet out until you’re in a plank position. Engage the abdominals, glutes and quadriceps to maintain a stable plank pose and keep the shoulders and hips squared to the floor.
Amp it up: While maintaining shoulder and hip alignment, “stir the pot” with the elbows, by creating small circles with the ball in both directions.
Pare it down: Perform the exercise with the knees on the floor and the hips tucked.
Paloff Press with Rotation
Stand perpendicular to a cable machine, holding the cable handle at chest height. Select a low load and walk away from the machine until you feel a slight tension in the cable; extend your arms away from your chest. You’ll immediately feel the core activate to resist the urge to rotate toward to machine. Maintaining this core activation, slowly turn away from the cable machine, keeping the core, chest and hands in line. Slowly return to the starting position, with the arms extended in front of the chest.
Amp it up: Walk farther away from the machine or increase the resistance.
Pare it down: Turn this into an isometric exercise by holding the starting position for 30-60 seconds.
Laterally Loaded Single-leg RDL
Stand perpendicular to a cable machine, holding the cable handle at chest height. Select a low-to-moderate load and walk away from the machine until you feel a slight tension in the handle. Move into a single-leg stance with the leg nearest the cable machine. Keeping hips and shoulders perpendicular to the machine and handle close to the chest, lower into a single-leg Romanian deadlift. Engage the core and hip musculature to resist the urge to rotate toward the machine.
Amp it up: Move farther away from the cable machine or increase the resistance.
Pare it down: Perform a laterally loaded double-leg Romanian deadlift, with both feet on the floor.
Core stability is a vital component of balance. These exercises utilize double- and single-leg movement patterns, unstable surfaces and movement across all three planes of motion to challenge the core and improve static and dynamic balance. Incorporate these core exercises to reduce injury, enhance movement quality and improve athletic performance.