Last Updated January 5, 2024 (originally published May 15, 2015)
The following balance training exercises, which emphasize strengthening the lower body, upper body and core, were designed for seniors who are independent and capable of standing and walking on their own. The full workout can be completed in less than 20 minutes. If any task proves too difficult for a particular client, skip it and focus only on your client’s successes.
1. Side “X” Balance Reach
Stand on the left leg and lean the entire body toward the left. Abduct the left shoulder toward the sky and abduct the right hip just a bit so the right foot loses contact with the floor. The body makes half of an “X” shape. Touch down as needed with the right toes. Continue trying to balance on this side for up to two minutes and then change sides.
Guidelines: Try to be as still as possible when leaning to one side to make half of an X shape.
2. Stand and Twist
Part 1: “Stand.” Begin standing on the right leg and raise the left knee up until the upper thigh is parallel to the floor, if possible. If this is too difficult, raise just the heel of the left foot.
Part 2: “Twist.” Bring the hands together in a prayer position and then point the fingers forward, away from the body. Twist to the right and left making a large infinity design with the hands.
Guidelines: Try to twist as far as possible, following the hands with the eyes, head and core, while simultaneously keeping the lifted left knee as still as possible. Repeat on the other side after two minutes.
3. Raised Hinge
With the feet placed about hip-width distance apart, raise the left heel to create a stability challenge by decreasing the contact points with the floor. With the hands at the hips, slowly fold forward over the hands, flexing at the hips but not at the spine. Keep the spine as extended as possible. Flex the knees if the hamstrings are tight.
Guidelines: Hinge and “bow” down and up like a “drinking bird” slowly for one minute and repeat with the other heel raised, concentrating on keeping the spine long and strong.
4. Squat and Twist
Part 1: Start with the feet set hip-width-distance apart. Lower to a sitting position; try to keep the toes within view to minimize how much the knees project forward. For a regression, lean against a wall while lowering, being sure to start with the feet far enough away from the wall so that the knees stay behind the toes in a lowered position.
Part 2: Bring the hands behind the head so the elbows are flexed, pointing to the sides.
Guidelines: Try to keep the spine as extended as possible while twisting to the left and right six times in one minute, taking 10 full seconds to rotate to the left and right sides with each repetition. Return to the starting position, rest by shaking out the legs and repeat for one additional minute.
5. Reach for the Sky
Sit back into the squat position described in the Squat and Twist exercise, using the wall for support. Slide the arms and thumbs up and down the wall slowly for one minute.
Guidelines: Try to feel the stretch from the hips all the way to the shoulders, reaching the fingers closer to the sky each time. The up-and-down movement should not be performed faster than 10 seconds.
6. Standing Twisting Lunge 1 and 2
Part 1: Place a chair to the side for support, if needed. Start with the feet together and step forward with the right foot to bring the right upper thigh parallel to the floor. Find stability before progressing to part 2.
Part 2: With the left hand behind the head and the elbow flexed and pointing to the side (as in the Squat and Twist), twist the entire core to the right, trying to keep the spine as extended as possible.
Guidelines: After holding one lunge position for five seconds, untwist and return to the starting position with the feet together. Repeat on the same side as many times as possible with control for one minute, and then repeat the lunging on the other side following the same guidelines.
7. Standing “X” Skating Balance Reach
Stand with the feet about shoulder-distance apart with a chair in front for support, if necessary. Flex the left shoulder forward and up and simultaneously extend the right hip, making a contralateral half of the letter “X.” As a progression, avoid using the chair. Slowly lower to a starting position and repeat on the other side. Continue this movement for up to two minutes, moving slowly and deliberately as if moving through peanut butter.
Guidelines: Try to keep the spine as neutral as possible when leaning forward from the supporting ankle and returning to a standing position. Each lifting and lowering can take 10 seconds per side; it may feel like “ice skating” in super-slow motion.
Performing these stabilizing moves can help seniors achieve a better sense of balance, strength and overall self-efficacy. Ultimately, a priority as people age is to keep training both stability and mobility in a variety of planes of motion and positions to maximize the ability to perform activities of daily life.
If you are interested in working with older clients, consider becoming an ACE Senior Fitness Specialist (worth 2.5 ACE CECs). In this program, you will learn how to empower senior clients to lead healthy and happy lives. Upon completion, you will be able to assess, evaluate and modify movement for senior clients to create a personalized program and collaborate with them to identify specific cognitive health goals—and much more!