Read these 38 Fitness Training Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Balance tips and hundreds of other topics.
Keep yourself interested and challenged in your balance training routine by trying new exercises. Remind yourself visually, and it will be easier to remember to do exercises and do them right. Refer to charts or pictures as reminders, and put them on your wall if you can.
A core fitness program isn't complete without doing something for that muscle in the center of it all--your heart. If you want to combine your cardio and core workouts, opt for one of these five exercises, which both raise the heart rate and engage the core:
-Cross-country skiing (on the snow or a machine)
-Roller or ice skating
The squat is one of the best exercises for your lower body, and you can do it with a fitness ball and a wall. Use a corner if you can, but any solid wall will do. Face away from the wall, and put the ball between your lower back and the wall. Staying firm against the ball, bend your knees and hips. Go down about a quarter of the way, then stand back up. Stay firm against the ball and wall. Your goal is to descend to where your thighs are parallel to the floor, but you may have to practice for a while to get there. Place your feet so your shins stay almost vertical and your knees don't go beyond your toes. Do some ball-wall squats every other day. If they get easy for you, do them one leg at a time.
If you like to use props in your workouts, foam rollers can encourage tense muscles to release if you roll along the affected area as part of your workout. They also serve as balance builders the way fitness balls and BOSU balls do--by forcing the body to engage core muscles. Many videos and books detailing specific foam roller exercises are available. In addition, some teachers of yoga and Pilates classes incorporate foam rollers into their classes.
Yoga improves your fitness and balance by emphasizing flexibility in addition to building strength. The more yoga you do, the more flexible you become, which allows you to progress to more advanced yoga poses. But yoga also builds strength because you are using your own body weight to hold the poses. By contrast, core conditioning exercises are less concerned with flexibility. Core conditioning principles focus on training the body to respond efficiently to outside resistance while moving (whether that is mowing the lawn or hitting a golf ball).
If you want to add weight directly to your torso, do it with a weight vest. For instance, if you feel you can't walk fast enough to get a good workout, wear a weight vest to make walking harder (and burn more calories). This is safer than using ankle or wrist weights, which can strain your joints. If you want to add resistance to exercises like pull-ups or body-weight squats, use a weight vest. The same device can be used to add resistance to cardio or strength training, and to upper or lower body exercises. A little resistance goes a long way, so start light and don't overload your body.
Four distinct muscles make up your abdominal support system. Exercise all four to achieve your best balance, strength, and posture. In order of deepest to most superficial, they are:
-transversus abdominis: this muscle is your key abdominal stabilizer and wraps around the abdomen like a belt
-internal and external obliques: these muscles attach on each side of the abdomen at the lower and upper edges, respectively.
-rectus abdominis: this is the area that gets all the attention (six-pack abs, anyone?) and it is tempting to overtrain this muscle with a lot of sit-ups and neglect the others.
When you first get started using an exercise ball, it may seem a bit intimidating. Make sure you are using a ball that is the right size for you. Now sit on it, like a chair. (Many people use an Exercise Ball Chair as their desk chair.) Just make sure you sit right in the middle so the ball doesn't roll away with you on it. Have someone position it for you the first time. When you're settled on the ball, lift one foot, put it down, and lift the other. Hold your foot up longer next time. Now walk sideways and let the ball circle around. Do you feel the muscles of your lower torso contracting? That's developing core stability.
It's obvious that the advanced standing yoga poses improve balance, but perhaps it's not so obvious that even seated poses can help balance development. All yoga emphasizes body control, which requires activation of the core muscles. Make sure you emphasize proper body alignment in even the simple poses. You will gain more in terms of balance throughout your body by doing beginning yoga with strict technique than by rushing to advanced poses before you're ready.
The oblique muscles, which attach on each side of the abdomen at the lower and upper edges, respectively, are often neglected by exercisers in pursuit of six-pack abs. But strong obliques are important in helping you keep your balance and allowing you to transfer energy from your trunk to your arms and legs.
Try this simple sit-up variation:
Lie on your back with the left knee bent and left foot flat on the floor. Place the right ankle on top of the left thigh just below the knee and let your right knee relax outward. Place your hands behind your neck with your elbows on the floor. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor and rotate to the right in a fluid motion until your left shoulder blade is just off the floor, keeping your elbow in line with your shoulder. Hold for five seconds and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for two sets of 8-10 repetitions.
Similar BOSU ball exercises also work the obliques.
Want to get your blood flowing while working on your balance? Try quarter-turn squat jumps on a BOSU ball. Stand on the top of the BOSU with feet evenly spaced. Bend your knees and hop up, turning your body 90 degrees to the right. Regain your balance and hop back to the starting position, then hop a quarter turn to the left. Continue to alternate hops to the right, center, left, center, for 20 seconds, then march in place on top of the BOSU for a count of 16. Start slowly and mindfully, and be prepared to slip off a few times until you get used to the unstable surface.
Pilates exercises were invented in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, an exercise enthusiast and fitness trainer. Pilates incorporates a lot of flexibility and range of motion exercises, but it differs from yoga in its use of equipment, such as Pilates foam rollers, designed specifically for Pilates exercises. Pilates is an appropriate workout for people who want to improve their fitness and balance, but don't who wish to avoid the impact on the joints that comes with activities such as aerobics or running.
Speed skaters used to keep in shape during the summer by waxing an old barn door and sliding back and forth on it. That barn door has been replaced by the slide board, which can be used not only by skaters, but by anybody who wants to develop lateral strength, and get a good cardio workout while they are doing it. The slide board conditions muscles most exercises neglect, and strengthens areas around the joints. Put your board on a hard, flat surface, and clear the area of furniture, as this is a challenge to your balance at first.
The basic definition of cross training is doing an exercise that is different from, but complementary to, your main exercise activity. For instance, a runner can do bicycling or strength training for cross training. Bicycling can maintain aerobic fitness without the impact of running, and strength training can help improve muscular endurance and prevent injuries. Cross training can also include activities that maintain general fitness, but allow some seasonal fun. For example, someone who usually works out indoors goes to the beach to play volleyball in the summer. You can use specialized equipment that is devised to maintain and improve sports skills during the off season, and that also constitutes cross training.
If you are diligent about your ab exercises (and even if you're not) this exercise serves as a counterbalance to ab and hip exercises, and it strengthens the lower back and gluteus muscles, which will help your posture. Many people find it difficult, especially at first, because you are holding an unusual position.
Here's how: Lie face down on your stomach on a mat or carpet, with your toes pointed and your arms stretched out above your head. Raise your head, arms and legs a few inches off the floor, while keeping your torso on the floor. If your shoulders aren't too tight, you will look like Superman in flight. If your shoulders are tight, your arms may extend out to the side rather than directly in front of you. Try to hold the position for 60 seconds, then relax for about 20 seconds. Work your way up to five repetitions.
Standard sit-ups not enough? A "double crunch" engages your entire abdomen and works on your balance and fitness because you are raising your shoulders and hips off the floor at once. Start out lying on your back on a mat or carpet with your arms and legs extended firmly towards the ceiling. Inhale deeply, and while exhaling, raise your shoulders and hips off the floor at the same time, pushing your feet towards the ceiling and reach your hands towards your toes. Only the low and middle back remain on the floor. Slowly unroll and lower to the starting position. Go slowly, and don't try to use momentum, and rest as needed when your arms and legs get tired. Work up to as many as 40 repetitions.
When doing exercises on a BOSU ball, your body will wobble due to the unstable, curved surface, and you will be forced to shift your feet to maintain your balance and keep from falling off the ball. You may be tempted to let your back slump. Instead, concentrate on keeping your back straight, your tailbone tucked, and your abdominals in, and you will get the maximum benefit from your BOSU ball workouts.
Strong pelvic muscles help your balance by supporting your torso. Try this simple exercise, known as an extended leg bridge pose, to strengthen pelvic muscles: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, with your arms extended along your sides and your palms facing down. Use your gluteal muscles to lift your pelvis to a diagonal line with your knees. Keeping your thighs parallel, extend the right leg fully. Hold for 5 seconds and slowly return to the starting position. Try for 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions.
No one seems to know how medicine balls got their name, but they join the ranks of foam rollers, BOSU balance balls, and cobblestone mats as supplements to a core body conditioning workout. Medicine balls are the small balls you see lying around at the gym. They are about the size of a basketball and usually weigh from 2 to 25 pounds, so you have to work your core muscles harder when you use them, which will improve your balance. Try this to start: Stand up straight and hold a medicine ball above your head with both hands. Quickly bend your knees and swing the ball down and through your legs, so the ball almost scrapes the floor. Slow the ball down and reverse the motion, swinging the ball back up overhead as you straighten your knees and return to a standing position. Repeat 10-15 times. Do a second set of 10-15 if desired.
The BOSU ball was invented in 1999 by David Weck as a safer alternative to the traditional exercise ball. The BOSU works in a similar way to an exercise ball, by engaging the core muscles of the body to improve balance, but it is flat on one side, like a fitness ball cut in half, so it will not roll out from under you.
The BOSU ball helps improve balance because the unstable surface forces you to use your core muscles to keep from falling off the ball. As you keep trying to stand on a BOSU ball, you will be eventually be able to keep your balance for longer periods of time because those core muscles will become stronger. Consequently, strong core muscles help your balance and posture during the activities of daily life.
A simple, minimal weight-bearing proprioception exercise is sitting on a balance ball and raising one leg while holding a medicine (weighted) ball at chest level, adjusting your body so that you and the balance ball are stationery. A more advanced, more weight-bearing version would be standing on one slightly-bent leg, with the other leg raised slightly in front of you while you press a balance ball against a wall behind you using your back. Once you have mastered that, you can add holding a medicine (weighted) ball out in front of you to the exercise. If you are suffering from an injury and proprioception exercises are part of your rehabilitation program, you should be sure to get professional instruction and supervision. Proprioception exercises can also be very effective for healthy athletes seeking to further develop or maintain their balance, and these athletes may want to work such routines into their exercise regimen.
A wobble board is especially good for balance training with golfers who have had back pain. Back pain can lead to faulty muscle recruitment patterns, which are corrected by the use of the wobble board. Use a wobble board in front of a mirror so you can spot problem areas during your workout.
Flexibility is an important element of overall fitness. Inflexibility is an unfortunate side effect of many aerobic activities and strength-building exercises, due to repeated muscle contractions over time. While stretching helps in preventing injuries, careful and gentle stretching helps your muscles by increasing the blood flow to the muscle being stretched. It is best not to stretch a cold muscle; do some warm-up activity first, even if it is just easy walking around the house. When you stretch, remember to breathe deeply and don't stretch to a degree that feels uncomfortable. If you feel discomfort, ease back from the stretch.
The concept of "core strength" involves the muscles of the spine, abdominal muscles, pelvic area, and back to strengthen your core muscles and help improve balance, flexibility and strength. The core needs to be strong to act as a unit with the rest of the body. Strong core muscles help you keep your balance when you sit and stand, and they provide the foundation for you to transfer energy efficiently to the arms and legs, whether you are hauling groceries, raking leaves, or running a marathon.
A BOSU ball workout can be a useful addition to your fitness routine by helping you address the muscle imbalances that can occur while recovering from an injury. When you sprain an ankle, for example, the body compensates by favoring the injured foot and overusing the opposite leg. BOSU ball exercises can help strengthen the underused leg and stretch the overused leg.
Walking on a "cobblestone mat," a long mat embedded with plastic stones of various sizes, focuses your attention on where you are stepping and engages the muscles that keep you from falling over. This combination can improve balance, especially in older adults.
A study of adults aged 60-92 years found that those who participated in a 60-minute cobblestone mat exercise session three times a week for 16 weeks showed significant reductions in blood pressure compared with adults who participated in a standard walking exercise program.
Fitter1 Tip: Weight vests are popular with athletes and are used for training police and firefighters. They increase calorie burning and have been shown to improve spinal bone density. A good weight vest can be adjusted for body size, and you can add weights in 1 lb increments.
Fitter1 Tip: The Pro Fitter 3D Cross Trainer is an indoor or off-season ski trainer that can also be used in season when you can't get to the slopes. It has two independent shock absorbers that allow rhythmic weight transfer with lateral movement. This device will maintain or improve your skiing skills and qualifies as a cross training mode for skiing.
Fitter1 Tip: A Pilates foam roller can add an additional level of difficulty to a Pilates mat workout. Lying on a roller creates instability, and forces the muscles to work harder to maintain balance.
Fitter1 Tip: Researchers attribute the blood pressure reduction achieved from walking on a cobblestone mat to a therapeutic effect similar to acupressure on the soles of the feet.
Fitter1 Tip: Thick yoga mats are great for pilates, because they provide extra cushioning and don't slide out of place.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|