A sense of physical balance is an essential part of everyday life. One consequence of not being able to maintain our balance is a greater risk of fall and injury. For this reason alone, balance training should be a core part of any exercise program.
There are several factors that contribute to our physical balance, and two that we can directly influence are muscular strength and flexibility.
Before attempting balance exercises, it’s important to conduct a brief initial assessment of a client’s ability to balance in several different postures.
To assess balance, have the client:
- Stand with eyes closed. Is the client able to remain steady, or does the body sway to either the left or the right?
- Stand on one leg, with their eyes open. How long can the client maintain this position?
Then, switch to the other leg and repeat.
- Walk on tip toes. How far can the client walk before losing balance?
- Walk on the heels. How far can the client walk before losing his or her balance?
Make sure to record all data gathered from these activities to serve as a baseline measurement for comparison when re-testing the client; a commonly recommend interval is four weeks.
As with most exercises, it’s important to start simply and slowly and progress to greater challenges as the client is able.
Some basic balance exercises include:
- Walking forward and backwards. As a continuous point of reference, it’s best to have a straight line placed securely along the floor – a well-placed strip of tape fits the bill nicely.
- Standing on single leg (hold for up to 30 seconds)
- Standing on a single leg with eyes closed
- Doing toe raises and holding for several seconds. Then, attempting them with eyes closed.
- Doing small squats moving left to right
- Sitting on a balance disc and performing side-to-side/circular motions
- Sitting on a stability ball and performing side-to-side/circular motions
- Some points to keep in mind during balance training include:
- Directing the client to establish a neutral posture with both feet on the ground
- Instructing the client on how to perform stabilization techniques. For example, gently squeezing the buttocks and pulling the abdominal muscles inward can help to maintain balance
- Keeping all movements slow at first, then having the client move progressively faster
To assist with balance, the client should be allowed to place the hands on the hips or hold onto a chair or wall until he or she feels balanced.
Remain alert for signs that the client is losing balance while performing these activities. Always ask for feedback. For example, if he or she appears to become rigid or tense when performing any of these exercises, it may be sign of a loss – or impending loss – of balance. If this proves to be the situation, go back to the basic exercises and progress more slowly. This will allow the client’s confidence to increase and with it the likelihood that he or she will want to attempt more challenging moves.
- American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
- The National Federation of Professional Trainers. Sports Nutrition Manual. 2nd Ed. Lafayette, IN: NFPT, 2006.