Balance, or postural stability, is a generic term used to describe the dynamic process of maintaining the body’s position in equilibrium.
Static equilibrium means the body is sitting or standing and dynamic equilibrium refers to walking or running. Balance is greatest when a person is standing upright and the center of gravity (located about 55% of a person’s height or above the second sacral vertebra) is maintained over their base of support.
The base of support is the area around the feet, with a wider stance offering more stability and a narrower stance offering less stability. Balance exercises and training can benefit many people, from the high-level athlete to the weekend warrior with a sprained ankle to older adults and senior citizens looking to prevent fails and alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms.
If you’re having balance or stability issues, it’s important to speak with a medical professional to evaluate you properly. There are specific balance exercises to help with stability, and you can use them both preventatively to avoid stability issues and as rehabilitation following injuries.
Before we get into balance exercises, let’s look at some terms associated with balance and motor control.
Motor control: involves the somatosensory system, vestibular system and visual system.
Visual system: eyes open will help balance when the environment is static. However, visual input may be inaccurate if the environment is moving, such as when you’re in a stationary car but think you’re moving just because you see another car moving next to you.
Somatosensory system: provides information about the position of the body and body parts relative to each other and the support surface. This system includes proprioceptive structures found in muscles, tendons, joints, and skin. Feedback from these structures, such as the Golgi tendon organs, muscle spindles and mechanoreceptors, enables you to self-correct your position during balance exercises.
Within this system, we can measure:
- Proprioception: the conscious and unconscious recognition of joint position in space.
- Kinesthesia: the detection of joint movement.
Vestibular system: Yes, it’s true: your ear contributes to balance. Both the receptors located in the semicircular canals of the ear and calcium carbonate crystals called otoliths detect changes in head position to allow for postural correction.
These systems work together to make unconscious and voluntary movements during unstable activities.
Try these six balance exercises to strengthen your ankle, shin and knee muscles and joints to prepare you for just about any obstacle life throws your way.
Why Trust Spy
It’s not just balance exercises we know a lot about. Author Mark Barroso, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, has studied the best way to achieve muscular success for many years. Before becoming a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and both a Certified and Licensed Athletic Trainer, Barosso graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and Professional Writing. You can still find his work in Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, Muscle & Fitness, Daily Burn, and others. His advice is sought after by many, so we brought it all right here to you.
Star Excursion Balance Test (SEBT)
Equipment Required: masking tape, white athletic tape
The SEBT is a test of lower extremity reach that challenges your stability limits. It’s reliable for assessing physically active adults.
How to do this balance exercise: Using tape, make a star on the floor with four strips of tape, each at an angle of 45 degrees. It may help you to draw a “+” sign, then draw an “X” through it. Stand barefoot in the center of the star — balance on one leg. The standing leg must not shift or come off the floor. With the leg that’s in the air, reach as far as you can and tap the forward-most line with your toe. Return to center but don’t place the foot on the ground or come to rest. Go onto the next line (around 1 o’clock), making your way around all eight lines. Have a partner mark the distance in cm on each line to get a score. Switch feet and compare balance on each leg.
Balance Error Scoring System (BESS) Test
Equipment Required: Square foam pad
The BESS is for assessing static and dynamic balance in an athletic population. The test requires three different standing positions performed on both a flat surface and a foam pad for 20 seconds with the eyes closed.
The examiner looks for specific errors that count as 1 point on your total score. Errors are taking a step or stumbling, taking your hands off your hips, the forefoot or rearfoot raising, abducting or flexing the hips past 30 degrees, opening the eyes and staying out of the testing position for more than 5 seconds. If you perform multiple errors at once, only one error is counted. The maximum number of errors per stance is 10.
How to do this balance exercise: Maintain your balance for 20 seconds with your eyes closed and hands on your hips without making those errors during the following stances:
ON HARD FLOOR
Stance 1. Double Leg Stance: stand with feet next to each other.
Stance 2. Single Leg Stance: Stand on the non-dominant leg with the other leg bent at 45 degrees and hip flexed at 30 degrees.
Stance 3. Tandem Stance: Stand heel to toe with the dominant foot in front and non-dominant foot in back.
ON FOAM PAD
Repeat these same three stances while standing on a square foam pad like an Airex.
The lower your score, the better since your score is the number of errors you made between all of the six 20-second trials.
Wobble Board Weight Shifting
Equipment Needed: a wobble board. The Fitter Rocker Board has a bar underneath so that you can turn it and use it to move forward or backward or side to side.
Weight Shifting Anterior-Posterior: Stand on the wobble board with feet hip-width apart, and knees slightly bent. Shift your weight forward (anterior) until the front end of the board taps the ground. Return to the middle. Then, shift your weight back (posterior) until the back of the board touches the floor. That’s one rep. Do 30 reps. Keep the knees bent throughout all 30 reps.
Weight Shifting Medial-Lateral: Stand on the wobble board in the same position described above. This time, shift your weight to the left and tap the board to the left. Return to the middle. Shift your weight to the right, tap the board to the right, and return to the middle. That’s one rep. Do 30 reps. Keep the knees bent throughout all 30 reps.
Front and Back:
Side to Side:
BAPS Board 4 Ways Balance Exercise
Equipment Needed: BAPS Board
The Biomechanical Ankle Platform System (BAPS) board is often seen in physical therapy and athletic training settings. The clinical version of this board has five different levels or screw-in attachments that make the board higher off the ground. Level 1 is the easiest, and level 5 is the hardest. You don’t need the clinical version to rehab an ankle injury or work on your balance. Try any wobble board with a center ball attachment with a height of 1.5-2.5 inches.
The exercise to perform is moving your ankle in four directions. If you’re injured, do these exercises while seated, then progress to partial weighting bearing (standing holding onto a table) and to full weight-bearing (one foot on the board, the other standing foot off).
How to do this balance exercise: Place your foot in the center of the board, opposite the side of the screw-in attachment.
Anterior-Posterior: Shift the weight of the foot forward (without raising the foot off the board) until you tap the front of the board to the floor. Shift backward and tap the back of the board to the floor. Do three sets of 10 reps.
Medial-Lateral: Same as above, but tap the board side to side.
Clockwise: Making circles on the BAPS takes some practice. Touch the front of the board to the floor and complete circles in a clockwise direction, keeping the board’s edge in contact with the floor. Do three sets of 10 clockwise circles. Keep your knee bent over the ankle joint — not straight.
Counterclockwise: Same as above but counterclockwise (circles in the other direction)
Bosu Ball Squat Balance Exercise
A Bosu Ball is a half-sphere with one side filled with air and the other a flat circular platform. You can do exercises while standing on the blue (air-filled) side or flip it over and stand on the black side with the blue air bubble on the floor. It’s harder to balance while standing on the flat black surface because the surface between your feet and the floor (the blue side) is unstable. One of the most common exercises on this device is a squat.
How to do this balance exercise: Start by standing on the blue side with feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly sit back as if sitting in a chair, bending the knees to 90 degrees until the thighs are parallel with the floor. Do three sets of 10 reps. Once you get the hang of this, turn the Bosu Ball on the other side and try to squat on the flat side.
Speed Skater Balance Exercise
This exercise requires no equipment and improves the stability of the hip, knee and ankle joints. Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart — balance on the right leg, lifting the left leg in the air with the knee bent. Now, hop laterally off the right leg towards the left side, landing on the left foot. Land softly, absorbing the impact by landing with the left knee slightly bent. The right leg is now the one in the air. Next, jump sideways to the right and land on the right leg. That’s one rep for each leg. Do three sets of 10 reps for each leg.
Balance Exercise Equipment
Airex Balance Exercise Pad
Fitter First Rocker Board
Can-Do Balance Board
Bosu Balance Trainer
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