Off-balance exercise includes exercises that require you to balance on one leg as well as exercises performed on an unstable surface. When it comes to unstable surface training, the jury’s still out as to whether it will improve your future performance and lessen the risk of future injury. However, for certain sports off-balance training can provide small gains in speed and agility and decrease your risk of injury. Off-balance exercise is further beneficial for those who want to retrain their balance after an injury, or because of an ongoing health condition.
Activating Your Core
1Learn to brace your abdomen. If you’ve ever been in a yoga or pilates class, you’ve probably heard that you should draw your navel toward your spine to activate your core. However, bracing is generally a better method to activate your core for stability and balancing purposes.
- Bracing does a better job of activating your entire core than the hollowing action of drawing your navel to your spine.
- To properly brace your abdomen, think of how you would brace yourself if someone was about to punch you in the gut.
2Start with one-legged balances. A one-legged balance is a beginning exercise to help get you used to off-balance exercises and practice activating your core to maintain stability when doing off-balance exercises.
- Stand with your feet together, then lift one foot a few inches off the ground. Hold your foot up for a minute or two, then switch and do the other foot.
- Practice this exercise with your eyes open and with your eyes closed. Activate your core to maintain your balance, and try not to lean or wobble. You may want to do this with a stable chair or table nearby when you’re just starting.
3Do leg swings. Once you’ve mastered the one-legged balance, you can increase the difficulty by lifting each foot and swinging it forward and back. Focus on moving your leg only, keeping your spine neutral and not moving your torso.
- To start, touch your foot on the floor in the middle to re-stabilize. As you get better with this exercise, you can try it without touching the floor. Do 5 to 10 repetitions with each foot.
4Try a one-legged clock balance. A one-legged clock balance will help you integrate your upper and lower body to better strengthen your balance and stability, which will help you with more challenging off-balance exercises.
- To do this exercise, stand on one leg and imagine your arms are the arms of a clock. Start at 12 with your arms straight overhead, then point to 3 o’clock. Try to swoop down to 9 o’clock without losing your balance, then come back up to 12.
- If you’re exercising with a partner, have them call out hours for you to point to with your arms. Since you don’t know what’s coming, this makes the exercise more difficult.
- Be sure to do this exercise balancing on the other leg as well.
5Add an off-balance element to standard strength-training exercises. Once your balance has improved to the point that you can easily balance on one leg, you can add an off-balance element to virtually any strength-training exercise.
- For example, if you normally do squats, you can do one-legged squats by pointing one leg out front as you go into your squat. Remember to do both legs.
- You also can do weight-training exercises, such as dead lifts, with one leg. However, make sure your balance is strong before moving to off-balance weight training exercises. It’s typically best to have a spotter when lifting weights while balancing on one leg.
6Add back leg raises and side leg raises. Back leg raises can help strengthen your glutes and buttocks to help improve your balance, while side leg raises will strengthen your hips and thighs as well. When you first start, you might want to keep a sturdy chair or table nearby that you can use for support.
- To do back leg raises, stand on one leg and raise the other leg backward, keeping your torso straight and activating your core. Lower the leg back to the floor in a slow, controlled movement. Do two to three sets of 10 leg raises with each leg.
- Do side leg raises the same as back leg raises, only raise your leg to the side rather than backward. Avoid leaning when you do this exercise, keeping your torso straight. Do two or three sets of 10.
7Move to planks. Planks are the classic exercise to activate and strengthen the muscles in your core. Strengthening your core will enable you to improve your balance so you can successfully complete off-balance exercises.
- To do a standard plank, lie on your stomach on the floor with your wrists directly below your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and raise up so that you are on your hands and toes with your body forming a straight line from your heels to the crown of your head.
- Brace your abdomen to hold the position. If a full plank is too difficult for you, start by getting onto your knees and elbows, with your forearms flat on the floor.
- Try to hold the plank for as long as you are able without experiencing neck, back, or shoulder pain, then lower yourself to the floor in a slow and controlled manner.
Preventing Sports Injuries
1Work with a trainer. If you are an athlete and are adding off-balance exercises to your training regimen to help prevent future sports injuries, working with a trainer is essential. A trainer with experience in your particular sport knows which off-balance exercises will best benefit you.
- Doing the wrong off-balance exercises as an athlete can actually increase your risk of injury and cause a decrease in your performance overall.
2Use a BOSU ball and a stability ball. A BOSU ball is generally a half of a stability ball with a flat surface on the other side. Both of these pieces of training equipment can be used to do off-balance exercises that will improve your stability and can enhance your overall athletic performance.
- When using a BOSU ball, start by standing on the rounded, or ball, surface. Once you are comfortable with the tool, try flipping the ball over so that you stand on the flat part. Move to exercise only when you are comfortable standing on both the flat and rounded parts.
- These pieces of equipment originally were used for rehabilitation after injuries. Adding them to your training regimen can also strengthen the stability of your joints to lower your risk of future injury.
- For example, you might do lunges or squats on a BOSU ball. Do three sets of 10 repetitions of these exercises. Try to hold the squat or lunge position for several seconds and activate your core to maintain balance.
3Incorporate split stance and one-leg exercises. One-leg exercises are the standard off-balance exercises that require you to activate your core to maintain your balance. However, split stance exercises may be more beneficial for preventing sports injuries.
- Split stance exercises are still considered off-balance exercises because you’re shifting the center of your mass further away from your base of support.
- With split stance exercises, however, you keep both feet on the floor, so you’re not exercising from an unstable surface, which can increase your risk of knee injuries.
4Try balance or wobble board exercises. Balance and wobble board exercises are frequently prescribed for rehabilitation from a sports injury. Regular balance and wobble board training can improve your understanding of your joint position to prevent injuries to your ankles or knees.
- A balance or wobble board is simply a board with a rounded bottom that you can either stand on, or do simple exercises such as squats or lunges.
- The uneven surface will cause you to wobble as you exercise, forcing you to engage your core to maintain your balance.
Retraining Your Balance
1Talk to your health care provider. If you have had an injury or have a medical condition that causes vertigo or chronic dizziness, you may benefit from balance retraining exercises. However, you should not start an off-balance exercise program without consulting your doctor.
- Your doctor will be able to recommend specific exercises that you should do, or may send you to a physical therapist.
2Shake your head while walking. To recalibrate your internal balance and equilibrium after it has been damaged due to an injury or medical condition, you’ll start by simply shaking and nodding your head while standing still. Move your head slowly if you have recently experienced neck or spinal issues, or if you have a chronic condition in those areas.
- If you can accomplish this while standing without getting dizzy or losing balance, you can transition to walking. As you walk, shake your head from side to side and then nod up and down.
- You should practice this exercise both with your eyes open and with your eyes closed. However, if you’re walking with your eyes closed it’s generally best to have a spotter with you in case you do lose your balance, so you won’t fall.
3Practice walking heel to toe. You may recognize the heel-toe walking technique as part of a roadside sobriety test. Walking heel to toe in a straight line can improve your balance and coordination.
- Simply walk forward in a straight line, heel to toe, for 20 steps. Then walk backward the same 20 steps. Repeat two to three times.
- You can hold your arms out at your side to steady yourself, but ultimately you should get to the point where you can do this without the assistance of your arms for balance.
4Shake your head while standing on one leg. If you’ve progressed to the point that you’re able to stand on one leg without losing your balance, add a head shake to bring the balance system of your brain into action.
- Stand on one leg with the other foot in front of you a few inches off the floor, then shake your head gently side to side and up and down.
- As when you shook your head while walking, you should do these exercises both with your eyes open and with your eyes closed.
- Keep a stable object nearby in case you lose your balance. You also might want to have a spotter or skilled therapist working with you. Do this exercise for one minute, then switch legs.
5Work with a wobble board. If you have access to a wobble board at a gym, you can use it to increase your stability and improve your overall balance. To start, make sure you have a sturdy chair or table nearby that you can use to stabilize your upper body.
- Stand on the wobble board with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Engage your core and rock on the board, back and forward as well as side to side. Gradually build up the amount of time you can do this.