This Workout Will Turn You Into a Balance Pro

Stand up. Lift a leg. Close your eyes. Feeling wobbly? Then you need this workout.

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Good balance may seem like something you don't need to worry about until you're scoring early bird dinner deals, but it's never too soon to start training. It'll come in handy when you trip over the dog while carrying a full glass of wine, and that's not all. Working on your balance throughout life means that by retirement, you'll just need to maintain what you already have instead of starting from scratch.

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You might think that standing and staying upright would be a simple act for your body to pull off, but it actually takes teamwork from three major systems: vision, the inner ear, and your internal sense of limb position and movement, called proprioception.

Take one away from the equation (by closing your eyes or standing on an unstable surface, for example) and balancing becomes trickier — but that's how you get better at it, as you'll see when you do the exercises below. Bonus: They'll tone and strengthen the lower body and core. All you need to get started is a pillow (the firmer the better) and a basketball or other object of similar weight.

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FIRST OF ALL, HOW GOOD IS YOUR BALANCE?

Try these three stability challenges to find out where your balance falls:

  1. Stand still with feet lined up heel to toe.
  2. Stand on one leg, raising the other foot so it hovers a few inches off the floor.
  3. Hold the position in Test #2, then close your eyes.

For each challenge, how easy was it for you to stay upright for at least 10 seconds?

  • Simple: You didn't sway (or touch your foot to the floor). Your balance is great!
  • Fairly Easy: You may have wobbled slightly. Your balance is normal.
  • A Little Tricky: You needed occasional support (like a countertop) to balance. Your balance is OK.
  • Difficult: You couldn't maintain the pose, even with support. Your balance is poor.

THE MOVES THAT WILL UP YOUR BALANCE

Pillow Stance

Stand with both feet in the center of a pillow, hands on hips. Lift right leg up to hip height with knee bent 90 degrees. Hold position as long as you can without lowering right leg, then switch legs. Repeat twice on each leg.

Pro tip! Focus on a spot a few feet in front of you to help with stabilizing.

Semicircle Sweeps

A: Stand on left leg with hands on hips, and extend right leg out in front of you at the 12 o'clock position. B: Keeping leg straight, sweep foot around in a semicircle to the six o'clock position, then bring back to 12 o'clock. Repeat 10 times; switch legs.

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Safety first! Make sure there's nothing nearby that you could hurt yourself on if you do topple.

Ball Twist

A: Stand on right leg with left knee raised, holding the ball close to your body at waist height. B: Twist torso to bring ball all the way to your left side, then twist again to bring it all the way to the right. Return to center to complete 1 rep. Do 5 reps, then switch legs.

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Tiptoe Reach

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Stand with feet hip-distance apart, holding the ball at waist height. Lift left leg slightly out behind you, keeping foot off the floor. Balancing on right leg, reach ball up and over your head. Once arms are fully extended, rise up onto your tiptoes. Hold for a moment, then lower right foot back down. Keeping left foot off the floor the entire time, bring ball back to waist height. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs.

Pro tip! Make these moves more challenging by closing your eyes while you do them.

Skater Taps

Stand with feet wider than hip-distance apart, hands on hips, and sink into a squat. Hold the squat, then tap left leg straight out to the side, shifting torso as little as possible. Bring leg back to center, and repeat with right leg. That's 1 rep — do 10.

Pro tip! When doing squats, keep an eye on form to make sure your knees don't extend beyond your toes.

One-Foot Hop

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Stand with feet hip-distance apart, then lift left leg slightly out behind you, keeping foot off floor. Place hands on hips, then take a small hop forward. Regain your balance, then hop forward again. Do 10 hops on right leg, then switch sides. Want to make it easier? Hop in place instead of going forward.

Single-Leg Dead Lift

Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Raise right knee toward chest. Bending left leg slightly, hinge forward and extend right leg behind you, reaching hands toward floor. Hold for a moment, then return to start position. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs.

Do-Anywhere Balance Boosters

  1. Stand on one foot while brushing your teeth or in line at the grocery store.
  2. Walk heel to toe for 20 steps when grabbing the mail or heading to your car.
  3. Stand on your tiptoes while washing dishes or blow-drying your hair.

SOURCES: Harish Chander, PhD, assistant professor of biomechanics, Mississippi State University; Sean Clark, PhD, director, Gordon College Center for Balance, Mobility and Wellness; John Jeka, PhD, professor of kinesiology, Temple University; Jenn Seracuse, Pilates instructor, Flex Studios, New York

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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