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More Training Info > Advanced Balance Exercises

Advanced Balance Exercises
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS

No matter how old you are or what you prefer for your favorite physical activity, you can almost always benefit from developing or enhancing your balance. Below we describe advanced variations for three single-limb exercises pictured and discussed elsewhere on the Body Results, Inc. website. We use many of them with our clients who need increased ankle strength and leg endurance, as well as an improved sense of balance directly over the feet. These are great options to include in your lower body strength program several times a week. Place any balance exercises early in your workout program while you are the most fresh, as they tend to require a lot more concentration and can be quite challenging if you try to do quality balance work when you are already tired.

Please note that there are all sorts of stability devices marketed widely (many of which we use for training variety) such as wobble boards, foam core rollers, SitFit discs, and stability balls. However, to enable the most people possible to perform the selected exercises, we have limited our suggestions to those exercises that require nothing more than your own bodyweight, a few dumbbells (or gallon jugs filled with water), and perhaps a step, sturdy crate, or stair.

The Exercises

1-Leg Hover Step-up

To perform the Hover Step-up, stand sideways (facing the long dimension of the step) on top of a sturdy wide step or box roughly 6-10 inches in height, and dangle your non-working leg off the side of the step. Bend your knee and slowly lower your body until the unweighted foot is just above the floor. Pause for a second before you press back up to a standing position. Keep your weight over your heel, and if you feel any discomfort in the knee, lower the step height to make the movement smaller, press your hips back behind you so the knee does not travel forward of the foot, or try doing the exercise in a mirror to be sure the knee is not wobbling to either side. If it still is uncomfortable, you may want to substitute the Reverse Step-Up instead, pictured and discussed at knee strength exercise.

ADVANCED VARIATIONS: To make this exercise more challenging both for balance and for strength endurance:

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand
  • Hover over the floor for anywhere up to 8-10 seconds to really recruit the quads and challenge the small muscles in the ankles and feet
  • Increase the height of the step to add range of motion
  • To simulate climbing through boulder fields, add a backpack to your back
  • Add repetitions or sets
  • Hold a dumbbell only in one hand and change hands halfway through the exercise
  • Avoid totally straightening the leg so the quads and glutes stay constantly contracted

1-Leg DB Squat

A description of how to perform the 1-legged squat (an advanced version of the static lunge or “dip”) is at www.bodyresults.com/e2alpinetraining.asp. To see if you are ready to include this exercise or its advanced variations, first try to complete a few dips without your rear foot elevated to see how they feel. Avoid jamming your rear kneecap into the ground as you lower to the floor, and try to keep your torso erect throughout each repetition.

ADVANCED VARIATIONS: To make this exercise more challenging both for balance and for strength endurance:

  • perform 15-20 repetitions each leg
  • perform the exercise with weight only in one hand, and switch half way through the set
  • place your forward leg on a low unstable surface such as a pillow or cushion, or a narrow board such as a 2x4. If you happen to have balance devices available to you, by all means explore using half-foam rollers, SitFit discs or Wobble boards
  • pause for 1-2 seconds at the bottom and do not rest at all at the top position
  • perform half-repetitions: go ¾ of the way down and stop at ¼ of the way so that you get the middle half of the motion – talk about a quad burner!

1-Leg 2 DB/1 DB Deadlift

This exercise (also described at www.bodyresults.com/e2alpinetraining.asp) enhances balance as well as strengthens the glutes, quads, ankles, and hips. Stand on one leg, with the other foot hovering just above the floor behind you for balance. Hold a dumbbell, dictionary, or gallon jug in each hand, and then bend down as low as you can toward the floor without rounding through the back (as shown) before lifting back up to vertical standing position. Relax the foot instead of gripping with the toes; the wider the surface area of your foot on the floor, the more stable you will feel.

ADVANCED VARIATIONS: For more challenging variations, you can also:

  • perform this with a weight in only one hand, and switch the weight to the other hand half way through the set
  • pause at the bottom for 1-2 seconds so the muscles have to contract longer and harder
  • increase the weight (in each hand OR offset – i.e. 5 pounds in one hand and 15 in the other -- so the obliques and core muscles get involved as well
  • stand with one foot on a weight plate or board (i.e. 2x4”) anywhere from 1-8 inches thick and try to touch the floor from your elevated perch – this increases the range of motion and challenges the glutes maximally
  • perform additional repetitions or sets, or add a rowing motion with each hand as you stand upright
  • drive yourself upward quickly as though you were going to hop off the floor

Including the Exercises in a Program

These exercises are appropriate for all ages, although modifications are recommended for anyone who may be recovering from a lower-body injury or who already knows that balance is a weakness. If you are trying these exercises for the first time, start by performing the most basic exercise (the four illustrated below) without any additional weight or variation. Start with the leg that you think might be weaker or more difficult to perform, and only complete on your dominant (or stronger) leg the number of repetitions that you can successfully do, with perfect form, on your weaker leg. Keep the non-working leg close to the floor until you trust your balance; then try to increase the range of motion and/or resistance. As your balance improves, begin adding variations to increase the difficulty of the exercise. As always, start by determining what you want your balance exercises to do for you in your sport and choose those that will be the most beneficial. Happy training!


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