5 Ways to Challenge Your Single Leg Stance and Improve Your Balance
The ability to maintain our balance is linked to multiple processes in our body including muscles and joints, vision, and our inner ear. As we get older, there are changes in all of these systems that result in a loss of steadiness and an increased risk of falling. Fortunately, falling is not inevitable and with training, our balance can improve! Training your balance now is also effective in improving your athletic performance by making better use of the strength that you already have.
Whether from a physical therapist, a personal trainer, or part of the warm up routine of your sports team, balance is very often overlooked in any training program. Maybe it sounds a bit dull but there are ways you can make it fun! Balance training can so easily be incorporated into your exercise routine and the results can help to preserve your ability to balance as you get older, warding off injuries and keeping your body strong.
Gauge your own balance with the single leg stance. Stand next to something sturdy, like a chair or table, and raise one leg off of the floor with your hips bent to 45 degrees and your knee to 90 degrees. Begin by trying to balance for 5-10 seconds and then work your way up. To challenge yourself even more, try these single leg stance modifications:
Relax Your Toes
Most people, when they stand on one foot, automatically tend to “grip the floor for dear life” with their toes as a way of searching for any type of stability. Relaxing the toes increases the surface area of your foot and allows some of those deep intrinsic foot muscles that are just in the arch of our foot, to activate.
Practice Balancing Barefoot
Taking the shoes and socks off allows you to receive sensory feedback from the floor, letting your natural foot do what it wants on the floor. You’re also not forced into the position of your shoes (aka foot coffins). Runners who need to have really strong foot muscles will do a lot of training while barefoot. This gives these muscles a better chance of activating without that stability.
We’re so reliant on our visual system for balance and movement in general, we’ll always correct our posture so that our gaze is horizontal. When you look down at the ground, everything else follows—your neck is flexed, your shoulders are rounded, your butt may be sticking out a little bit to counter the weight—posturally you’re put in a really bad position. Looking up straightens everything out and makes it much more challenging.
Close Your Eyes
At first this may be difficult, but over time it will make you less reliant on your visual system. Closing your eyes will make your proprioceptor system work a little bit harder, helping to train and strengthen those muscles and ligaments.
Balance training doesn’t always have to be “stand on one leg and hold for as long as you can”. Practicing balance while frozen (not talking, not blinking, not moving) is not quite realistic to maintaining proper balance in everyday life. Shake things up by catching a ball while you’re balancing on one leg, having a conversation, thinking about something else, moving your arms, cooking, washing dishes, etc. Challenge your brain to focus on more than just your balance so that it becomes an automatic response.
Make balance training a part of your workout routine by practicing your single leg stance daily. You’ll notice improvements in no time!