How can I improve my balance?
December 21, 2004 5:57 AM   Subscribe

How can I improve my balance? [+]

I was playing 5-a-side football last night and managed to fall flat on my arse whilst simply running with the ball. I'm 6'2 tall and overall I'd say that my balance is pretty poor - I'm sure I'd fail one of those walk-along-the-straight-line-Sir drunk tests that the Police give protagonists in bad comedies. Are there any simple exercises that can improve my balance and stability? I'd rather not have to buy any equipment, or join Yoga or Martial Arts classes (I'm already a gym member and really don't have the time for both).
posted by john-paul to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Prioperceptive training. I know you said that you did not want to buy anything new, but you could look for a wobble board. Alternately, you could do a series of pretty simple exercises every day.

Here's what I do:

Stand on one foot, get comfortable, then start moving your other leg around, out away from your body in various ways. This has the added benefit of strengthening hip muscles etc. When that feels comfortable, start doing it with your eyes closed and your mouth open (mouth open improves balance), then with your mouth closed. Alternate feet.

When that gets easy, get yourself a 2x2, and stand on that and start doing it all over again. The 2x2 makes it much harder, even though it seems like it shouldn't really.

These things will really improve your sense of where your body is in space, your balance, and especially with the 2x2, the fine motor control that will keep you upright.
posted by OmieWise at 6:16 AM on December 21, 2004


yoga yoga yoga.

It's amazing what it will do to your overall awareness and control of your body, let alone raw stength and, yes, balance.
posted by Miko at 6:32 AM on December 21, 2004

I think that strengthening your abdominal muscles would be of benefit. These muscles basically hold together your upper and lower body together, so if they're not as strong as they should be you're going to have trouble holding it all together when moving at speed(especially given your height).

There are loads of exercises that you can do at the gym or even at home, but you should concentrate on stabilizing/core strength. This site has some good examples.
posted by isthisthingon at 6:52 AM on December 21, 2004

tai chi.

tai chi tai chi tai chi.
posted by Shane at 6:56 AM on December 21, 2004

If your gym offers BOSU (balance trainer), or anything like that as a class, it might be worth taking. Basically it's a class that uses 1/2 a rubber ball mounted on a flat bottom in lieu of the step in step classes, etc. Excuse the cheesy pictures.
posted by true at 7:03 AM on December 21, 2004

These muscles basically hold together...

Jesus, I swear English is my first language. I think my brain's left early for xmas. Anyone know any exercises for syntactical balance?

Despite my obvious shortcomings in language, core strength training will help. Yoga, tai chi etc are all(very effective) methods of achieving this. If you don't want to join a class though, just work on your core strength.
posted by isthisthingon at 7:11 AM on December 21, 2004

Guys, guys, we must balance our energies, especially in this season of peace and harmony. Tai chi and yoga are two tastes that go great together! Seriously, yoga teaches you static balance, tai chi teaches you to balance when you move. They complement each other very well.

Cycling works too, especially track or mountain biking.
posted by bonehead at 7:20 AM on December 21, 2004

i don't want to be a bummer, but someone in our family just got diagnosed with parkinsons, and one of the early signs, it turns out, is poor balance (i am led to understand). so you might just mention it next time you're at your doctors, especially if it seems to be a recent problem.

i thought twice about posting this, since it seems terribly vague and, at the same time, horribly scary. i don't think it's at all serious, or likely, but, well, that's the comment, make up your own mind.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:43 AM on December 21, 2004

I second the mentions of yoga, tai chi and cycling (especially mtb trials, bmx freestyle and unicycling). Or, more generally, any sport that involves standing on something, strapping something to your feet, that kind of thing. (Admittedly, some of these sports are pretty expensive.)
posted by box at 7:58 AM on December 21, 2004

My balance greatly improved when I started studying Tae Kwon Do, but I'm sure that any martial art (including Tai Chi, plus yoga) will help (I'm now doing Seido). I used to twist my ankles all the time, just walking around. In fact, just before my very first Tae Kwon Do class I slipped and twisted my ankle badly enough that I couldn't start for another couple weeks. That was my last ankle-twist. I think in addition to better balance, stronger ankles helps. One exercise we do is isometric kicks. We perform a side kick (or roundhouse, or whatever) very slowly, holding still - on one leg - at different stages of the kick. Strengthens the legs and side muscles.
posted by booth at 8:10 AM on December 21, 2004

Hunker-hawser! It's basically tug-of-war while standing on small boxes. Great party game, too. You make a couple boxes 1 foot square and about 4 inches high, and get a thick rope about 15 feet long. You and your opponent stand on the boxes about 6 feet apart, each holding one end of the rope. The director drops the midsection of the rope and you each try to pull your opponent off his/her box. Drop the rope or step off the box and you lose.
posted by planetkyoto at 8:11 AM on December 21, 2004

Having recently destroyed (and reconstructed) my ACL, I have been working on my balance quite a bit. My physical therapist told me to remember these two things:
-- People who tear an ACL once are at far greater risk of tearing the ACL in their other knee - because many ACL injuries are due to poor balance, and they already showed themselves to be in the risk group.
-- Balance is an entirely acquired skill. Nobody is born with a special talent for it. With enough training, anyone can be a tightrope walker or what have you. The key is frequent, productive practice.

That said, here are the things I do 2-3 times a week:
(1) I started off just standing on one foot. I did it in the gym and anywhere else where I stood idle for any period of time. Bonus points for doing it in a bus/subway (but be sure there is a handle you can grab within your reach!). This really makes you discover all the little, oft-forgotten muscles in your legs!
(2) Once you can spend a minute or two on each leg, start making it harder. Move your other leg out, or behind. Pick up a small, heavy-ish object (small medicine rubber balls work great for this) and slowly move it in front and then behind you, passing it from one hand to another. When you get better, start tossing it in front and behind you instead of simply passing. It's amazing how precarious your balance is, and how easy it is to throw off with just a pound of weigh that travels all of 3 inches from one hand to another.
(3) Do this exercise: put down a small object on the ground in front of you. A rubber medicine ball works great for this too; in a pinch a can of soda will do. Stand on one leg. Now bend that leg slowly and lower your center of gravity to the point where you can pick up the object. At no point should your knee travel farther forward than your toe - this restriction makes it really hard! (as I understand it, your knee is simply not built to travel much further to your toe, and doing this can be devastating to it). Pick up the object, and slowly bring yourself upright. Repeat, and put the object down. A dozen of these on each leg will make you cry like a little girl - regardless of whether you are, or are not, actually a little girl.

Good luck!
posted by blindcarboncopy at 10:13 AM on December 21, 2004

I know you said you didn't want to join a yoga class, but it improved my balance astronomically - maybe you can go to a class and learn the basic sun salutation and then just take a few minutes in the morning and do that. It really helps - especially the Tree pose.
posted by Julnyes at 10:17 AM on December 21, 2004

Just play more sports, especially ones with rapid changes of directions and sometimes unexpected physical contact, like basketball, football, or soccer. Coordination and balance improves with practice, even in a different sport.


People who tear an ACL once are at far greater risk of tearing the ACL in their other knee - because many ACL injuries are due to poor balance, and they already showed themselves to be in the risk group.

Also, people who tear ACLs may have thinner ACLs or weak supporting structures, which could be a reason. (I'm skeptical about balance being a factor. IANAD.)
posted by callmejay at 11:15 AM on December 21, 2004

I recently took a single session with a personal trainer at the gym, who pointed out that my knees and ankles were inclined to lean into each other when I did a squat -- that is, my ankles would collapse inward and my knees would bend in toward each other rather than going straight out. He said there are excercises one can do to strengthen that connective tissue so it doesn't do that.

I couldn't afford to keep up with the PT sessions, so I don't know what the recommended exercises are, but what I have done is pay a great deal of attenion to my knee and ankle alignment when I'm working on the weight machines and cardio equipment, and it seems to have helped a great deal. I used to trip *constantly*, I was always losing my balance and twisting my ankle, and that seems to have diminished dramatically in just a month or so. (Down to once a week rather than several times a day.)

This may not apply to you, but if you notice that you're even slightly pigeon-toed or knock-kneed or otherwise misaligned, it seems that just trying to fix that can get all those little balancing muscles working correctly.
posted by occhiblu at 12:05 PM on December 21, 2004

Rock climbing -- indoor and/or outdoor -- helps balance quite a lot as well.
posted by LordSludge at 4:38 PM on December 21, 2004

I second (or third, or fourth) yoga. I use it to improve my surfing. BTW, not to be a noodge, but, it's "proprioceptive".

Andrewcooke - I'm very sorry to hear your news. Good luck.
posted by docpops at 7:56 PM on December 21, 2004

People with early Parkinson's disease aren't often running with footballs, or even falling with them.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:16 PM on December 21, 2004

You may have an inner ear problem. I sometimes have poor balance which I attribute to a perforated eardrum from my youth which left scar tissue. My case is very mild and I only notice it if I go through pressure differences, like when flying, diving, or going between warm and cold places. If you were playing football in cool weather, this might explain it. The biggest thing I noticed is that my head was usually tilted to one side in outdoor photographs.
I found this link that might explain why better than I ever could. I hope this helps you. Of course, the yoga and exercise probably wouldn't hurt either.
posted by Yorrick at 3:19 PM on December 22, 2004

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