The keys to building balance

This post was written by Joshua Slayton, athletic trainer lead, Parkview Sports Medicine.

Everywhere you turn these days, people are talking about Olympic lifts and strength building. While these are great forms of fitness, we often overlook one of the most important qualities of being an athlete. Balance! For well-rounded athletes, balance and proprioception are essential to performance. Although strength training is important to build muscle, proprioceptive exercises are vital to improve that muscles’ ability to react to multi-directional forces. 

What is proprioception?

Proprioception is your body’s ability to perceive its own position. This is what allows you to perform multiple movements without having to think about them. For example, a basketball player dribbling the ball while sprinting and having to change directions. 

Why proprioception matters?

It’s important for both athletes and non-athletes to be able to handle multi-directional movements. Proper balance allows people to react to things in a safe manner, such as being able to catch a ball slightly out of your reach without falling, or reaching for something at the end of the counter without losing your balance, which could result in injury. 

How can I improve my balance?

There are many ways to improve your balance. Here are some easy exercises you can perform to help build your proprioception to tap into your best balance. 

Single leg balance progression 

Movement: Stand on one leg with a slight knee bend and hold for 20 seconds 

Reps: 5-8 reps for 20 seconds each

Progression: Perform the movement first on a flat surface, then a soft pad (i.e. Airex pad) and, for a challenge, on a BOSU ball

Single leg squat progression

Movement: Stand on one leg and perform a squat rep as close as you can to 90 degrees 

Reps: 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps

Progression: Perform the movement first on a flat surface, then a soft pad (i.e. Airex pad) and, for a challenge, on a BOSU ball

Cone pick up

Movement: Set 3 cones, 1 in front and one on both sides of yourself, approximately 1-2 feet away from your body. Standing straight up, balance on one leg and reach down to pick up a cone, starting from the right. Return to starting position and repeat until you’ve picked up all of the cones. That is 1 repetition. 

Reps: 2 sets of 10

Single leg Romanian deadlifts (RDL)

Movement: Standing on one leg, reach toward the ground, keeping your back straight. Reach as far as you can without losing balance, then return to the upright starting position. 

Reps: 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps 

Double leg squat holds

Movement: Using a BOSU ball or soft pad, squat down as close as you can to 90 degrees. 

Reps: Hold for 1-3 minutes. (Start lower and slowly add time.) Start timer and hold position as long as you can until you need rest. Stop the timer and rest until you can start again. Repeat until you complete the chosen amount of time to perform the exercise. 

Medicine ball tosses

Movement: Choose the desired weight for the ball toss. Stand on one leg on a flat surface and complete a chest pass to a partner. 

Reps: 3-5 sets of 10-15 tosses 

Progression: You can either progress in terms of higher weight, or by adding a BOSU ball for increased difficulty. 

This is a small sample of the types of exercises that can be utilized to improve your balance, which will ultimately help decrease your risk of injury in both athletic and non-athletic, everyday scenarios.