Workouts for Balance and Strength
Cultivating a combination of balance and strength is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind. Your health and fitness levels need both, in order to function at the highest level possible. With age, we often lose both of these aspects of our health, to some degree, which is why we need to take the time now to work on both. In this article, we’ll take a good look at some of the best workouts you can do for balance and strength, in order to maintain optimal health starting today, and for the rest of our lives.
The skinny on strength training
We all need to maintain strength as we get older in order to sustain our ideal weight, and build muscles and strong bones in the process. Working on our strength helps us lose weight because when we build our muscles we increase our metabolic resting rate. What this basically means is that even after you’ve finished your strength building workout, your body is going to burn calories. This makes for an incredibly efficient way of working out.
Strength training exercises come in all shapes and sizes. There’s yoga, which has a number of poses that build strength in all areas of the body. There’s calisthenics and Pilates. We can also use kettlebells, dumbbells, and therabands. The possibilities to build strength are endless!
The importance of balance
Balance is key to a healthy life. It’s necessary for both strength and coordination. Having good balance means improving your flexibility, mobility, and stability—all of which we need to stay healthy as we age. Another added benefit has to do with our minds. When we take the time to work on our balance, we’re using mental focus. This focus, which the yogis call drishti, helps calm and clear the mind. A calm and clear mind is yet another aspect of good health, which we should all be working to cultivate.
Cultivating good balance over time is also necessary to prevent injuries, and falling—especially as we age. This is a really important piece of the long-term health puzzle. Old age seems a long way off, but it’s coming. And maintaining good balance and overall fitness levels is going to keep us independent in old age, a really important thing for most of us. We’re also going to improve our posture as we bring awareness to improving our balance. This is going to keep our spines strong and supple as we age. The importance of good balance cannot be denied!
The great thing about working out with balance and strength in mind is that you can do so in the comfort of your own home. There’s no gym, or fancy home gym required. All you need to do is roll out a sticky mat and get creative. Or just follow the following sequence:
Plank pose to side plank on the right side, to plank, to side plank on the left side
Plank pose is one of the best core strengthening poses for everyone. It’s also a balancing pose, making it tick both boxes. I like to do this simple sequence at least a couple times a week to ensure my midsection, my side body, and my arms and shoulders stay strong.
First come to tabletop position, on your hands and knees. Outstretch the legs and push up into a plank position while tightening your core muscles. Your torso should be parallel to the floor or yoga mat. Think about your entire body being as straight as a plank. So keep the neck and spine long. You might also want to pull your core up and in. This helps support your back. Breathe deeply as you settle into plank pose and hold for 5 rounds of breath.
Lower back to table top and rest for a few cycles of breath. Next, push back up into plank pose, and come to side plank on the right side.
Side Plank on the right side
In side plank on your right side, you’re balancing on the right arm while the left arm reaches toward the sky. Try to stack both shoulders on top of one another, and place the feet on top of one another, too. You’re going to feel your side body growing stronger as you breathe deeply. Hold side plank on the right side for 5 inhalations and exhalations. Then come back to plank in the center, and drop back down to tabletop position. Rest for a few deep breaths.
Side plank on the left side
When you’re ready, push back up into plank pose, then over to side plank on the left. Your left hand is on the ground as your right arm reaches towards the sky. Breathe deeply as you work your side body, shoulders, and even your legs. This is a great strengthening sequence for the whole body. After 5 cycles of breath, come back to center plank, then down to your knees. Push back into child’s pose to rest before moving on.
You’re now going to come to a seated position, and into the yoga pose known as boat pose. Boat pose is another core strengthener, as well as a balancing pose. We need a strong core for all types of movement, which is why we have several workouts in this sequence that focus on the midsection.
So, come to a seated position and lean back ever so slightly until you’re balancing on your sit bones while you raise your legs up so that your body forms a V position. If keeping your legs straight is too intense to hold for any length of time, simply bend them to modify the pose. Your arms can be stretched out straight in front of you for balance. Hold this pose for three cycles of breath. Bring the feet back to the ground for a rest. Then enter into the pose once more. Hold for three more inhalations and exhalations, then release.
This pose is considered a balancing one within the yoga world. But, it’s also incredibly strength building in nature, which is why I wanted to include it in our routine. It’s an advanced pose, so go slow. Even trying to do the pose without getting into (and holding) the full pose will do you a world of good in regards to building strength and balance. Crow pose builds our abs, our shoulders and arms. And when you hold the pose, and tuck your legs in, you’ll feel some strength building in the legs and hips, as well.
To come into crow pose, you’re going to come onto your hands and knees. Next, you build a kind of tripod with your arms. It’s on the tricep area where you’re aiming to place your knees. Your arms are in a tripod position with the hands flat on the floor, while the rest of your body is tucked into a ball. You push upward and work towards placing the knees on the triceps while the legs are tucked inward. Because this is an advanced pose, you might not be able to hold crow for any length of time. If you do, great. Breathe through 2-3 cycles of breath, then release. If you don’t, no biggy. Just try a few times. If you fall, simply laugh. You’re still getting a good workout.
Warrior pose sequence
From crow pose, come to a standing position. Warrior poses are great for strength and balance. They target your gluteal muscles and quads, which happen to be your biggest muscles. They also promote good balance. As we hold the posture, we use our body’s ability to balance. For the warrior pose sequence, you’re going to begin in warrior 1. Hold warrior 1 pose for 3 cycles of breath. Then you’re going to straighten up and out into warrior 2. Hold warrior 2 for 3 cycles of breath. Then we straighten up and back into warrior 1. Hold for 3 breaths, and then straighten up and out into warrior 2 again. You can alternate between the 2 poses as many times as you wish. When you’re finished, do the whole sequence again, on the other side.
Walking the tightrope
This is a bit of a respite from the more challenging exercises we’ve been doing up to this point. Walking the tightrope is exactly as it sounds. Although your tightrope is imaginary. I love this exercise because it’s so simple, and perfect for any age group. Plus, it enhances our balance and coordination in a really simple way. To walk the tightrope, simply imagine you’re walking on one. Place one foot in front of the other, with your arms outstretched like a tightrope walker. After you’ve taken several steps forward, take several steps backwards. Go back and forth a few times. And don’t forget to breathe! If you really want to challenge yourself, try closing your eyes. This adds an entirely different element to the exercise, making it that much more challenging. If you’re outside, and there’s a little ledge you can balance on while walking, do that. It’s just like when you were a kid. Get creative!
Standing leg lifts
This is a simple strength building exercise that works on balance simultaneously. It’s actually a ballet move, but we’re making it more of an exercise for our intents and purposes. Simply balance on your right foot while keeping the standing leg straight and lifting it from the hip flexor. Lift it straight out to the side, and lower. Lift it straight out to the front, and lower. Lift it straight out to the left side, and lower, then lift it straight behind you, and lower, and one last time out to the left, and lower. Now, you’re going to switch sides and repeat the sequence on the opposite side, with the left foot as the foot that grounds you while lifting the right leg to the side, the front, the side, the back, and to the side. Do this exercise as many times as you like.
Banded triplanar toe taps
We’re going to remain standing for the rest of the sequence. For this exercise, you’ll need a resistance band. It’s a great balancing exercise that also strengthens your core, your legs, and your hips. To do these toe taps with a band, you’re going to place the band around your thighs, just above the knee caps. Next, squat just a little with the left leg, while taking the right foot out to tap the toe to the right side, then to the back, then back to the right, then to the front. As you do this, the band will fall to your ankles, as it’s meant to do. You’ll repeat this 10-15 times. Then, switch to the other side. As you do these toe taps, be sure to engage your tummy. This will keep the integrity of the body as you move, while building core muscles in the process.
The last pose I want us to do to finish this sequence is a simple yoga posture called tree pose. I love tree pose for its simplicity. It’s clearly a balancing posture, but also helps to strengthen the core, the legs, and the gluteal muscles. Let’s place our weight on the right foot, making sure the foot is rooted into the floor. With the left leg, you’re going to bend the leg until you rest your left foot at the right ankle, the right calf, or above the right knee. You can raise the arms to your sides, overhead, or to prayer position at your heart center—whatever helps you maintain balance. Breathe deeply in tree pose for as long as you like. Then, switch sides.
I ride my bike everywhere. It’s my primary means of transportation. And of course, it’s great for my health. It’s also great for balance! I had an older woman in her 70’s ask me the other day if I could help her get started with bicycling again. She said she was having a hard time finding her balance, and could I give her a push just as her dad did when she was a little girl. This is an excellent example as to how we lose our balance with age, and how we must work to maintain it as we get older. Bicycling everywhere is an excellent and natural way to do so.
May you build strength and maintain good balance for all the days of your life, and enjoy these exercises as you do so!