The secret to a more balanced body: stability training!
Yes, it’s literally that simple.
In my personal training career I have seen every single one of my clients reap the benefits of simply adding stability training to their existing activity regimen-benefits that include everything from pain management to improved athletic performance.
It really is as simple as just doing stability training!
The hard part is usually making the time for stability training…or is it?
I am about to give you a gift: 4 easy ways that you can start doing balance and stability training today!
You won’t need any extra time, equipment or anything at all-we are going to work with what you have!
After reading this I hope you’ll feel inspired to include more stability training in both your lifestyle and in your workout routines!
These are my top 4 methods for improving balance and stability training:
- Adapt your workouts to include balance and stability training
- Add stability challenges to your day
- Loosen up to improve stability
- Mindfulness about balance and stability
I will be going into detail about each method, and to avoid getting side-tracked, I will be linking relevant information throughout the article and there will be a recap of the links at the bottom!
Now, let’s get into your stability training techniques…
1) Adapt Your Workouts to Include Balance and Stability Training
In exercise, there are many ways to challenge your balance and stability without having to switch up your workout routine entirely.
For the most part you should be able to do exactly what you’ve been doing with a few small adjustments.
Like I said, there are many ways to do stability training-these are my personal favorites…
Unilateral means “on one side”, so unilateral movements refer to movements that use only one side of the body.
An example of this would be a single arm bicep curl, or a single leg squat.
In a single leg squat, it’s easy to imagine how practicing that might train and improve your balance, but what about the single arm bicep curl?
All unilateral movements, including the SA bicep curl, assist with improving balance for 2 main reasons:
- It helps to correct any imbalance in muscular strength and size-muscular imbalance is known for disrupting joint stability.
- When performed correctly, unilateral movements engage a lot of the core muscles to help stabilize either the shoulders or hips.
So, translating this into your workout routine: swap out some of your bilateral movements for unilateral movements!
This is easy to do with isolated movements such as:
- Bicep Curls
- Tricep Extensions
- Leg Extension
- Leg Curl
- Lateral Arm or Leg Raise
- Side Crunches
Not all of them need to become unilaterally performed in your program, but at least movements for the areas that you already feel have the potential to have muscular imbalance.
Contralateral movements refer to compound movements (movements that use multiple muscle groups) that are performed using opposite sides of the body.
Try this movement as an example:
- Stand upright with a small weight in your right hand, held right in front of your right shoulder with the elbow bent.
- Step your right leg back and bend both knees to come into a lunge position-the left leg should be in front.
- Press the left foot into the floor, stand and step the right food forward WHILE you press the weight in your right arm overhead.
If performed correctly, you should have done a left leg lunge while doing a right arm overhead press-you’ve worked the upper and lower parts of opposite sides of the body.
This is a contralateral movement.
The purpose of contralateral movements is to strengthen the contralateral stabilization response that the body has when performing day to day activity.
Without realizing it, you are doing unintentional contralateral work all day because your body creates balance in movement by distributing force across the body-if you pick something up in the left arm you will automatically feel yourself sit heavier into the right hip.
By intentionally training these movements, we increase our body’s ability to contralaterally stabilize, quickly and with heavier weight.
To implement this type of stability training into your workout program you can either:
- Add an extra movement to existing exercises. For example, if you already do lunges you can add a contralateral arm raise or shoulder press to each rep.
- Completely swap out movements or an entire workout to include more contralateral movements-I am personally quite fond of using a workout full of contralateral movements as a total body workout routine.
Unstable surfaces are exactly how they sound: surfaces that are not entirely stable to stand on but can be used to perform stability training on.
- Bosu Balls
- Balance Disks
- Yoga Balls
- Vibration Pads
I love using unstable surfaces because they are easy to include, and they are also fun for most clients to experience.
To utilize unstable surfaces in your stability training you simply need to perform your normal exercises on them.
Some of my favorite unstable exercises are:
- Yoga Ball Chest Flies
- Bosu Step Ups
- Vibration Pad Squats
- Balance Disk Bicep Curls
This is definitely a place to get -carefully- creative: make sure you don’t break your neck, but also don’t feel restricted to any specific exercise on an unstable surface.
Note: If you feel discomfort during certain movements AND you feel unstable in day to day activities, you may need Corrective Exercise which you can easily talk to a coach about here.
2) Add Stability Challenge to Your Day
Daily stability challenges are minor ways to practice balance and stability training while you are doing your daily activities.
Perform these as you feel safe!
If you already feel unstable in daily activity then just practice mindfulness and organized exercise.
One Leg Balancing
Single leg balancing is an easy thing to incorporate into your day because all you have to do is lift up one foot.
There are so many times a day that you can try doing things on one leg…
Here are some of my favorite times to practice simple balance:
- Brushing my teeth
- During phone calls
- Washing the dishes
- Standing in line
- While putting on socks
For example, I would stand on one leg while brushing my teeth and count to 10 or 20 before switching legs.
Not only does it seamlessly squeeze in stability training, it also teaches you to feel more balanced in your day-to-day activities!
Switch dominant sides
Switching dominant sides is a fun activity to practice but it usually happens in short bursts because it can get quite annoying for a length of time.
Basically you would perform a task on the opposite of your dominant hand or leg.
- Stepping up stairs with your non-dominant leg leading
- Handling your phone with your non-dominant hand
- Kick with your non-dominant foot
- Apply make up with your non-dominant hand
As you can imagine, this can be frustrating to force yourself to do for longer than 5 minutes, but just 5 minutes a day can be very helpful to your balance and stability.
One benefit is that it helps train you for even dexterity and strength on both sides of the body.
Another big benefit is the brain training that happens when you challenge the body to use its non-dominant appendages-it is often used to help people with neurological conditions.
Move with intention
Moving with intention throughout the day is the single most powerful thing that you can do to improve posture, balance and stability.
When I say “moving with intention” I mean a few things:
- Being as mindful of your posture as you possibly can-not only while you are sitting or standing but while you are moving as well.
- Make sure you are using both sides of your body evenly while you are carrying or lifting things.
- Sitting down and standing up using intentional muscle activation instead of plopping down and tossing yourself up.
At first, paying attention to all of these movements may seem overwhelming but eventually it becomes second nature and that is the point at which your balance has improved.
3) Loosen Up to Improve Your Stability
Sometimes your balance and stability can be thrown off as a result of muscular tension inhibiting mobility.
Because of this, stretching and mobility is an essential part of stability training.
There are several ways to loosen up your body but here are my favorites to assist with joint stability…
Stretching is something that you can do several times a day, including before and after workouts.
Stretching helps lengthen and slightly warm up your muscles and connective tissue but it is rare that stretching will be able to release any large or deep muscular adhesions.
Instead, stretching is a great practice to prevent muscular adhesions, chronic pain and injury due to lack of stability.
Good examples of stretching routines can be found on my YouTube Channel.
Joint mobilization is the process of intentionally taking a joint through it’s full range of motion-sometimes it can feel like a moving stretch.
Joint mobilization exercises include things like:
- Arm circles
- Hip swings
- Cat/ Cow
- Wrist and Ankle circles
Mobilization movements help teach the joint to safely move in the way that it is meant to, and they can also help identify where tension is coming from.
They are performed from a concentrated mindset so that when you are performing your day to day activities, you more naturally use the joints properly.
Mobilization movements are best done before workouts, in the morning, or as its own separate workout routine.
A great example of a mobilization workout is yoga, which is often a flow of mobilization movements.
Check out my Yoga Blog to learn more about practicing!
Foam rolling is a form of Self Myofascial Release (SMR) that uses a cylindrical piece of foam to massage the body.
Unlike stretching and mobilization, foam rolling is a great way to release muscular adhesion (though it is not very comfortable to be honest).
Foam rolling is meant to be done on the muscles around the joints, never on the joints or over any organs in the waist area.
My recommendation is that you do your first foam rolling session with a coach, for which you can set up a single appointment here.
This will help us figure out where and how on your body specifically needs foam rolling to enhance your stability training, and prevent you from accidentally hurting yourself.
Massaging is something that has to be performed by a professional, and if you want the best help for joint stability you need a Sports Massage Therapist.
Specially trained massage therapists can quickly release knots and tension that cause issues with mobility and performance.
As a result, these are not relaxing massages-they are not going to gracefully work their way around your body.
They are going to feel around to identify tension and fix as much of it as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It can be quite painful but I’ve seen a Sports Massage Therapist correct a mild case of frozen shoulder in 3 minutes by putting pressure on a single trigger point-it’s impressive to say the least.
4) Mindfulness About Balance and Stability
One of my favorite things about balance and stability training is that it necessitates and grows from mindfulness.
Training balance and stability causes you to become more mindful of the body because of how much you have to focus on yourself to stay balanced.
In turn, being more mindful of your body causes you to become more balanced and stable because you can control more of your mechanics when you’re mindful.
Mind-body connection definition
The mind-body connection refers to your mind and body’s abilities to communicate with each other.
Examples of a strong mind-body connection include:
- An ability to feel that you are getting sick
- Being able to intentionally activate a specific muscle
- Feeling that a movement may be hurting you more than helping
- Getting normal hunger signals all day
These are just a few but there are many indicators that express a healthy mind-body connection.
In fitness, we primarily consider neuromuscular control (the ability to intentionally activate muscles) when talking about the mind-body connection and so we use movements and exercise to enhance the mind-body connection.
There are, however, other ways to enhance this connection and some of them can be squeezed into your day easily such as:
- Breathing exercise
- Outside grounding
- Physically touching yourself
- Looking at and examining your body in a mirror
Creating a sense of awareness and connectedness with our body in any way will benefit your ability to feel balanced and stable.
How to be mindful
Being mindful of the body can be hard because most of us are taught to ignore or hide our bodies.
Several societal factors that contribute to a disconnected relationship with the body include:
- Pressure to hide the body and be “modest”
- Shame about sexuality and expression
- Standards for “ideal” body types and attractiveness
- Shame about skin color-the thing most outward and noticeable on the body
- Expectations about age and how the body should be tended to and dressed as a person ages
All of these things either teach you not to think about the body or to think of it in a negative and shameful light.
Most people don’t realize it but this mindset alone can cause physical imbalance and instability because you will literally avoid paying attention to your body and that makes it impossible to balance.
To improve balance through mindset, you need to feel your body -without judgment- and respond to what you feel.
Here is one of my favorite “mindfulness homeworks” that I give my clients:
- Get into the shower with your favorite soap and relaxing music.
- Skip the loofah and lather up soap in your hands…Feel your hands all around: in between the knuckles, massage the palms.
- Take your time slowly washing your whole body by hand-get under any rolls and folds and take extra care.
- While washing yourself, gently massage yourself and assess: Do you feel tension? Which direction does it feel good to massage? Does the tension seem to travel anywhere?
- Once you’re done with your shower, stand naked in front of the mirror and look at yourself.
- Consider the following things:
- Are there parts of your body that you have been avoiding touching?
- Did you feel anything new about your body this time?
- How do you feel when you look at your body in the mirror?
- What can you do more of, to nurture your body into feeling better?
Physical contact is one of the best ways to establish mindfulness of the body, but you can do anything that encourages you to sit in one space and feel your body.
Workouts and showers great examples times where you usually get the space to feel your body, but here are some other unconventional examples that you may not think of:
- Float therapy/ Isolation Chambers
- Masturbation/ Self Exploration
- Piercing and Suspension
- Saunas, Steam Rooms, Ice Rooms
These are things, like exercise, that force attention to the body as an opportunity to build mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness is a continuous and ever-evolving process.
You will change the types of mindfulness exercises you practice and that’s okay-do it as often as you feel you need to.
No matter what you are doing to practice mindfulness, you should be doing a little bit everyday.
I don’t want to give you an endpoint to this honestly, because it can be a journey that you’re on forever-you may become aware of one part of your body but you will still have to work on it.
Because it’s a long term endeavor, it’s wise to make mindfulness activities brief and enjoyable-don’t try to force yourself to meditate for 60 minutes in one sitting everyday.
That’s unnecessary and unhelpful if you can’t stick to it long enough to develop mindfulness.
Instead, start with something like 5 minutes of meditation and 5 minutes of single leg balance exercise every morning, and build on that as you get comfortable!
What’s the takeaway?
Balance and stability are important fitness indicators that need to be prioritized in your training and your day to day activities!
Take some time to consider how you can be mindful of your body and it’s balance throughout the day, and reorganize your workouts to include more stability training.
If you really struggle with balance, or are interested in getting into heavy weightlifting, you will want to spend 4 weeks solely focusing on improving that with this Home Hip Stability Program.
Here’s a recap of the links I mentioned above plus some additional information:
- Yoga has many benefits and is known to be great for joint stability and balance!
- Learn about Corrective Exercise and how it’s used to maximize joint stability and strength.
- Back to basics: check out these Fitness Journey Essentials to get started.
- Get more information on how exercise improves your Bone and Joint Health.
- If you’re concerned about joint stability, running may not be the best form of cardio for you, but I have some other suggestions to help raise your heart rate.
Remember: Balance and joint stability is an essential and potentially simple skill to train your body for…no matter your age or lifestyle!
This article was written by Elexis Smolak CPT, CNC, WFS founder of Adapted Fitness and Integrative Health and Fitness Specialist for Women. Learn more or schedule a virtual coffee at AdaptedToYou.com