While most lifters want to be more muscular, lean, and strong, nobody wants to be clumsy. Being able to move a bunch of weight doesn’t do you much good if you’d trip over a crack in the sidewalk or fall over every time you try to stand on one foot. While a lot of exercises to improve balance are overrated and even dangerous, you can still improve your muscle control, which can increase your proprioreception. Here are 5 exercises to improve balance you can add to your workout without the need for special equipment.
Start with Hindu Squats
Before jumping into any complicated exercises to improve balance, you need to make sure you can do some basics, first. A Hindu squat will help you improve balance, get you used to not always being flat-footed, but still let you keep two feet on the ground. It’s one of the best places to start.
A Hindu squat is a type of bodyweight squat in which you come up on your toes. Start in the standing position with your hands at your sides. Squat down keeping your torso absolutely vertical – no leaning forward. Since your torso is staying vertical, as you squat down, your knees need to come forward and you will come up onto your toes. At the bottom of a Hindu squat, your upper body will be upright, your knees well forward, and your butt on your heels.
Keep your lower back tight to keep your torso upright, and contract your quads to straighten your legs and bring you back to flat-footed as you near the fully standing position. To help maintain your balance, you can sweep your arms forward as you squat down and pull them back tight (as if you were doing a row) when you’re fully standing.
This improves your balance because at the bottom of the exercise, you have all your bodyweight more or less centered in one giant mass, but teetering only on your toes. This is a minimal connection point with the ground, and you will need improved balance to keep form tight.
Improve Single Leg Coordination with Split Squats
Next in a progression of exercises to improve balance would be split squats. You’ll need sufficient strength and flexibility throughout the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back to perform these properly, but you’ll also need balance as you’ll only have one foot on the ground. This is a good “first step” of sorts because your rear leg is still supported and you can use this fact to build your balance slowly.
One tip would be to kick your supported leg out to one side – think of a kickstand that’s been put down on a bicycle. This will give your feet/legs a wider stance and be a little more stable at first. Once you build sufficient muscle control, bring your support leg in closer to your center line so that it’s directly behind you.
The Standing Barbell Calf Raise
Squat On One Leg with Double Lunges
Double lunges are a great exercise to not only improve lower body strength, but balance and coordination. A double lunge is simply a reverse lunge coupled with a forward lunge as follows:
- Start in the standing position
- Lunge backward with the right foot
- Come back to standing
- Lunge forward with right foot
- Come back to standing
- Repeat for desired reps, then switch sides
The goal here is to over time, improve your coordination and proprioreception such that you don’t need to come back to standing between reps. You can lunge backward, then come up and immediately into a forward lunge. Then you can come up and immediately into your next reverse lunge. Ideally you’ll eventually be lunging backward and forward fluidly with your lunging foot only ever touching the ground in either lunged position.
The more advanced and proficient your balance becomes, we can perhaps move onto the Weighted Pistol Squat.
Weighted Pistol Squat
Balance the Core with T-Pushups
Exercises to improve balance aren’t and shouldn’t be limited to just the legs. The core is what connects the upper and lower body, so having good muscular control here can go a long way to keeping your body balanced and coordinated. T-pushups can help improve core control and are performed as follows:
- Start in a pushup position with your feet shoulder-width apart
- lLwer yourself into a pushup
- As you come up, twist your body to your right, ending with your torso perpendicular to the ground, your right leg in the air (right foot is roughly 12-18” above your left foot), and your right arm pointing vertical
- Twist back to the starting pushup position, bringing your right hand and foot back to the ground
- Repeat for the other side, alternating every rep
The Bodyweight Jump Squat
Improve Overall Coordination with the Olympic Lifts
Olympic lifts and their variants are some of the best exercises to improve balance you can do. They make you be very explosive and improve power, but unlike most other movements, they could almost be considered “3D” exercises in that you ensure balance:
- Up and down (moving the bar and your body vertically through space)
- Forward and back (the bar doesn’t travel vertically, but rather in an arc, and your body moves in an arc around it)
- Keft and right (because the bar and your body move so much, you can end up wanting to take a step either direction to right yourself)
The only issue with Olympic lifts is that they can be quite complicated to properly learn and really require at least some one-on-one instruction from a qualified coach. There are some less technique-intensive options you can teach yourself such as high pulls or some clean variants, but that is as far as you’d want to take them on your own.
In the end, it’s not that hard to improve your balance. Add some Hindu squats, unweighted double lunges, and/or T-pushups to your warmup or bodyweight conditioning circuits. Use split squats as one of your lower body assistance exercises. And if you can find a qualified coach, consider trying Olympic lifts. Practice any of these regularly and you’ll soon find your coordination and even overall athleticism improving.