Everything you do throughout the day—from walking to loading the dishwasher—requires balance.
“Balance is your ability to maintain your center of gravity,” says strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer K. Aleisha Fetters, M.S., C.S.C.S. “Say you want to climb a flight of stairs. Seems simple, but you can’t do it unless you can balance on one foot and stabilize your body as you shift your weight from that foot to the other—all while your center of gravity moves forward and up,” she explains.
While that might sound pretty basic—especially if you’re already fit—building balance should be a priority, both in and out of the gym.
Why Is Balance So Important For Functional Fitness?
Though most people don’t start training for balance until they hit their 50th birthday, it often starts declining as early as your 20s and 30s, which means it should be a conscious part of your workout routine, says Fetters.
After all, if you want to deadlift twice your body weight or nail pistol squats like a pro, you need a strong, balanced body. Heck, you need balance if you want to keep working out and stay fit in the years to come, period.
Still, most of us focus so much on building muscle or burning fat that we don’t give balance exercises the time of day.
How To Build Balance
A major part of building balance: training your core.
“You basically want to train your core to do what it’s supposed to do in real life: keep you stable as you move,” says Fetters. Think planks and crunches are the fastest way to get there, though? Nah.
The Best Balance Exercises
To train a more balanced core, Fetters recommends focusing on compound exercises, which involve multiple muscle groups and joints, so you work so much more than just your mid-section.
Unilateral moves, which focus on one side of the body at a time, also go a long way for balance, since they shift your usual center of gravity. “Single-leg exercises, for example, develop your ability to keep your body weight balanced on one foot,” Fetters says. (Plus, many also give your legs a decent workout, too.)
Here are nine balance-boosting moves trainers recommend:
1. Single-Leg Balance + Any Upper-Body Exercise
“A simple way to challenge your balance is to pair upper-body dumbbell moves with a single-leg balance,” says strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S.
“For example, balance on the right leg for eight reps of bicep curl and then switch to the left leg for another eight reps,” she suggests. Try front raises and overhead presses this way, too.
2. Single-Leg Pistol Squat
One of the hardest bodyweight exercises out there, you can modify full pistol squats by doing single-leg squats onto a box, or using TRX straps for support.
In addition to requiring tons of balance, this move also strengthens the glutes and quads, says Fetters.
3. Single-Leg Tree Pose
This seemingly simple yoga pose is an easy way to train balance throughout the day. “I like to hold this pose when doing tasks at the kitchen counter,” says Fetters. Be sure to keep your pelvis level as you anchor one foot against the inside of the thigh on your standing leg.
4. Single-Leg Deadlift
“This is one of the most advanced balance exercises,” says Davis. “There are also endless ways to modify this exercise to make it more difficult.” You might start without any weight at all and slowly but surely start to add and increase the weight you hold.
“Really focus on the balance and stability aspect by moving slowly and purposefully,” says Fetters. “Because this targets your hip muscles, it’s going to do a lot for balance.”
5. Single-Leg Hip Thrust
“This move is all about the booty, which keeps your hips aligned and you from falling over,” says Fetters.
The key to successful hip thrusts (single-leg or not): Press through your heels and focus on your glutes. “If your hamstrings are aching, your feet are likely too far away from your hips, so scoot them closer,” Fetters advises. “If your quads are burning, your feet are likely too close, so scoot them out a bit.”
6. Single-Leg Skater Squat
Consider these the opposite of pistol squats. In pistol squats, you hold your non-standing leg out in front of your body; in skater squats, you hold it bent behind you.
“You’ll need to extend your arms in front of you as you lower for a counterbalance,” says Fetters.
7. Bosu Squat
“The bosu ball is a great unstable surface to use to train balance,” says Davis. “You can use both sides to add a balance challenge to many standard exercises.”
First, practice squatting while standing on the round side of the ball, which will stabilize and strengthen your ankles to improve balance. As you progress, you can flip the bosu ball over to stand and squat on the flat platform, which wobbles beneath you.
8. Box Step-Up With Knee Drive
Add a knee drive (think: knee to chest) at the top of box step-ups and you’ve turned the go-to lower-body move into an even greater balance challenge, says Davis.
Just make sure you “don’t press through your trailing leg as you stand up,” says Fetters. “All of your weight should be in your leading leg.”
9. Stability Ball Figure-Eight
Elbow planking on a stability ball and drawing tiny figure-eights with your arms may not sound too difficult—but its sure to humble you.
“We often forget that upper-body balance training is just as important as lower body balance training,” says Davis. “This exercise focuses on creating balance throughout the shoulders and core.”