by Michelle Konstantinovsky: Do you even tree pose, bro?
OK, that’s not really a phrase the big, buff dudes at the gym unironically throw around, but the sentiment is there. Balance is a big part of overall fitness, and it hardly ever gets the credit it deserves.
In a results-focused world, not all dream-body exercise plans include moves that challenge our stability. And that’s a red flag. Because if you’ll happily carve out time for cardio and strength training to become better, faster, and stronger, you also need to find your balance. Pun intended.
Balance is a main component of a complete workout plan. Plus, it can help you kick ass in everyday life — not just in the gym. You think walking up stairs, getting out of a chair, and standing upright so you don’t get Text Neck is all-natural posture? Nope — it requires decent balance.
How can you test if you have good balance?
You can incorporate more stability-centered work into every part of your workout routine by adding a few moves to your warmup. Or you can do a daily exercise to gauge and test your stability.
Try this simple routine:
- One-legged leaning/shifting: 30 seconds
- Mountain Pose: 1 minute
- Tree Pose: 1 minute
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and your weight evenly distributed between your feet.
- Shift all your weight to your right foot and lift left foot off the floor for as long as you can — try to get to 30 seconds.
- Put left foot back on the floor and repeat on the other side.
Still standing? If you didn’t topple over, great! If you did, it’s actually OK — now you know you’ve got some work to do.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
- Stand with toes touching and heels slightly apart.
- Lift and spread your toes to engage the muscles in your lower legs.
- Bend knees slightly and keep core activated. Bam: You’re doing yoga.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
- Start in Mountain Pose. Shift all your weight to your left foot, pressing inner part of foot firmly into the floor.
- Lift and bend right knee until you can reach your right ankle with your right hand. Place right foot anywhere on left leg except your knee — lower leg for beginners and thigh for more experienced folks.
- Wherever your right foot lands, make sure your toes and tailbone are pointed toward the floor.
Not sure what to do with your hands? If you can, press them together in a prayer position at your heart.
You can incorporate these moves into a stability-centered workout or pretty much at any time in your daily routine. Or you can turn your 5-minute daily balance exercise into a solid session by adding some of the pro moves below.
Fancy yourself a balance champ? Let’s see what you’ve got.
Single-leg poses to challenge left-right balance
- Make a line on the floor with chalk or string. Raise your arms to the sides so they’re parallel to the floor.
- Walk slowly, with control, along the straight line, placing the back of your heel against the toes of your opposite foot.
- Continue for 5–20 steps.
Rock the boat
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and press your weight into both feet firmly and evenly.
- Shift all your weight onto left foot and lift right foot. Hold for up to 30 seconds. Slowly lower left foot to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
- Do each side 5–10 times.
- Stand on left leg with right leg lifted. Use a chair or wall for support as you stretch right leg forward.
- Maintain good posture by keeping spine, neck, and head in one line.
- Hold for up to 15 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
Wanna take it up a notch? Try extending your hand to reach for your right foot
Traditional Plank Pose
- Start on hands and knees, with wrists directly under shoulders. Spread fingers, press down through forearms and hands, and keep chest lifted.
- Look down between your hands and lengthen the back of your neck while drawing abs in toward spine.
- Tuck your toes and step back so your body is in a straight line. Keep hips and butt in line with the rest of your body — they can tend to creep up or sink. Broaden the spaces between your shoulder blades and across your collarbones and keep your weight pressed into the bases of your index fingers.
- Push quads up toward the ceiling and keep tailbone lengthened. Hold — and actually remember to breathe — for at least 5 breaths. Simple but not easy, right?
Side Plank Pose
- Start by lying on your left side with feet together and left forearm right under left shoulder.
- Engage core and raise hips until your body is in a straight line from head to toes.
- Hold there — and breathe! — for at least 5 breaths, without letting hips drop.
- Flip to the right side and repeat.
Toes and heels moves
Toe balance squat
- Stand with toes together and heels slightly apart.
- Slowly bend knees while pressing thighs and heels together.
- Lift heels off the floor and press the balls of your feet down, keeping core activated. Try to keep spine straight as you go lower. Can you make it all the way down to the floor, with heels up? Wherever you are, hold for 10 breaths.
Forward lunge walk
- Start in a standing position. Lunge forward with one foot.
- Hold for a breath with both legs at 90-degree angles, knees over ankles.
- Engage inner thighs and use your glutes to lift and return to standing.
- Repeat on the other side. Keep alternating for 10 or more reps on each side.
Bored with using your body weight and ready to rev things up with props? Try these:
Single-leg cross-body punches
- Hold two dumbbells (light enough that you can lift them, heavy enough that they challenge you) at chest height.
- Shift all your weight onto left foot and come into a quarter squat. Keep left leg engaged and stable and punch the weights across your body, one at a time, for 10–20 reps.
- Repeat on the opposite side. Do 1–3 sets of 10–20 reps.
Plank with elbows on a stability ball
- Get into plank position with your elbows and forearms on a stability ball.
- Engage abs, glutes, and quads to maintain proper alignment, and keep shoulders and hips square to the floor.
- Hold this position for up to 3 seconds.
Bosu bird dog
- Place a Bosu flat side down and get on all fours on top of it. Your knees should be just below the middle, and your palms should be toward the top. Your toes will be resting on the floor.
- Lift right arm and left leg off the Bosu at the same time until they’re parallel to the floor. Keep hips square to the ball and neck neutral.
- Lower arm and leg back down to the Bosu and lift the opposite arm and leg.
- Repeat 10 times on each side.
Don’t forget to balance it out!
A balanced workout regimen requires, well, balance. Quit skipping this step and start making small moves every day to improve your stability. If you’re into making a workout of it, sign up for fitness classes that prioritize stability, like yoga or tai chi.
Every person is different, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not a balance master right off the bat. The key to overcoming it all is consistency.
Even if you forgot the morning workout, try testing yourself while standing in line at the grocery store, seeing how long you can stand on one leg. Sure, you might look silly, but what else are you gonna do in that long line?