As children, we learn to find our physical balance when we start to walk, run, skate or ride a bike. Why should we stop improving our body’s balance as adults? Having balance is important not only for sports and dance, but it’s also important for our everyday lives. Good balance improves overall muscle mobility, strength, and coordination. The foundation of good balance comes from a strong core. In dance, we call it the “center.” In Pilates, we call it the “powerhouse,” a place from which all movements originate. These Pilates exercises will challenge you to incorporate your strength training with coordination and balance. With practice, you will find improved agility and stability. Here are 5 balance training Pilates exercises:
1. Chest Expansion Standing– Stand with your arms in front of you at shoulder height and your feet in a Pilates V (heels together and toes apart). It’s very important to begin this exercise with the proper alignment so balance can be achieved. Lengthen the spine so that your back is not arching or hunching. Pull your navel to your spine to engage the abdominals and close the rib cage. As you inhale, do a calf raise onto the balls of your feet as you press your arms down by your sides. Squeeze your glutes, open up your shoulders and lengthen your spine even more to stay up evenly on all ten toes. Engage the inner thighs to prevent rolling onto the outside of the ankles. If this is challenging enough for you, you may practice simply going up and down, breathing in as you rise and exhaling as you lower. Otherwise, continue to hold your balance up on your toes and look to the right, opening up your left shoulder even more. Look to the left, opening up the right shoulder even more and then bring your focus back to center. Exhale as you lower down onto your heels and let your arms float back up in front of you. Do 6 of these, alternating the direction of your head each time. It helps to find a spot to look at in each direction.
2. Control Balance– This exercise really forces you to move from your center. You will also feel a stretch in your psoas, spine and hamstrings. Do not do this exercise if you have any neck issues. Bring your legs over your head with your feet flexed so your toes are on pressed into the ground. Hold onto one ankle with both hands while slowly raising the free leg as high as possible. You are balancing on your upper shoulders. Engage your entire powerhouse to keep your pelvis square and maintain control. Slowly lower the leg and repeat on the other side. Do three on each leg.
3. The Star– One of the most challenging exercises because it requires a lot of strength along with balance. Place your hand on the ground directly under your shoulder with your legs stacked one on top of the other. Press up into a side plank and hold. If this is challenging enough for you, start with practicing several of these every day before moving on to the star positions. You will be strengthening your entire upper body, especially your lats and obliques. Once you have your side plank, there are two movements. 1. Lift the top leg up hip height and bring your top arm and leg forward. Return them back to center. 2. Keeping the leg at hip height, bring the top leg back with the top arm forward. Return them back to center and come down from your side plank. Repeat this sequence 3-5 times for full body strength and balance training.
4. One Leg Roll– Do these for a great leg workout along with balance training. There are several levels to this exercise. For a beginner, first practice doing a single leg squat from a standing position. You do not need to go very low. Maintain your center as you move up and down, strengthening the standing leg. For someone more advanced, you may try the full one legged roll. Start seated on the ground with one leg bent, one leg straight and your hands by your side. Round your back as you roll back using your abs to swing the legs over your head. As you roll back up, use your hands to help boost yourself up onto your bent leg. The straight leg stays off the floor as you reach your arms forward to help you stand all the way up. This requires a lot of abdominal and quad strength. If it is too difficult to come all the way up at first, you may come up halfway and then lower back down. Switch legs each time you squat back down. Do 3 on each leg.
5. Pilates Push Ups-This is one of my favorite exercises because it includes strength, balance and flexibility training all in one. Stand up with your arms up to the sky and one leg pointed behind you. Imagine you are one long board and your entire body from your hands to your free foot moves as one. Slowly lift the back leg off the ground as you tilt your torso forward. Make sure your hips are square until you hit the “T” position where your body is completely parallel to the ground. From there you may place your hands on the floor as you turn out the back leg and stretch it as high as possible. Lower the leg back to hip height and square off your pelvis as you walk your hands out to a push up position. Do three pushups with the back leg still lifted at hip height. After the pushups are completed, walk your hands back towards your feet as you stretch the back leg up as high as possible again. Lift your torso back up and square off your hips so that your body is parallel to the floor again in the “T” position. Slowly make your way back up to a standing position and repeat on the other leg. It helps to find a spot on the floor and focus as you are going down and up.
The key to all of these exercises is going slow enough to where you are actually working on your balance. You’ll only be cheating yourself by rushing through it to avoid losing balance. We improve by pushing through the rocking off center and the shaking of our muscles because of the instability. As we enter old age, our balance naturally becomes less stable, making us more dependent on others as we need assistance in activities we’re used to doing alone. Start challenging and improving your balance now so that you can live a long life of mobility and independence.
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Video: Crystal Chin