Staying balanced when the body moves is more like real life than training in a single leg static position. Better equip yourself to deal with instability, protect against falls and become more agile in your sport by getting good at these dynamic balance drills.
Static balance drills are great for training the vestibular system and strengthening the muscles of the hip and leg that cope with random instabilities. But they don’t mimic real life situations particularly well. Once you’ve mastered the static balance drills you can move on to training your balance in a dynamic way to better simulate real life situations.
Dynamic balance drills will benefit everyone. If you want to guard against falls as you get older, or if you want powerful balanced agility in your sport then these drills will be useful.
In case you missed it, here is our previous post on static balance progressions.
Why is balance important?
You may not be aware of it, but your balance is challenged all the time during everyday activities. Every time you take a step you are momentarily on one leg. When you go up or down a set of stairs, your balance is challenged. If you failed to balance yourself you’d fall down the stairs or crash into the banisters. The more complex the movement, the more your balance is challenged. Getting in and out of a car; reaching for something; carrying bags; carrying a bag in one hand; climbing a step ladder; leaning over to trim the hedge while standing on a step ladder. These are all activities that challenge the systems that are responsible for your balance.
Age related balance deterioration
As you get older it becomes harder to maintain your muscles. If you do nothing to counteract age related weakening then your balance and your strength will deteriorate. That means you are not only more likely to lose your balance but you may also not have the strength to catch yourself and prevent a fall. It gets worse though. As you get older your bone density reduces, so breaks are more likely if you do fall. 50% of women over the age of 65 who break a hip never walk again.
Balance in sport
If an age related loss of balance is not a concern for you right now, then how about sport? Balance is heavily challenged in sport. Having good balance gives you a stronger foundation against which to generate force and it provides the basis for agility. Having better balance will improve performance.
The balance systems and training
What are the systems responsible for balance? Generally it’s your eyes and inner ear (vestibular system) that give you feedback about your orientation in the world. It’s your muscles and nervous system that control your position and ability to remain balanced.
The good news is that you can train for better balance. When you do, you are mostly training the muscles and nervous system to be able to respond to balance challenges. There are balance training drills to suit all capabilities.
The balance series
There’s too much to cover in balance training for a single article. We’ve split it into three. In the rest of this post we’re talking about dynamic balance, but here’s a summary of the series.
These drills are the starting point in developing your balance. They train the muscles that help you balance whilst you remain in one place. They are useful for everyone but they might be particularly relevant to anyone who requires good balance in a static position. For example, gardeners up a ladder, golfers and surfers all have balance challenges whilst their feet remain in one place.
Most of the time, when we are not seated, we are moving around. We walk, we run, we get in and out of cars, we step over things, we go up and down stairs. Who hasn’t heard an account of someone falling down the stairs? It presents significant balance challenges, particularly as you get older. Whilst it’s good to train for balance in static positions, it’s even better to train for balanced movement.
This is what you should aim for. For maximum capability, or minimum fall risk, you really need to be strong when your balance is challenged. If you’re strong you’ll prevent a fall. If you’re strong you’ll have powerful, agile movement in your sport.
Two types of drills for dynamic balance
The drills for dynamic balance broadly fit into two categories, with plenty of variations to add interest and complexity.
Move and balance
Perform a movement, end up on one leg and stay there. These boil down to variations on squat to balance and lunge to balance. Although the end point is the same as with static balance drills, the way you get there is not. Your body will have momentum and your vestibular system will have a movement or change of orientation to cope with.
Take off and stick
This is mainly jump and stick and hop and stick. With these drills you are actually leaving the ground and have to re-establish your balance all over again. Not only is there movement and momentum, but there is a ground reaction force to cope with.
You can imagine that if you trip on a paving stone you will need to do a little jump and stick to re-establish your balance. So these drills have a very real-world applicability.
Move and balance
The general rule of thumb with these movements is that you start off on two feet, perform a movement and end up in a single leg stance. Squats and lunges of various kinds are the tools here.
The challenge is to end up on one leg with your pelvis aligned horizontally. This is straightforward when you simply take one foot off the ground. But when you move into the one-legged stance from another position, you have the momentum of the upper body to cope with. That tends to tip the pelvis to one side, so you may need to establish your balance and then right your pelvis. Ideally, you’ll arrive in the final position with your pelvis level.
Squat to balance
Squat down, back up and then, at the top of the movement, end up on one leg. Alternate legs.
Squat to balance with torso movements
The same as squat to balance but includes a torso rotation during the movement.
Reverse lunge to balance
Take a big step backwards with your right leg, leaving your left foot planted. Push yourself back to a standing position and end in a one-legged stance on the left leg. You can alternate legs or stay on the same leg. With this move you need to establish your balance and cope with the forward momentum of the upper body.
Side lunge to balance
Take a big step sideways with your right leg, leaving your left foot planted. Push yourself back to a standing position and end in a one-legged stance on the left leg. You can alternate legs or stay on the same leg. With this move you need to establish your balance and cope with the lateral momentum of the upper body.
Curtsy lunge to balance
Take a big step backwards with your right leg and rotate about the left, leaving your left foot planted. Push yourself back to a standing position and end in a one-legged stance on the left leg. You can alternate legs or stay on the same leg. With this move you need to establish your balance and cope with the rotational momentum of the upper body.
Forward lunge to balance
Take a big step forwards with your right leg and descend into a lunge. Push yourself back to a standing position and end in a one-legged stance on the left leg. You can alternate legs or stay on the same leg.
This is a lot harder than the reverse lunge because the leg you are going to balance on does not remain planted. The foot flexes and you have to end up balanced on that same foot. Not only that, but the momentum of the body is backwards. That’s a less familiar direction of movement for the body.
Lunge to balance with torso movements
The same as lunge to balance but includes a torso rotation during the movement.
Take off and stick
With these drills you’re going to leave the ground and land, re-establishing your balance. Most of the time you’ll end up on one leg. Jumps and hops of various kinds are the tools here.
Not only do these drills have a practical application in the real world, as mentioned earlier, but they are the basis of agility. If you want to be able to move quickly, changing direction in complex patterns, then you’ll need to be balanced before you can apply force to change direction. You’ll also need to practice being balanced after moving the body in different directions – forwards, backwards, sideways and after rotation. The bigger the jump or hop, the quicker you’ll be travelling and the more you’ll have to work to overcome momentum and establish balance.
With these drills you will need to move your body into a position that compensates for the body’s momentum. This won’t be perfect alignment. But, to prove that you have completed the drill well, you should be able to move your body into good alignment once you have landed and established your balance.
These drills are the basis for more dynamic agility drills, where balance is established momentarily before the next movement. The agility ladder is great for balanced movement and agility training. There is a very clear and specific applicability to many sports.
Jump and stick
Take off on one leg, land on the other.
Hop and stick
Take off and land on the same leg
Lateral jump and stick
Jump sideways and land on the other leg.
Lateral hop and stick
Hop sideways and land on the same leg. You can hop either way so that your momentum is acting either outwards or inwards.
Transverse jump and stick, transverse hop and stick
With all the transverse variations you are rotating into the final balance position. These are the variations:
- Jump with external rotation
- Jump with internal rotation
- Hop with external rotation
- Hop with external rotation
Reverse jump and stick, reverse hop and stick
Jump backwards and land on the other leg. Or hop backwards and land on the same leg.
Agility ladder drills
There are lots of drills you can create with an agility ladder. You can even create your own to more closely match your sport.
Watch the video to see some drills of increasing complexity requiring ever more balanced agility.
Balance training will improve your capability in all aspects of life and in sport. The better your balance, the more complex movements you will be able to perform with competence. In real life we move about and need to balance ourselves in when moving. Working on balance drills that include movement has a direct applicability to everyday situations.
Take off and stick balance drills have a similar relevance to everyday life but even more so to sporting activities. If you want to be quick, agile and balanced in your sport then take off and stick drills, as well as agility ladder drills, would be a great addition to your training programme.
Everyone will benefit from balance training. Even if you are at an elite level in your sport, the right balance training will enhance your performance. Find the drills that are challenging for you and of particular relevance to your life or sport, and take a few minutes to include these in your training.