Do you feel that your balance is not as good as it used to be? Do you sometimes feel unsteady and find yourself looking at the ground when you walk?
Perhaps you feel anxious walking down a flight of stairs, especially if there’s no handrail.
Do you worry about falling? Maybe you’ve seen friends or family take a tumble, and you’ve seen the bruises, the battered confidence and, possibly, the broken bones.
Then you know how important it is to improve your balance. You’re probably already doing balance exercises. If you aren’t, you might have thought about it.
Today, I want to address a common question we get about balance exercises. I hope this will give you more confidence to perform exercises to improve your balance regularly.
The question is, how should it feel when we do balance exercises?
Often when we think about exercising, the first thing that comes to mind is getting out of breath (cardiovascular exercise) or working our muscles to fatigue (strength training).
It’s a bit different with balance exercises.
Understanding the differences will help you feel more confident doing balance exercises. In my experience, if people don’t feel confident about doing an exercise, they don’t do it for long.
Why does it matter?
As with most types of exercise, we don’t want to overdo it. However, if it’s not challenging enough, we won’t improve. Having a better idea of how things should feel will help us to get this right.
Expect to Wobble
You should expect to feel some wobbling or instability when doing balance exercises. This wobbling will probably be in your ankles but you might also feel it in your knees or hips.
When you’re standing normally (on both legs), and you aren’t challenging your balance, then the large muscles in your legs and trunk keep you steady.
But when you stand on one leg or compromise your balance, all those little stabilising muscles have to fire up and work to keep you stable. And so that’s what you feel when you wobble.
Don’t feel bad about the wobbling or take it as a sign that your balance isn’t good. Quite the opposite, it means you are working hard and will improve your balance as a result.
Needing to Hold On
When you do balance exercises, you may feel unsteady enough to want to hold on. That is why we always recommend doing balance exercises next to something you can hold onto.
You could stand by a chair, a kitchen worktop, a table, perhaps the sink. It doesn’t matter what, but it’s good to have something there. Of course, you might not need it. Some people don’t hold on much but like to keep their fingertips hovering above, just in case.
It’s a normal response to want to hold on when we feel too unsteady, so don’t take it as a sign that you aren’t doing well enough.
It’s also totally normal to want to take a big step out when you feel unsteady doing a balance exercise. Stepping out is an important skill (it’s called compensatory stepping, and it’s something that we cover in our exercise videos). We need to maintain this ability to step out, as it can save us from nasty falls.
Think about what you do if someone bumps into you, or you are standing on a bus or tram, and it jolts to a stop. You often take a big step out to steady yourself.
You might also find yourself doing this when you do balance exercises at home, which is great, as it’s such an important skill. Make sure you have a bit of space around you and nothing you could trip on if you do take a big step out.
You may also start to feel some fatigue in your muscles when you do balance exercises. Again, this is totally normal and generally a good sign.
The muscles in your legs and hips may start to feel tired, and you may also feel it in your joints. You are building up your strength and should expect to feel something as your muscles work.
It might feel like an achy or slight burning sensation. You shouldn’t feel any acute pain, though. So, if you feel a sharp or strong pain, stop and take a rest.
Remember, some degree of fatigue means you are challenging your body.
Some of the exercises that will help to improve your balance are such that get your joints moving through a pain-free range of motion. The aim is to increase your mobility – what you can safely and comfortably do with that joint.
For example, you do ankle circles because you need your ankles to be mobile enough to help you to maintain your balance. And sometimes when you do these range of motion exercises, you feel a bit of gentle cracking, crunching or some discomfort in the joints.
These sensations are generally fine, so don’t worry about them. Of course, you should ease off or stop if you feel acute pain.
What Isn’t Good?
We’ve covered the things you should expect to feel – some wobbling or feeling unsteady, some fatigue.
But what is not fine? What should you not expect to feel?
You should not expect to feel any pain. “No pain, no gain” is not a mantra that applies to any of our exercise programmes.
If you feel any acute or sharp pain, first of all, try easing off or stopping the exercise. We often find that checking your posture and your technique resolve the pain.
You also shouldn’t be feeling extremely dizzy or nauseous. If you do feel this way, sit down and take a rest. If it doesn’t pass or occurs repeatedly, you may wish to visit your doctor.
I explained before that you might experience some unsteadiness in terms of needing to hold on occasionally or take a big step, but it shouldn’t be so extreme that you feel very unsteady or unsafe.
We want a level of challenge that feels comfortable. The best way to achieve this is to start small and build up gradually. Start new exercises holding on until you know how hard they are (sometimes they are much more challenging than they look).
With all that said, I think now would be a great time to try a balance exercise!
Here’s one of my favourites – click to watch and let’s do it together:
Tandem Stand (with head turns)
So many people I work with start wobbling and immediately say, “Look how much I’m wobbling, my balance is terrible!”
I would love you to reframe this and say, “Look! I’m wobbling a bit. That means these balance exercises are challenging me appropriately and I am going to improve my balance.”
It’s important because doing these exercises will help you to feel more stable and steadier on your feet.
Most importantly, better balance means you feel more confident going out, walking down the street, talking to people, looking up around you (not just watching the ground all the time) and even traveling to sightsee.
So that’s what better balance does for us. Having better balance gives you confidence. And I hope that our videos will help you with that.
When you do balance exercises, how do you feel? How steady are you on your feet? Have balance exercises helped you improve your posture and confidence?
What other questions do you have about doing exercises to improve your balance?
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This article was originally published on Sixty and Me (www.sixtyandme.com)
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