Improving Your Balance

Improving Your Balance

Yes!!!!!  It is totally possible to improve your balance!   So how do we do it??

  • Principles of balance training:
    • Just like a weightlifter needs to lift progressively heavier weights to get stronger, if you want to improve your balance, you need to challenge yourself by placing yourself in unstable positions. 
    • By placing yourself in unstable positions, your body will develop the reflexes needed to maintain your balance in this unstable state. 
    • This means that you need to be doing exercises that make you wobble . . . .  for if you are not wobbling, you are not being challenged. 
    • In time, a given activity that once made you wobble, will soon become easy.
      • A perfect example would be standing on one leg.
        • For many people this is quite challenging and so are only able to do this for a few seconds.
        • With continued practice, one should be able to sustain this position for a longer period of time with less wobble.
        • If the exercise becomes easy, it can be progressed by closing the eyes or standing on an unstable surface. 
        • In this way, there is progressive challenge resulting in progressive improvements with balance. 
  • Safety first:
    • If you’re concerned that you might fall during a balance exercise, always keep your hand close to some type of support like a sink, counter, or sturdy chair. 
    • However, when performing the exercises, keep your hand just above your security support so that you do not rely on your hand to steady yourself but rather your balance reflexes found in your feet, legs, and torso. 
  • How to progress balance exercises:
    • All balance exercises can be progressed by reducing the amount of visual input you are receiving:
      • This can be done by performing the activity
        • in a darkened room,
        • with eyes squinted
        • or with eyes closed
      •  In this way, it will limit the amount of visual input your brain receives and so will force you to rely more on your other systems for sensory input. 
      • This will challenge you and in time your balance will improve by improving your somatosensory input mechanisms.  
    • Exercises can also be progressed by standing on an unstable surface such as a foam pad BOSU ball, wobble board or slack line.
      • As always, anytime you are wobbling more, you are challenging yourself!
    • Exercises can also be progressed by manipulating the position of the head.
      •  By moving the head, it will manipulate vestibular input your brain receives and further challenge your balance.
        • Just don’t move your head too quick so that you don’t throw your neck . . .

An extensive list of balance exercises I regularly use as a physical therapist for patients can be found here:

In this program, I have balance exercises for people of all ages ranging from high-level athletes to geriatrics.

  • Are balance exercises for athletes too??
    • Abso-freakin-lutely . . .
    • Having good balance as an athlete is crucial for preventing injuries. 
    • This is because good balance is essentially good neuromuscular control.
    • Without good neuromuscular control, one loses control during movement, and so is at a much higher risk of getting injured. 
    • Thus awesome balance = not getting hurt = being a real winner.
  • Benefits of shoes on versus shoes off for balance training:
    • Shoes off:
      • One typically has better balance with shoes off because it allows the toes to splay making a wide base of support.
      • In addition, one is better able to feel the ground and so has quicker reflexes
      • Taking the shoes off will also give you the added benefit of strengthening your feet. 
    • Shoes on:
      • Typically, most people feel least secure when walking on uneven terrain outdoors.
      • When most people walk outdoors, they typically have shoes on.
      • Therefore, performing balance exercises with your shoes on is more appropriate to the needs of the individual being able to maintain balance while walking outdoors over uneven terrain. 
    • I personally do balance exercises both with shoes on and off; and have my patients do the same.
  • Footwear which can immediately create better balance:
    • When using a thinner, flatter shoe with a wide toe box, one typically has better balance. 
    • This type of footwear is called “minimalist”, or “barefoot” footwear.
    • Here are some of the characteristics and benefits of a minimalist footwear:
      • A wide toe box which allows the toes to splay, creating a wider base of support.
      • A flat sole without support which does not throw off the natural positioning of the body.
      • A thin sole which places one’s center of gravity lower to the ground to create improved stability.
      •  A thin sole which also allows one to feel the ground more easily so that the brain has more sensory input to create more rapid and effective balance reflexes. (AKA better proprioception).
    • In most traditional shoes there are:
      • 1) thicker soles,
      • 2) motion limiting “support”,
      • 3) narrow toe boxes
      • 4) elevated heels.
      •  All of which disrupt the body’s natural sensory and reactive mechanisms to compromise balance. 
    • I’ve had AMAZING success in getting my patients in a minimalist footwear for both reducing pain and improving balance. 
    • Once my patients start using minimalist footwear, it is extremely common that they report feeling more balanced and more confident on their feet.
    • There is a slight catch: Minimalist shoes require more work from your feet and so may require an adaptation phase:
    • To avoid doing too much too fast too soon, follow this general rule to allow your body to adapt:
      • For the first week, use the shoes one hour per day.
      • For the second week, use the shoes two hours per day.
      • Continue this progression until you are able to use the shoes all day long.
      • This because minimalist footwear requires more effort from your foot than a traditional shoe with support. It takes time for the foot to get strong and so it is best to ease into using minimalist shoes. Doing too much, too fast, too soon can cause unwanted pain.
      • However, if you are used to going barefoot, you can often progress this protocol safely much more rapidly. 

  • Lastly, it is essential that one learns how to walk with proper technique.
    • Walking correctly places the foot more beneath the center of mass so that you are less likely to slip.
    • In addition, maintaining proper spinal alignment will help you keep your center of mass over your base of support. 

James O'Brien, Perfecting Movement



I am James O’Brien and the founder of Perfecting Movement. In my 10+ years-experience as a physical therapist, my predominant focus has been in orthopedic physical therapy and personal training.   During this time I have developed a logical formula based in good movement practices and safe therapeutic exercise to deal with common orthopedic injuries and pain.  I have had an excellent success rate at getting my patients better. 

I am extremely passionate about teaching my patients and clients how to self-manage their injuries and to prevent such injuries from happening again.  I hope to share with you some of my successful treatment and injury prevention strategies.  




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