Don't Get Caught Off Balance
Updated: Jan 4, 2021
Recently, someone close to me was bemoaning the pain and tingling she experiences in her legs and feet. She worried about taking a fall, breaking bones and not recovering easily or well. She wondered about how to strengthen her hips, legs, ankles and feet safely and in the comfort of her own home. All this got me thinking about things we can do to boost our balance and increase lower body strength.
Back in February 2019 I took a workshop with Sherri Betz, a nationally recognized physical therapist and Pilates instructor who specializes in bone health, that included a one-hour standing class. Looking around the room, I saw a lot of people older than me and I smugly concluded that as one of the younger people there, and a trained fitness professional no less, I would probably not find the class very challenging. I confidently strode to the middle of the room while others clung to the walls or positioned themselves safely behind chairs. What a surprise for me when Sherri instructed us to lift one foot off the floor and do a set of ten (ten!) single leg calf raises. My muscles were burning and I could barely complete the set without falling over. Several times I had to put my raised foot back on the floor to regain my balance. Sherri smiled warmly and said, "That's a good one to practice while you brush your teeth."
Back home I decided I had to incorporate balance work in all of my Pilates classes. If it was good for me, it was good for my clients, many of whom are older than me and who deal with joint pain or neuropathy. I decided I needed a prop to help me build strength in single leg exercises, something like a gondola pole or walking stick. I fashioned one from items bought at a hardware store, and it couldn't have been easier or cheaper. Here's what you need to do.
Purchase a 4-foot wooden dowel, 1-inch in diameter (I got this pine one) and 1-inch cane stoppers (such as these) from Home Depot or your local hardware store. Place the stoppers on each end of the dowel to create a nonskid surface.
If you don't have them at home, order a can of tennis balls - your feet will thank you later.
Grab your mat and click on the image above to practice my favorite balance exercises.
Don't be discouraged if, like me, you can't complete a full set right away. Some people are surprised to find their balance isn't as good as they expected. With regular practice and training, you can strengthen your leg and hip muscles, relax and open your feet, improve your proprioception and find your best balance.
Interested in a 30-minute standing mat class to work on these exercises and more? Leave a comment below and we'll see if we can get something organized!