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Balance strength and stability for hiking: 5 exercises that do double duty

Your ankle strength isn’t going to keep you from falling.

While your ankles play an important role, they aren’t your first line of defense when thrown off balance. You feel ‘off balance’ when your center of gravity shifts outside of your base of support. That means when your body sways outside of where your feet are, you will feel like you’re losing your balance.

Try this:

1. Stand with your feet under your hips.

2. Now, shift your weight to one side but keep both feet on the floor.

3. Find that place where you start to feel unsteady, and your foot wants to come off the ground. This point is where your center of gravity is no longer within the space between your feet.

Now, stand with your feet further than hip-distance apart. Lean to one side and try to find a place where you’re off balance. It’s much harder because you’re more stable with a wider base of support. Your center of gravity has to travel further to knock you over. This broad support is why hiking poles make you more stable. They act as a ‘3rd and 4th leg’ and create an even bigger base.

The opposite is also true. The more narrow your base of support, the more easily you’ll lose your balance. Think about crossing a creek on a log, and your feet are in line with each other. Your base of support is slim, and it’s even smaller when you’re standing on one leg stepping up on a rock or over a root.

Go back to your narrow stance with feet closer together and again find the place where you start to lose your balance. What’s the first thing you notice? Long before your ankles get involved, your head rights itself, and your core activates and tries to bring you back to the center. Next, your hands and arms go out to help balance you back to upright. Then, your glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and quads fire to keep you stable. So, keeping your balance requires the whole body to be active and sensitive to changes in your center of gravity.

The best way to train balance is to challenge it. Why do little kids have such great balance? Because they are constantly training it walking on curbs, hopping, standing on one leg, skipping, climbing, etc. Intentionally getting off-balance is the best way to train for it. Tai chi is one of the most effective fall-prevention activities in the elderly because there’s an emphasis on active movement on one leg, but any similar activities are effective.

When you’re short on time, you want to make sure you pay attention to training your balance while you’re getting your strength training in. Here are 5 exercises that challenge your balance while building strength.

1. Biceps to Shoulder Press with Balance

2. Heel Taps

3. Single Leg Deadlift

4. Halo with Balance

5. Hip Abduction Pulses

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