By Erwan Le Corre, MovNat Founder
Who said balance training is only for the elderly?
Balance is critical for people of all ages. Not only does it help us avoid falling, it also serves as a foundation for all bipedal movement such as walking, running, and jumping. Plus, it’s a great tool for improving stability, strength, posture, and even your vestibular system. Needless to say, balance is pretty important, and practicing your balance with skill-appropriate progressions provides many benefits.
So, can you balance on one leg? And if so, how many different ways can you do it efficiently? How about in nature where the surfaces may be small, rounded, steep, and/or slippery – where a fall could be dangerous?
You see, balancing is simple, but not easy, and especially when you introduce situational and/or environmental demands. And so, in this post, you’ll learn eight different single-footed standing balancing movements to help you lay a good foundation for safe training down the road.
Now, imagine a surface so small that it can hold only one foot such as a rock barely breaking the surface of a river. You have to jump and land on it on one foot, balance there on one leg for a brief moment, then maybe do a “leg swing” jump (standing on a single leg while swinging the other leg to generate forward momentum) to reach the next rock that is otherwise too far to step out on. Single-leg balancing is an important practical skill and also a functional ability that is an important predictor of injurious falls in elders. Trying to balance on a single foot rather than two makes a huge difference immediately, with tests showing an increase in postural sway by up to 800% compared to the two-footed position.
Supporting your whole bodyweight on such a small surface of your body is not a small feat at all! But if you learn to balance on one foot skillfully, then all movement balancing on two feet becomes much easier.
Single-leg balancing is arguably the single best indicator of bipedal, standing balance, or lack thereof. Indeed, the balancing version of walking is the same step-by-step replication of a sequence alternating single and two-footed standing stance, only this time on a narrow, rounded, or unstable surface. This makes the single-leg phase of a balancing walking movement, which is also the longer one, significantly more challenging. If your single-leg balance is troublesome, it is guaranteed to directly translate to an ugly struggle when you will attempt walking in balance.
Another practical advantage brought by the ability to balance on one foot is that you can always counterbalance using your free leg rather than your arms if, for any reason, they are unable to assist (maybe because you are holding something), which is very helpful.
To the movements!
Balancing for Beginners:
8 Steps to Master Single-Footed Balancing
First, practice the following stances independently. Remember than whenever you are practicing single-leg positions and movements, you MUST switch feet regularly! If one side gives you more trouble than the other, practice the challenging side more than the easy one.
Establish the single-leg position with a tall posture, arms down and relaxed, minimal postural sway and controlled abdominal breath.
Look down if it helps at first.
Learn to use your free leg for counterbalancing instead of your arms so you can keep your arms down and head up. The leg is extended to the side more or less high, ideally as low as possible.
Once you are comfortable in the neutral single-leg stance, practice variations and movements similar to the two-footed stance with the same practical purposes, slowly and dynamically.
Look forward, down, up, and sideways, then rotate your trunk in both directions.
Flex your support leg slightly and come back to a fully extended leg, then hip hinge and lean forward, then add arm(s) extension.
Flex the free leg and tuck you knee up as if you wanted to step onto or over something.
Extend the free leg as if you wanted to push something away or support your foot onto something.
Reach end range of motion and stability by elevating your legs as high as you can to the side and back.
Once you’ve got these positions under control, you can begin practicing slow and fast transitions between each of them as well as doing dynamic single-leg movements such as:
- Swinging your free leg from down to the front, down to the side, or down to the back, with more or less amplitude and speed.
- Swinging your free leg in forward or backward circles with more or less amplitude and speed.
Next, train transitions from the neutral single-footed standing position to any of the positions mentioned above and back to the neutral standing position, slowly at first, then fast and/or alternating slow and fast.
You see, it did look fairly EASY…at first. But never confuse simple for easy. It is not the same!
- Balancing Basics: Avoid These Common Mistakes
- From the Ground Up – Part 3: Balancing
- From the Ground Up – Part 12: Balancing Progressions
Note: This article contains excerpts from Erwan Le Corre’s upcoming book, The Practice of Natural Movement.
Want Some Help with Natural Movement Training?
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Most people know that they should be more physically active. Some even recognize the incredible value in a system like MovNat. But they struggle with actually implementing natural movement into their daily lives.
That’s why we work closely with people from all walks of life to help them move better, get healthier and stronger, and discover their true potential with natural movement fitness.
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