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Going Barefoot and 8 Other Ways to Improve Balance

Balance is something we don’t think much about after we learn it (as a child) or start to lose it (as a senior), but balance is crucial to healthy living.

By
Brock Armstrong,
August 21, 2018
Episode #403
Photo of some bare feet on a slack line practicing balance

Balance Test #2  

Stand on one foot. Same as before, with your foot nice and straight. Don’t bend your knees, stick your arms out like a tightrope walker, or grab onto something for stability. Just balance as comfortably as you can on one foot. If you need to stick your arms out or grab onto something, go back and practice Test #1 a bit more before trying this one.

Again, once you are feeling solid while standing on one leg, close your eyes. How stable do you feel? Are you wobbling? Can you feel your body reacting and readjusting?

We all have some whole-body alignment problems (even me—shudder). For the most part, in this comfy and heeled-shoe wearing culture, our inability to balance is a result of our chronic failure to use the 33 joints in our feet, which then causes a cascade of issues. So, what can we do about this? I'm glad you asked.

Ways to Improve Your Balance

Since we just talked about them, let’s start with the feet.

1. Go Barefoot

In a study that examined the effect of ankle taping on balance, the researchers actually used barefooted people as the control group. This is because their balance is superior to those in shoes.

The reason we are so much better at balancing when we are barefoot is that we are no longer hiding (or blindfolding) the thousands of nerve endings on the bottom of our feet inside a cushioned shoe. Allowing them to actually feel their environment means those nerves can actually transmit all the valuable information they are gathering to our brain and contribute to our ability to balance.

Feet are indeed the foundation of most of our movement, but most of us have them immobilized, to some extent, for our entire adult lives.

Feet are indeed the foundation of most of our movement, but most of us have them immobilized, to some extent, for our entire adult lives. By simply going barefoot more often we can reconnect those nerves and relearn how to use that valuable balance input.

2. Strength

As we learned, balance isn’t all in your ears and eyes. You have to use your muscles to stabilize yourself. Sure, you don’t need to get super jacked or look like a balloon animal, but getting stronger certainly helps.

Strong muscles, strong bones, and better balance will make you more mobile and less likely to fall. The website Lifeline has some exercises to improve your strength and balance. They are specifically for seniors, but, if you are not a senior, I am sure you can find ways to incorporate similar exercises into your routine.

3. Practice

The two tests we talked about earlier are great ways to practice your balance. If you are feeling adventurous, I suggest you also invest in a slackline or even just some 2x4 beams to practice on. A few studies have shown that slacklining does, in fact, improve balance and postural control in female basketball players, as well as a broader range of individuals.

And I don’t just mean walking on them either. Bear crawl, inchworm, and crab walk are all great movements to try on your homemade trapeze.

4. Control Your Movement

I was putting my running shoes on this morning to run to the pool and back. While I was getting ready, I practiced my balance by standing on one foot, slowly reaching down to get my shoe, slowly sliding it on my foot, and then keeping my foot in the air while slowly lacing the shoe up. I made sure to maintain control throughout the entire movement.

Don’t rush through your movements. Instead, move slowly, deliberately, and control the entire motion.

5. Single Leg Exercise

This one is a no-brainer but still worth mentioning. Exercises like single leg deadlifts, single leg squats, pistols, and skater squats all demand that you employ your ability to balance.

Plus, if you are also using some weights, then you are balancing under load, which means that you will strengthen the muscles and prepare the connective tissue to better balance in the future.

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