When I was little, I was on a competitive gymnastics team. My skills were decent, though they'd never take me to the Olympics. I won a few gold medals and blue ribbons, but never for my performances on the balance beam—I fell almost every single time. And it hurt. So I grew to be afraid of the balance beam. Silly, indeed. But who really wants to flip and flop on a surface that's only four inches wide and stands four feet off the ground? If only I had worked on my balance as much as my split leaps and handstands. Maybe then I would have stayed on the dang thing. Needless to say, I've noticed a drastic improvement in my balance over the years. (Though, admittedly, I haven't tested it on the balance beam. Those days are long gone.)
I chalk it up to all the core work I do at the gym because the core plays a very important role in your ability to stay balanced. (As does the inner ear, but I am no expert in that area.) Before I explain, let me discuss the concept of balance. Balance occurs when your center of gravity is directly above the ground. Because our bodies have a natural inability to remain completely still forever, it's not uncommon for our centers of gravity to shift without conscious effort. But it's easy to consciously counteract those shifts to restore balance. And that's where your core comes into play. The center of your body is partially composed of your core muscles (think abs, hips, lower back), and all movement originates in or is supported by the core. Hence, a strong core improves balance. If you've ever stood on a BOSU ball, you know the easiest way to stay atop the thing is to really focus on squeezing those ab muscles.
In fact, the BOSU is an excellent way to improve balance. Any time you stand on a wiggly wobbly surface, you strengthen that core. Tip #1—try completing your bicep curls (or any other standing exercise) on a BOSU. Or just stand on one leg at a time. It will change your activity ever so slightly while challenging your core to overcome an unstable surface. Conquer the BOSU or the one-leg balance over time, and you'll also start to notice a marked improvement in your everyday balance.
Tip #2—Work on your balance exclusively. Stand on one leg as you wash dishes or iron clothing. Alternate legs equally so that your balance isn't, well...off balance. Even while you're watching a television show or talking on the phone, stand up and see how long you can stay balanced on that one leg. Really listen to your body as you figure out how to stop yourself from falling over. Tune into each and every muscle in your core as you work to counteract the slightest bit of movement. As you improve, try closing your eyes. If you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed, then you know you've really mastered your ability to balance.
Tell me, is your balance any good?