Although you may not intentionally test your single-leg balance, you encounter it more than you may notice. On a day to day basis, you use your single-leg balance when you get into your car, step into the shower, climb stairs, or step onto a curb. These are the routine every day movements that could sneak up on you and potentially lead to a fall if balance isn't addressed.
Where to begin
Stability and balance begin in your feet. Strengthening your feet can be a great place to start from the ground up (pun intended). Gait Happens is an excellent resource for all things foot health. From there, addressing ankle stability would be next. We went over a few exercises to include in your program to improve ankle stability in a recent post. As we continue up the kinetic chain, we get to your hips. The hip complex is one of the largest all encompassing muscle groups in your body, including glutes, hip flexors, core, and pelvic floor muscles.
Strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, and core muscles will help you stabilize through the foot and vice versa. We do this by including unilateral lower body exercises such as single-leg deadlift variations and step up variations. Both of these exercises require stability from the foot, ankle, leg muscles, and hip complex. If single-leg deadlifts and step-ups are too advanced at this stage, start with balancing on a foam pad, BOSU, or on flat ground.
What else helps
1. Building the mind to muscle connection can be helpful by thinking about which muscles are being used and contracted in each movement. For example, if you're doing single-leg deadlifts, think about contracting the glute and hamstring to return to the starting position.
2. Keeping your eyes on one point during the exercise can help you stay controlled, especially in single-leg deadlifts. Aim for eyeing a spot about 3-4' in front of you. This will also encourage you to keep your chin tucked and neck neutral.
3. Addressing your footwear could also be beneficial. Wide toe-boxed shoes (or going completely barefoot) are going to allow you to have a wider base to balance on. Everyone has their own preferences for amount of cushion in shoes, but overly supportive shoes can also minimize the opportunity for strengthening the feet, which ultimately makes it harder to learn how to balance. This doesn't mean ditch your prescribed orthotics, but duration of wear time and long term effects are something you may want to discuss with your doctor.
These are all things to think about when it comes to improving your single-leg balance. In the meantime, we'll continue to include unilateral movements to encourage strength and stability through the legs and feet.