How to Improve Balance for Seniors & Exercises for Core Strength

How to Improve Balance for Seniors with Exercises for Core Strength

How to Improve Balance for Seniors with Exercises for Core Strength

image of a female exercising to improve balance

Having good balance requires much more than being able to stand on your own two feet. Especially for seniors and those at risk for falls. Luckily, better balance can be obtained through slow-motion strength training, increased core strength and a few simple balance exercises.

In this article we discuss the importance of strengthening our muscles and bones to maintain balance and prevent injury. We’ll also dive into the ever-so popular topic of “core strength” and how you can keep those muscles strong as you age.

Jump to Topics:
Assess Your Balance
Improve Your Balance
Strength Training
Core Strength
Balance Exercises

A trainer helps a man improve his balance with strength training

Why Seniors Should Improve Balance

3 million older adults are hospitalized annually for fall-related injuries (CDC, 2020).

But falling isn’t inherently dangerous…

If you’re a grandparent of a toddler, you might see your grandchild fall regularly without suffering a serious injury. Athletes also hit the ground often during their sports, usually without suffering a severe injury.

However, for older adults, falls often have severe consequences.

And one way to prevent those falls… balance!

image of a senior man falling

One in every four older adults suffers a fall every year (CDC, 2020). Many of these falls lead to fractures, typically at the wrist or hip. About 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls (CDC, 2020).

The added danger of falling for older adults is due to the presence of weaker, more hollow bones. We lose bone tissue throughout adulthood. Falling can push a weaker bone over the threshold of what it can endure, leading to a fracture. The lack of activity which follows a fracture can subsequently cause a steep and fatal health decline, hence why so many older adults die following a hip fracture.

Strengthening the bones is important, but it’s not enough. There’s another key area to focus on: balance. Balance declines with age, but it can be improved (El-Khoury et al., 2013). Having sufficient balance will greatly reduce the risk of falling and, therefore, reduce the risk of suffering a severe injury..

As you read this, you might wonder, “is my balance poor?” If so, “how can I improve it?” Keep reading!

Senior woman practicing balance exercises

How Can I Assess My Balance?

Balance is a tricky concept when considering it’s not as obvious as strength, which can be assessed by simply moving a piece of furniture or lifting a heavy box. A simple way to assess your balance is to perform the “Single Leg Stance” or “One-Legged Stance Test” (Agility Lab, 2013). This is a test of how long you can stand on each leg. Here’s how you can perform it:

  1. Stand in a space where you can reach something (a counter, table, or other sturdy structure) if needed.
  2. Keep your eyes open and arms on your hips.
  3. Lift one leg off the ground and keep it elevated. Start a timer as soon as your leg leaves the ground.
  4. Stop the timer when the elevated leg/foot hits the ground OR when either of your hands leave your hips.(If you reach a minute, you can stop. Your balance is great and anything beyond a minute isn’t necessary to measure).
  5. Perform the test again, but with the other leg.

Fall risk is considered “high” when a person can’t stand for more than five seconds on a leg. If your time on either leg is short, consider re-testing every few weeks as you aim to improve your balance.

Strategies for Improving Balance

Strength Training

Strength training, as we’ve attested to in so many previous articles, seems to be the closest thing to the existence of an “anti-aging” treatment. As you might expect, strength training also helps fight the age-related effects on balance. About 70% of the 107 studies analyzed in a research review showed that strength training decreased older adults’ fall rate (Cadore et al., 2014). Two studies showed that strength training’s ability to improve balance extended to those in their 80s and 90s (Cadore et al., 2014; Serra-Rexach et al., 2011).

What is it about strength training that makes it so important for balance? One reason is the impact on muscles surrounding critical standing and walking joints. When strengthening the glutes (butt), quadriceps (front thighs), and hamstrings (back of the thighs), people can more effectively control and move their bodies, even when walking in unstable areas.

Several leg exercises are key for balance. The leg press is most important due to its ability to strengthen the largest leg and hip muscles (quadriceps and glutes). Other helpful exercises are the leg curl (hamstrings), leg extension (quadriceps), hip abduction (glutes), and calf raises (the calves can improve balance through better control of the ankle joint).

Core Strength

However, it’s not just training the legs that explains strength training’s benefit for balance. Strengthening “core” muscles is also a big contributor to balance. Training deeper midsection muscles, specifically the transverse abdominis and lower back muscles, enhance stability (Kang, 2015). The midsection muscles play a big role in posture and ensuring that our body weight is evenly distributed among our legs, avoiding an excessive lean in one direction that could encourage falling (Kang, 2015).

To strengthen these midsection muscles, a few exercises are recommended. A plank or dead bug exercise can enhance the strength/endurance of the transverse abdominis. To strengthen the lower back muscles, the most effective method is to use the lower back machine in one of The Perfect Workout studios (if they have one). If one is not available, you can use the superman or bird dog exercise.

TPW Member, Teonie, improving her balance by practicing planks

Balance Training

“Balance training” is an umbrella term used to describe many simple activities people can participate in to improve balance. They improve balance to a similar degree that strength training does (Zech et al., 2010). The research shows that balance training is most beneficial when performed at least 30 minutes per workout at a frequency of three sessions per week (Lesinski et al., 2015).

Balance training includes a number of activities, including the following:

  • The Star Excursion Balance Test, which involves hopping on one leg.
  • Standing on one leg on a hard surface.
  • Standing on one leg on an unstable board.
  • The Walk and Turn test, which is walking on a straight line (similar to what’s depicted in DUI sobriety tests).

Takeaways

Falling is a big concern for older adults. We lose bone strength over time, which makes us increasingly likely to fracture bones when falling. We can help avoid these issues by strengthening out bones (through strength training), but improving our balance is also critical.

Balance can be improved through a few methods: strengthening our legs, deeper abdominal and lower back muscles, and by performing walking and single-leg standing activities. When performing some or all of these, we can reverse the age-related impact on balance.

  • Agility Lab. (2013). Single leg stance or “one-legged stance test.” Retrieved from https://www.sralab.org/rehabilitation-measures/single-leg-stance-or-one-legged-stance-test
  • Cadore, E. L., Casas-Herrero, A., Zambom-Ferraresi, F., Idoate, F., Millor, N., Gómez, M.,…& Izquierdo, M. (2014). Multicomponent exercises including muscle power training enhance muscle mass, power output, and functional outcomes in institutionalized frail nonagenarians. Age, 36(2), 773-785.
  • CDC. (2020). Keep on your feet. Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/older-adult-falls/index.html#:~:text=One%20out%20of%20four%20older,particularly%20among%20the%20aging%20population.&text=About%2036%20million%20falls%20are,in%20more%20than%2032%2C000%20deaths.
  • El-Khoury, F., Cassou, B., Charles, M. A., & Dargent-Molina, P. (2013). The effect of fall prevention exercise programmes on fall induced injuries in community dwelling older adults: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ, 347, f6234.
  • Kang, K.Y. (2015). Effects of core muscle stability training on the weight distribution and stability of the elderly. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27(10), 3163-3165.
  • Lesinski, M., Hortobagyi, T., Muehlbauer, T., Gollhofer, A., & Granacher, U. (2015). Effects of balance training on balance performance in healthy older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 45, 1721-1738.

Benefits of Ab Crunches: More Than Just A Six Pack

for more than just a six pack: get to know the ab crunch

Personal Training Carlsbad CA

The Ab Crunch is a client favorite when it comes to exercises.

Sometimes it’s because of a misconception about what it can do for belly fat.

Other times, it’s because clients know how it can help their mobility goals.

Let’s dig into what the Ab Crunch can do for you…

Muscles Used

The rectus abdominis, or “abs,” are the muscles many of us would like to display in a bathing suit. Besides the aesthetics, they’re an important muscle group for function.

The Ab Crunch machine trains the abs as well as another pair of important muscles. However, performing this exercise requires attention to detail. There’s a small difference between proper execution and lower back strain with the ab crunch. We’ll discuss all of those details later in the article.

The rectus abdominis starts at the bottom of the sternum (chest bone) and the front of the ribs. It runs down to the top of your pubic bone (part of the pelvic girdle), which is just above your genitals.

The main function of this muscle is to pull your spine into a ‘C’ shape, bringing your chest and midsection closer together.

Fitness Trainer Carlsbad CA

Of course, the abs are most known because of the “six pack.” A “six pack” has that appearance because of connective tissue.

As the abs flow from the ribs to the pelvic girdle, there are three segments of connective tissue in the middle. This where the “six pack” gets its upper, middle, and lower portions.

Also, a sheet of connective tissue (linea alba) runs vertically, splitting the abs in half and causing it to look like there are six muscles instead of three.

Secondary muscles in the ab crunch are the external and internal obliques. The obliques are located in the area that many refer to as their “love handles.” (We’re covering all of the fun stuff today.) 😉

How It Works

Regularly performing the ab crunch to the exhaustion point of “muscle success” will strengthen your abs and obliques and possibly make them more aesthetically noticeable. However, I have to warn you: Seeing your midsection muscles is largely a result of low body fat levels.

The less fat between your skin and your abdominal muscles, the easier it is to see definition in your abs.

And losing body fat is mainly a result of positive dietary changes. Wanting to see your abs may beckon a change to your diet more than the use of the ab crunch machine.

Believe it or not, the rectus abdominis does not exist only to make you look good in a bathing suit. It is also functionally significant. The abs are critical muscles for respiration and childbirth.

In addition, they are major stabilization muscles.

Every exercise or sports movement focuses on a small group of joints. For example, throwing a baseball mainly involves the elbow and shoulder joints. For this to occur with optimal efficiency and effectiveness, muscles in various parts of the body (like your abdominals!) contract to hold other parts of your body relatively still.

Personal Trainer Carlsbad CA

Performing the exercise looks like this: 

I mentioned previously that the abs work to pull your chest and midsection closer together, causing your spine to curl into a ‘C’ shape.

The proper range of motion for the ab crunch is small compared to most exercises. The exercise may include only four or five inches of movement in each direction. It’s common to exceed this amount, and that’s where some problems occur.

To avoid overextension problems that can lead to discomfort or targeting the wrong areas, follow these simple steps:

  1. In the ab crunch, as you “curl” downward, your lower back should press into the lower pad. (Your upper back should also stay firmly pressed into the upper pad.)
  2. If your lower back is about to peel off the pad, this is a cue that you’re at the end of the range of motion and need to reverse direction and begin returning to the starting position.
  3. When the lower back is removed from the pad, the midsection and thighs are now moving closer together. This motion is a hip-based movement called “hip flexion.”
  4. Hip flexion uses other muscle groups, and these muscle groups exert some force on the lower back. Examples of exercises that use hip flexion are sit-ups and leg lifts. While the abs assist in these exercises, the hip flexors are the dominant muscles.

In summary, “curl” down on the ab crunch machine no further than the point where you feel your lower back will start leaving the back pad.

Using the ab crunch will strengthen your abs and obliques, muscles that not only help you look good on the beach (with proper nutrition) but also with critical life functions.

Strength Trainer Carlsbad CA

Maximize Your Ab Crunch in 2 Minutes or Less

In order to get the most out of your 1-2 minutes on the Ab Crunch, your coach will guide you through these four things:

  1. Full Range of Motion (and no further!): Full range of motion helps avoid shortcutting the targeted muscles. Think “ribs to hips” and “belly button to spine” to squeeze your abdominal muscles properly.
  2. Relax Your Feet and Hands: Avoid letting your hands or feet take over carrying the weight to “muscle through” the movement. You want the primary contraction to live in your abdominals. The goal isn’t to get as far as you can. It’s to let the targeted muscles reach muscle success.
  3. Neck Relaxed: Try to keep the neck as static and relaxed as you can to keep the tension in your abdominal muscles and not in your neck.
  4. Muscle Success: How could we leave this out?! Achieve muscle success and thoroughly fatigue your abdominal muscles to help build your strength.

Strengthen your abdominal muscles and work toward visible abs with a 20-minute workout.

Leg Presses 285 Pounds + Amazing Core Strength!

shelly leg presses 285 pounds and has amazing core strength now!

Female client strength training on a machine

“The Perfect Workout has delivered on every promise. They’ve done everything they said they would do for me. They give 110%.” And the best part? “My core strength is amazing now!”

Two years ago, Shelly Cates barely had enough strength to walk throughout the day. Working 60 hours per week at a private equity insurance company, she was always on the move, but didn’t have any energy left after work. Tired of feeling weak, she wanted a workout program that would fit her schedule and make her stronger.

A New York Times insert for The Perfect Workout came to her office, and Shelly was intrigued with the whole concept of slow-motion strength training and 20-minute workouts. The Colleyville studio was conveniently nearby, and she booked her first session. It was much different than any workout she had done before, and she immediately felt its effects. She started toning up, and she no longer felt weak throughout the day.

From day one, Shelly was impressed with how friendly and helpful The Perfect Workout trainers were. Their coaching was encouraging, not “demoralizing” like she had experienced at other gyms. The positive atmosphere at the studio is one of the biggest reasons she keeps coming back twice a week. Having worked with four trainers, Shelly feels a connection with each of them, and loves how each one brings their personal style to the workouts.

Her hard work in the studio, along with her trainers’ dedication to her growth, gave her results that make her proud. She now lifts 285 lbs. on the leg press, 50 lbs. on the arm press, and 70 lbs. doing bicep curls. In addition to her muscle growth, some of Shelly’s old health issues have vanished.

She no longer needs to go to the chiropractor, and no longer struggles with colitis, something she took medication for before starting at The Perfect Workout. “The Perfect Workout has delivered on every promise. They’ve done everything they said they would do for me. They give 110%.” And the best part? “My core strength is amazing now!”

The Perfect Workout has given Shelly the freedom to do what makes her happy. Last year, she and her family took a vacation to Scotland and traveled 710 miles across Scotland’s islands and cities. Shelly had enough strength and energy to fully immerse herself in the trip, and she came back feeling alive and inspired.

Two years ago, she would have been too burnt out to appreciate it, but now she feels like she has the energy to do whatever she sets her mind to. Shelly has no plans to stop, and she can’t wait to continue her impressive progress. “It’s going to be part of my life for a long time.”

The Ab Crunch: Looks, Form, and Function

the ab crunch: looks, form and function

the rectus abdominis, or "abs,"...

are the muscles many of us would like people to see when in a bathing suit. And besides the aesthetics aspect, they are also an important muscle group for function. The ab crunch machine trains the abs as well as another pair of important muscles. However, performing this exercise requires attention to detail. There is a small difference between proper execution and lower back strain with the ab crunch. In this article, we’ll discuss all of those details.

The rectus abdominis starts at the bottom of the sternum (chest bone) and the front of the ribs in that area. It runs down to the top of your pubic bone (part of the pelvic girdle), which is just above your genitals. The main function of this muscle is to pull your spine into a ‘C’ shape, bringing your chest and midsection closer together.

Of course, the abs are most known because of the “six pack.” A “six pack” has that appearance because of connective tissue. As the abs flow from the ribs to the pelvic girdle, there are three segments of connective tissue in the middle. This where the “six pack” gets its upper, middle, and lower portions. Also, a sheet of connective tissue (linea alba) runs vertically, splitting the abs in half, causing the appearance of six muscles as opposed to three. Secondary muscles in the ab crunch are the external and internal obliques. The obliques are located in the area that many refer to as their “love handles.” (We’re covering all of the fun stuff today.)

Performing the ab crunch regularly to the muscle exhaustion point of “muscle success” will help your abs and obliques become stronger and more aesthetically noticeable. However, I have to warn you: Seeing your midsection muscles is largely a result of low body fat levels. The less fat between your skin and your abdominal muscles, the easier it is to see definition in your abs. And losing body fat is mainly a result of positive dietary changes. Your desire to see your abs may beckon a change to your diet even more than the use of the ab crunch machine.

Believe it or not, the rectus abdominis does not exist only to make you look good in a bathing suit. It is also functionally significant. The abs are critical muscles for respiration and child birth. In addition, they are major stabilization muscles. In regards to stabilization, every exercise or sports movement focuses on a small group of joints. For example, throwing a baseball mainly involves the elbow and shoulder joints. For this to occur with optimal efficiency and effectiveness, muscles in various parts of the body contract to hold other parts of your body relatively still. Your abs are one of the most common and important stabilization muscles.

I mentioned previously that the abs work to pull your chest and midsection closer together, causing your spine to curl into a ‘C’ shape. The proper range of motion for the ab crunch is small compared to most exercises. The exercise may include only four or five inches of movement in each direction. It’s common to exceed this amount, and that’s where some problems occur.

In the ab crunch, as you “curl” downward, your lower back should press into the lower pad. (Your upper back should stay firmly pressed into the upper pad also.) If your lower back is about to peel off the pad, this is a cue that you’re at the end of the range of motion, and need to reverse direction and begin returning to the starting position.

When the lower back is removed from the pad, the midsection and thighs are now moving closer together. This motion is a hip-based movement called “hip flexion.” Hip flexion uses other muscle groups, and these muscle groups exert some force on the lower back. Examples of exercises that use hip flexion are sit-ups and leg lifts. While the abs assist in these exercises, the hip flexors are the dominant muscles.

In summary, “curl” down on the ab crunch machine no further than the point where you feel your lower back will start leaving the back pad. Using the ab crunch will strengthen your abs and obliques, muscles that not only make you look good on the beach but also help with critical life functions.