How To Improve Your Balance: A Full Bodyweight Exercise Progression Guide

I still remember the first time I saw on TV a crazy guy walking without support over a rope holding a huge stick. I was totally hooked.

I watched every step of his with complete amazement and excitement. I had never seen anything like that!

Was he really going to make it or would he fall?

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I couldn’t believe someone could be so calm under such extreme conditions!

Now that I am older I still get the same kind of excitement from watching such extreme displays of skill.

Yet, MORE importantly, having good balance helps us in our daily life. The other day, my family and I went to Barnes & Nobles. We were on the top floor. I stepped onto the escalator and lost my balance a little. I was like, “Whoa!” What just happened. I am only 32 years old (turn 33 on the 9th of this month). Am I really losing my balance already?

The answer is… yes.

If you don’t use it you lose it. When I taught Tai Chi regularly many years ago, my balance phenomenal. That’s because I had to force my balance to get better. When you don’t do anything to challenge your balance (by doing the exercises below) it slowly diminishes.

How have you been training your balance Todd? Isn’t balance training integrated into calisthenics?

Yes. You are right.

If you are training with advanced calisthenics (e.g. pistol squats), your balance is going to improve a lot.

However, there is a lot more to be explored in terms of balance.

I haven’t yet met someone who trains with calisthenics for the mere purpose of improving his balance. The balance improvement most of the times is a byproduct of calisthenics training.

With balance training, balance is the main goal and not a byproduct.

Benefits Of Balance Training

Why should I start balance training Todd?

That’s a very good question.

Most people fail to realize just how important balance is for the everyday life activities. But the truth is that balance can help you avoid unnecessary injuries and accidents that occur by falling.

If you are young, you are likely not gonna have this type of problem anytime soon, but this is a very important issue older people have to face. With balance training, you can proactively get rid of that problem.

Other than that, there are some more benefits…

Benefit #1: Increase body awareness

As you are going to see later in the exercises presented in this material, most of them require a lot of body awareness to execute them.

Body awareness can help you have more control over your body and as such you are going to be able to achieve calisthenics skills faster and avoid falls.

Benefit #2: Improve muscle mind connection

By trying to balance in extreme situations, like in balance training, your muscle mind connection is going to improve.

Increased muscle mind connection is going to help you in training by giving you more control and thus you are going to be able to train with better form in all exercises.

Furthermore, you are going to be able to understand when your form breaks more easily.

Benefit #3: Increase Your Focus

As you progress towards more advanced balance exercises your focus becomes more and more important.

If you get distracted you lose balance.

In this respect, balance training  is going to sharpen and deepen your focus. This of course improves aspects of your daily life making you more productive, more present with your kids and more attentive to your spouse.

Benefit #4: Improve coordination

While you are trying to maintain your balance in extreme positions, your whole body has to work like a unit. This improves coordination.

Coordination from balance training is going to transfer to all everyday activities.

And most importantly…

Benefit #5: It’s very fun and challenging

Balance training is both challenging  and fun at the same time. This happens because it is equally challenging to both mind and body.

Balance Training Exercises

Hand Balancing Exercises

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Below you are going to find a list of hand-balancing exercises. The exercises are divided based on their difficulty level in regards to balance.

This is not a complete list and a lot more variations exists. However, it’s enough to get you started.

Most of the hand balancing skills put a lot of stress on your wrist joints. For this reason, I recommend you to start performing wrist exercises to prevent injury.

Beginner Hand Balancing Exercises

Frogstand

This is one of the most basic hand balancing exercises. Lots of people consider this to be a prerequisite of the handstand.

This exercise is great for shoulder and chest strength and definition.

Headstand

This is another really great exercise to develop your hand balancing technique.

This might be the easiest form of hand balancing since you are using your head and thus you have an extra point of support.

Be careful with this one and don’t put too much pressure on your neck.

Forearm stand

By using your forearms instead of your hands, you have a larger base of support and thus an easier time holding the balance than on a regular handstand.

If you are advanced, this exercise can help you in the achievement of tiger bend handstand push ups.

Crane pose

This is a more advanced variation of the frogstand. Here your arms are completely straight and your legs are supported on a higher height. This increases the balance difficulty because your center of mass in further away from the ground.

Be sure to spend an adequate time preparing your wrists before training with this variation.

Air Baby Extensions

This is a more dynamic version of the frogstand. The challenge with this variation is that one side is going to support more weight than the other thus preparing you for unilateral type balancing moves.

Pilot Freeze

This is one of the most basic balancing freezes of breakin’ . If you are interested in this type of dancing, this is a good way to start.

Baby Freeze

Intermediate Hand balancing exercises

Hand Walking

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6l5chLkr44

Handstand walking is a great conditioning exercise for your upper body. Even though it’s easier than a  handstand in terms of balance, I suggest you train with this after you have mastered the regular handstand.

If you start training with this variation before the actual handstand, you might develop the habit of moving your hands to maintain your balance and us a result learning the handstand is going to take you more time.

Handstand

The last couple of years handstands have been getting quite the attention, and for a good reason. This the ultimate hand balanced exercise. Mastering the handstand can create a lot of freedom to pursue other more advanced forms of hand balancing.

Elbow Lever

This one is easier than handstand in terms of balance, but it requires more strength.

Still this is a great skill to learn and master as you become proficient in bodyweight training.

One Arm One Leg Push Up

This might not seem like a balance exercise at first sight. But it truly is. I didn’t consider it a balance exercise either until I first tried it.

This exercise is very advanced in terms of strength, but I still consider it’s balance requirements to be on the intermediate level.

If one arm push ups are no longer challenging for you, give this variation a shot. You ‘re gonna love it.

Advanced

Handstand push ups

This is a dynamic balancing exercise. This movement requires a lot of balance, body control, strength and is a very cool movement to perform.

Hollowback

This is an advanced variation of the handstand.

In terms of balance it isn’t very different. The main differences  are the strength and flexibility demands of the exercise, which must be in top shape.

Static Air Baby

This is a great exercise to help you get started with unilateral hand balancing.

One arm elbow lever

This exercise is very similar to the static air baby. I find it hard to decide which one of the two is more demanding in terms of balance, but in terms of overall difficulty the one arm elbow lever is more challenging.

As with any upper body unilateral exercise, this one puts a lot of pressure on your wrists. So be sure to warm up your wrists accordingly.

Hand Hops

This movement requires lots of coordination and strength. This may also be the most challenging movement for your wrists (from the exercises in this post).

Handstand press

This is one of my favorite moves. If you have mastered the regular handstand then this is the next progression you should train with.

Other than looking incredibly awesome, this move is going to help you gain strength and muscle in your shoulders and back and increase your body control, coordination and balance.

One-arm handstand

This is one of the most difficult hand balancing moves. It can take some years to master this move but it’s really worth the effort.

On Foot Balancing Exercises

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Here you are going to find exercises that are going to help you develop your foot balance. The exercises are going to be divided on categories based on their difficulty level (in regards to balance). These exercises may be even more important than the hand balancing exercises because they are more practical. After all, we don’t walk on our hands as we go into work. Practicing these exercises on a regularly basis will dramatically improve your overall balance.

Like with the hand balancing, most of the exercises below are going to put a lot of pressure on your ankles and knees. For this reason, I recommend that you warm up your joints before and after every balance workout.

Any exercise can be made more difficult with the eyes closed.

Beginner

Single Leg Stance

This is a very basic exercise. The goal is to get used to standing on one foot.

Single Leg Deadlifts

Single leg deadlifts can be a very good exercise to develop your balance if you are a beginner. If you have access to weights that can be lifted with one arm (e.g. a kettlebell), you can make the exercise a lot more challenging.

Single Leg T-Stance

This exercise is similar to the single leg deadlift with the difference that this one is more static. Your hamstring flexibility is going to improve by practicing this exercise.

Walking On Rails

This is one of the most basic balance exercises for your legs. You have probably done it before. I see kids play with it all the time.

Before parkour became popular it was very rare to see an adult walking on rails.

The good thing is that you can find rails almost everywhere.

Warrior 3 Pose

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlyJfm1Gd3w

Very similar to the T-stance. Having the arms extended on the front increases the difficulty of the exercise because of the leverage.

Intermediate

Eagle Pose

A great exercise that requires a little more flexibility in the upper body than regular foot balancing exercises.

Pistol squats

The pistol squats are one the most well-known calisthenics exercises for leg strength development. However, what most people, who haven’t tried the exercise, fail to see is how challenging this exercise is for balance.

Training for this skill will help you build tremendous balance.

Walking On Rope/Slackline

This is a more advanced form of walking on rails. The basic principles are similar. The only difference is that the slackline/rope isn’t going to be as steady and thus adding an extra element of difficulty.

Should I try using a slackline or a rope Todd?

Both of them are worth it. But if you don’t have access to either of them right now, I would suggest you invest in a slackline as it can give you more freedom later on.

Hand-to-toe Pose

Other than balance this pose requires a lot of flexibility as well. If you don’t have the necessary flexibility don’t worry. Just extend your leg as much as you can while maintaining your balance. Your flexibility is going to improve over time.

Dancer’s Pose

Very similar to the hand-to-toe pose with the difference being in where the center of mass is according to your balancing leg.

Advanced

Shrimp Squat

What makes this exercise really difficult is that you are going to be out of alignment most of the time during the movement. This makes it really difficult to maintain balance.

Pistol squats on bar

This is a more advanced progression of the pistol squat. The strength requirement remains the same, but the balance requirements increase substantially.

Dragon Pistol Squat

https://instagram.com/p/5fTWUEoJx7/?taken-by=al_kavadlo

Al has done it once again. When I thought I knew all the exercises for calisthenics leg training he comes and performs another great move.

Like with the shrimp squat it’s the alignment required for this move that makes keeping your balance really difficult. You can find a tutorial for this awesome move here.

How To Train For Balance

These were some amazing skills Todd, but how should I train for them?

This depends a lot on the skill you are trying to learn. As you have seen some skills have also a strength component into them (e.g. pistol squats) and as such you will not be able to train with them the same way you would train with a pure balancing exercise (e.g. walking on rails).

In regards to hand balancing, there are no pure balancing exercises and all of them have a strength element into them.

Pure balance exercises are not very challenging to the physical body and you can train with them numerous times per day and for a long period of time. In fact, the more you train the faster you are going to improve.

I suggest that you choose 3 balancing exercises to master at any one time. One exercise of hand balancing and two of leg balancing, one of which is pure balance and one that is not.

How Should I Warm Up For Balance Training Todd?

Again, this depends on what skill you are going to train for.

If you are going to train with skills that require strength, you should warm up with some easier progressions and gradually increase the difficulty.

Otherwise, you should be just fine by warming up your wrists or ankles.

When Should I Train For Balance?

You can train the pure balance skills every time you want. The way I like it, is to perform some sequences of the easier versions early when I wake up to help my mind become more focused. Other than that I sometimes include them in my warm up and cool down.

The non pure balance exercises should be trained according to a plan that helps you progress gradually. You can find some plans in sub-section below.

Training Resources

Because every training skill is different, you are going to need different plans on how to achieve each one of them.

For this reason, I am going to share with you some of the best tutorials I have found for some of the skills from above.

Bonus Section: 6 Amazing Acts Of Balance That Will Scare The Hell Out Of You

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As I told you in the beginning I enjoy watching extreme acts of balance. So, I decided to share with you the ones that thrilled me the most.

By sharing such things it doesn’t mean that I encourage you do something like that.

I share them mostly because these feats show the power of human will and can inspire all of us to deal with daily fears better by putting them in a more clear perspective.

Here are the feats…

Extreme Balance Feat #1: One Arm Hand Balancing On The Edge Of A Cliff

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-KEmElymx0

Extreme Balance Feat #2: The Skyscraper Walk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_iW50OBms4

Extreme Balance Feat #3: Crazy Russian Acrobatics

Extreme Balance Feat #4: Extreme Balance

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN8aoZf5cN0

Extreme Balance Feat #5: Death-Defying Balancing Act

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KQ_4OW7ZDU

Extreme Balance Feat #6: Ultimate Rush: Untethered Highlining

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5Z76TU2mY0

Conclusion

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By now you should be able to see that balance training can go to “places” (mental and emotional) where regular training fails to reach.

While conditioning workouts can help you become mentally tough, balance training is going to help you trancend your limitations through deep and unfettered focus.

Give it a serious try. You are going to be amazed.

Have you trained your balance before? How are you going to implement more balance traning into your current workouts? Let me know in the comment section below.

– Bodyweight Todd

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3 Comments
  1. Chris M.

    This is some great stuff Todd….planning on working from this standpoint soon….I love it

    Reply
  2. Richard

    Very good explanation!! It’s very important to add balance to our routine 🙂

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      So true Richard. Glad you liked it!

      Reply
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