Keeping active

Lauren Davenport, Senior Physiologist at AXA Health

Exercises to improve your balance and coordination

Exercise and Fitness

2 April 2024

Good balance and coordination is particularly important to help prevent falls and injury. Our muscles play a vital role in fall prevention as they stabilise our joints, however we can lose between 3-8% of muscle every decade after 301. Lauren Davenport, AXA Health senior physiologist  and qualified personal trainer, explains which exercises can help maintain muscular strength, and improve balance and coordination.  

Why is improving balance and coordination important?

Balance training is something that may not spring to mind when planning a fitness regime. However, it can add value and is worth doing at any age. Especially as we get older, we’re subject to an array of problems that can affect our balance. Conditions such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and heart disease2 can all affect our ability to move freely and make us less steady on our feet.

On top of this, we can lose between 3-8% of our muscles every decade after 30, which is known as Sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is a natural part of aging, however, its prevention is especially important as we age to reduce falls and injuries, which may in turn affect our self-confidence, ability to socialise, to maintain healthy levels of activity or look after ourselves or others. 

Balance training can be as simple as practicing standing from sitting with as little support as is safe to do so, but the most important aspect of improving balance is strength training. Strength training can include any form of exercise that focuses on increasing muscle strength, typically through resistance exercises such as weightlifting, or bodyweight exercises. 

Why is strength training important?

One of the best things anyone can do to improve their balance is through strength training. Strength training helps to maintain muscle and bone density which helps to reduce the potential effects of sarcopenia. 

In relation to balance, by strengthening the muscles of the body we generate greater stability and are therefore less likely to fall. This is known as dynamic balance and is the most important when it comes to preventing falls.

The key muscles to focus on are those of the back, legs and abdomen as these are particularly important in control, stability and coordination.

Here are our top 5 exercises to help boost balance and coordination


How to do it:

  • Stand with feet roughly hip width apart, toes pointing slightly out.
  • Brace your core before starting.
  • Simultaneously bend the hips and knees so that you sit straight down – you could imagine you’re about to sit on a toilet.
  • As you move down, breathe in, and as you come up breathe out.
  • Don’t allow your knees to cave in, as this could cause future problems for your knees.
  • Keep your chest up and out throughout.
  • Avoid squatting so low that your chest falls forwards or your hips tuck underneath you.
  • You could try doing these while waiting for your morning coffee to brew.

A squat works all the key muscles, such as:

  • the quads,
  • hamstrings,
  • glutes,
  • and back

and helps create stability and support for the major joints of the body, including the knees, hips and spine. This makes it a key exercise for improving balance and preventing falls.

If the squat is too difficult for you right now, why not practice by standing up and sitting down on a chair to help you as you build your strength up. If squats are easy, or you would like some more variation, a split squat version will create more stability demands.

The coaching points for split squats remain the same, you are just moving into a lunge position, where one foot is in front of the other, with enough space that you can bend both knees without them going over the toes. Make sure the pelvis is tucked under and keep an upright trunk position, holding onto a counter if more stability is needed.

Hip thrust

How to do it:

  • Set up a bench/sofa behind you, resting the bottom of your shoulder blades on top of the bench.
  • Bring your feet up to 90 degrees, hip width apart.
  • Brace your core to stop your back from arching.
  • Squeeze your glutes (your bottom muscles) to lift yourself up and then lower yourself back down.

Similar to the squat, a hip thrust works the major muscles of the legs and back but puts more emphasis on the glutes, which are key stabilisers of the hips making it a great exercise for your balance.

To add an extra stability challenge, hip thrusts can be done on one leg instead of two. Nothing changes doing the single leg version, other than lifting one leg off the floor.

Single arm dumbbell row

How to do it:

  • Set up a flat bench or use a suitable alternative.
  • Choose a dumbbell weight that you are comfortable with, or something from around the house that provides resistance, e.g., a tin can or water bottle.
  • You want to set yourself up on the bench in the tripod position, which is:
  • One arm on the bench straight down below your shoulder.
  • One knee on the bench directly below your hips.
  • The other leg is on the floor, roughly also below your hip.
  • In this position your back should be flat, if it’s not, adjust the knee and/or foot position.
  • Start the exercise holding the dumbbell straight down below the shoulder.
  • Using the muscles of your back, row the dumbbell towards your hip, leading with the upper arm – imagine you are trying to put the dumbbell in your pocket.
  • Hold the dumbbell in this position for a second, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Return to the start position to finish the rep.

The single arm dumbbell row is an excellent exercise for developing the muscles of the back as it involves movement of the shoulder blades and stabilisation of the spine, both key for maintaining balance. If you are unable to do this exercise, most gyms have either a machine row or a suspension system you could use.


How to do it:

  • Lying on your front come up on to your elbows, with them positioned directly under your shoulders.
  • Come up on your feet, similar to the press up position.
  • Your back should be flat.
  • Brace your core, imagine your bracing your spine all the way around, 360°.
  • Hold this position throughout the exercise, your hips should not drop or rise at all.

The plank should be one of the primary exercises in your balance training as it helps to strengthen the muscles of our core, so helps develop bracing and stability at the hips and spine

The core is vital for transferring forces from the lower body to upper body, so being strong in this area makes it easier to do this. In turn it will make it easier to correct yourself should your balance be challenged.

A plank can be made easier by raising your elbows up on to a bench or sofa. It can be made harder by simply increasing the time you hold if for, or by adding additional weight to the centre of your back.

Single leg balance exercise

How to do it:

  • A basic balance exercise is standing on one foot, lifting the other leg off the floor.
  • If that’s too easy, try using an unstable surface such as a wobble board or cushion.
  • Place one foot in the centre of the unstable surface.
  • Brace your core and lift your supporting leg off the floor.
  • Try and remain as still as possible.
  • To challenge yourself, try then closing your eyes, but only if comfortable – and safe to do so.

Unstable surface training can be beneficial to regain proprioception3 in the feet and legs after an injury has occurred. It may be beneficial as part of an overall programme as well.

Proprioception is the ability to stabilise oneself against perturbations – i.e., readjusting position and posture when our balance is challenged. Proprioception is largely developed through childhood, but it can be retrained if lost through injury or de-training and is therefore worth implementing throughout life.

Bonus exercise: press ups

How to do it:

  • Start on the floor and put your hands just outside shoulder width.
  • Raise up on to your feet, straight out behind you.
  • Your back should be flat.
  • Brace your core.
  • Imagine you are trying to ‘screw’ your hands into the floor.
  • Slowly lower yourself until you are just off the floor.
  • Using the muscles of the chest and your triceps push yourself back up to the start position.
  • If too difficult, start on your knees or against a kitchen counter, gradually building up to a full press up.

A press up is not necessarily going to prevent falls but in the case of a fall occurring, having the strength in the chest and triceps may allow you to break your fall and reduce the severity of injury.

This will happen because press ups will help develop stability at the shoulder and the strength to resist the arm collapsing when you try to break your fall. It therefore should not be overlooked.


  1. Muscle tissue changes with aging - National Library of Medicine
  2. Physical activity guidelines for older adults - NHS
  3. Proprioception - Science Direct

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