While it’s good to feel grounded on your own two feet (or hands), lifting a leg up can kick all of your ab and back muscles into overdrive—it’s an effort to regain stability. And the action pays off, improving core strength and boosting overall balance.
For one, when incorporated into a warm-up, instability can help ‘prime’ the body without fatiguing it, says Alex Zimmerman, director of Equinox’s Tier X program. It can also introduce a variability, allowing you to challenge brain and body. “It is a skill in and of itself,” Zimmerman says. “It can allow you to develop a greater overall movement toolbox.”
The following arm and leg balances require a solid amount of strength and stability to execute. Start slowly and smartly. Try to incorporate one or two into your regular routine each week.
To go from two arms to one, start from a handstand with your legs straddled (which distributes your weight to make this balance easier). Focus on pushing into the ground with your standing hand, stacking all your weight into that balance point. With practice, your other hand will begin to feel light enough to lift off the ground.
Stand in front of a lounge chair (or bench) with feet hip-width apart, hands fisted under chin, elbows by sides. Place ball of right foot on top of lounge chair behind you, and then squat down, keeping back tall and bending knees until right knee taps ground; push through your heel to return to start. Do 10 to 15 reps, switch sides and repeat.
While it looks like this pose is about getting the knee to the elbow, “the strength actually comes from squeezing the side body to pull the thigh into the arm,” Werner says. “It’s about lifting the chest and stacking the hips like you would in a side plank.” It’s also one of the most difficult single-arm balances, says Werner. “It’s one of those poses you have to practice for years. I can only hold it for a minute or so—it’s quite strength intensive."
Stand on a short wall (or bench), balancing on your left foot, with right leg hanging off the side and arms extended at shoulder level in front of you. Keeping chest up, abs engaged and shoulders down, squat, bending left knee, as you begin to lift extended right leg straight out in front of you. Slowly return to start, lowering your arms down to sides, and kick right leg slightly behind you. Do 10 to 15 reps; switch sides and repeat.
Stand with feet together and hold kettlebell with right hand in front of thigh, arm extended and palm facing left. Bend left knee slightly as you bend forward from hips, extending right leg to hip height behind you as you lower the kettlebell toward floor. Rise up to starting position and repeat. Do 8 reps; switch sides and repeat.