3 Ways to Improve Balance with Your Pilates Clients
1. Toe Balance. Have client hold onto a barre or wall if there is a chance of falling, and have client roll up onto their toes slowly, maintaining weight in the big toe metatarsal (don't allow ankle to supinate). You can add a soft ball between the ankles to maintain alignment. They can hold for a breath and then control down. Add a plié (kneed bend) to stretch the calf. So like in Ballet, plié, straight, relevé but in parallel, not turn-out.
2. Single Leg Balance. Marching is a simple and wonderful way to work on balance and is very functional as it mimics gait. For clients with the potential to fall, have them hold onto a barre or a pole for support. Ultimately you'll want to not use a support so clients can swing their arms.
High Knees Marching. Start with lifting the thighs as high as possible while still maintaining spine stability. Allow arms to swing contra-laterally as you would while walking. The back arm should swing back with some power and create rotation in the spine. Start at a brisk pace and then get slower until you are going in slow motion and holding the Single Leg Balance for 1-2 breaths.
3. Glute Strengthening. The glutes are the main stabilizers of the pelvis while upright. As we age we lose a lot of glute mass so its key to target this area specifically and intensely. Single Leg Balance (above) will strengthen the gluteus medius, which fires whenever we are on one leg. To work the gluteus maximus, work on hip extension. You may notice that many people as they get older walk around hunched forward, often walking in hip flexion. They simply stop extending through their hips. This will atrophy the gluteus maximus. With clients like this you'll need to start with stretching the psoas, hip flexor group before you try the following hip extension exercises.
Squats: My all time favorite functional exercise. Squats teach how to properly bend at the hip and protect the spine. Squats work all the muscles of the lower limb. When training clients, especially older clients, focus on the standing up part of the movement, making sure the hips come into full extension. Have clients "squeeze their sit bones together" at the top, really squeezing their glutes. I like to say "make your bum like 2 coconuts" that's how hard I want them to be!
Bridge: works glute max and hamstrings while stretching the hip flexors.
Single Leg Bridge: works glute max, glute medius, and hamstrings.