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A 29-day challenge to improve your balance and build strength

Al Roker says he wants to improve his balance. So we're all tackling the important goal with this stability and strength walking plan.

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When I was walking with Al Roker and our Start TODAY members through the streets of New York City last month to kick off our 100-Mile Challenge, we got to chatting. Al shared with me his goal of improving his balance while walking — something that every single one of us can benefit from.?

So here we are! Thanks to Al, our February workout challenge is focused on improving strength and stability in the body to support you in everyday activities and help you walk more efficiently.

This month we’ll be adding two strength and stability workouts to our walking routine: A 5-minute workout focused specifically on building core strength — the main source of balance in the body — and a full-body balance workout that will challenge your stability and strengthen the lower body and core.

Why is balance training important?

When we walk, lift weights or perform any daily movement (from standing up from a chair to bending down to pick something up), our body recruits stabilizing muscles for balance. These include smaller muscles in your feet and around your ankles, muscles in the front and sides of your hips, and muscles of the core that help with posture and trunk stability. Strengthening these muscles helps to improve our overall body mechanics, allowing us to move more efficiently and reducing risk of pain and injury.

Not to mention that our balance is a reflection of our overall health, especially as we age. In fact, a recent report published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people who couldn’t stand on one foot for 10 seconds were nearly twice as likely to die in the next 10 years. (The participants researchers analyzed were ages 51 to 75.)

A bonus is that balance training really fires up the core — since it’s the foundation of balance in the body. So by incorporating balance training into your routine you won’t only be stronger and more stable in your daily movements, but you may also feel tighter and more toned in your midsection.

29-day balance and walking workout plan

Start TODAY Balance workout and walking plan

>>Download a printable calendar

>>Want to track your walking mileage this month? Get a printable calendar for February here.

5-minute core workout

Work your core in all directions with this quick routine.

plank

Plank

Come onto your hands and knees, opening the hands as wide as the shoulders and the knees as wide as the hips. Pull the abs in and step the feet back to come up into a plank position. Make sure the shoulders stay over the wrists and be mindful not to round or arch the back. Engage the core to keep your back flat. Hold for 10 seconds, rest, and repeat for a total of 3 times.

?*Optional: Add resistance band around ankles to make this more challenging.

Pilates roll down

Pilates roll down

Sit up on the floor with your back straight, shoulders relaxed and down, and your feet resting in front of you, hips-width apart. Bend your knees so that your feet rest flat on the ground. Extend both arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height. Begin rolling your body back toward the ground slowly, rounding your back and neck. Allow your low back to touch the ground first, then your middle back, then your upper back. Lie down on the ground and reach the arms overhead. Then slowly roll back up to the starting position, first peeling your upper back off the ground, then middle back, and finally the lower back. Repeat for 10 reps.

?*Optional: Add resistance band around upper thighs to make this more challenging.

bird dog

Bird dog

Start on all fours with your shoulder over your wrists and hips stacked above the knees. Straighten your left arm out in front of you and your right leg out behind you, balancing on your opposite hand and knee. Hold for a few breaths. For an added challenge, bend your left elbow and your right knee in toward each other until they touch underneath your stomach. Switch sides and repeat using your right arm and left leg. Continue alternating, performing 10 reps on each side.?

dead bug

Dead bug

Start lying on your back. Keep your shoulders and low back flat on the floor as you lift your arms straight toward the sky, above your shoulders. Then, lift your legs and bend your knees into a tabletop position, stacked over your hips at a 90-degree angle. Exhale, engaging the core, as you slowly lower the opposite arm and leg (left leg and right arm), hovering them above the floor. Return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side (right leg and left arm). Repeat for 5 repetitions on each side.

bridge pose

Bridge pose

Start lying on your back. Rest your arms straight down at your sides with your palms on the floor and bend your knees so that your ankles are under your knees. With your head resting on the floor, slowly raise your hips in the direction of the ceiling by curling up your lower back, middle back and then upper back. Once you’re up in the air, take a deep breathe in. Then, exhale as you slowly roll down one vertebra at a time. Lower your hips back to ground and repeat the exercise 10 times.

?*Optional: Add resistance band around upper thighs to make this more challenging.

Balance workout

Single leg deadlift

Single leg deadlift

Stand tall with your feet as wide as your hips. Put your weight into your left leg and come up on to your right toe, using it as a kickstand for balance. Begin to hinge at the waist, keeping your left knee soft. Place your hands on your hips for balance. Continue to hinge forward as you slowly lift your right leg up and back until your body forms a straight line from head to toe. If you feel balanced, you can reach your arms down toward the ground. Ensure that your hips stay square to the ground. Pause, and then return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times before switching sides.

  • Advanced modification: Place a resistance band around your forearms for more of a challenge.
  • Beginner modification: Perform a backwards leg lift instead.?
Tree pose

Tree pose

Begin standing tall with your back straight. Keep your right foot flat on the ground. Bend your left knee and bring the left foot to the inside of your right thigh. Make sure to point your bended knee outward toward the left side of your body. Bring your hands in front of your chest in a prayer position and hold for 30 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.

  • Advanced modification: Bring your arms up overhead for more of a balance challenge.
  • Beginner modification: Place the foot onto the calf, ankle or even balance your toes on the ground with your heel on your ankle for more support.?
Warrior III

Warrior III

Standing with your feet hips-distance apart and your hands on your hips, slowly hinge forward at the hips, lowering your chest toward the ground. At the same time, reach your right leg up and back until it is parallel to the ground. Think about reaching your foot toward the back of the room and your head toward the front of the room. Reach your arms forward so the biceps are alongside the ears, and reach through the fingertips. Hold for 2 breaths, then come back to the starting position and switch sides. Repeat 3 times to each side.

  • Advanced modification: Hold for 4 breaths.
  • Beginner modification: Tilt halfway forward and lift your leg behind you only halfway.
Plank shoulder taps

?Plank shoulder taps

Come into a plank position with your shoulders over your wrists. Spread your fingers wide. Pull your naval in toward your spine and shift your weight to your left hand as you lift your right hand up and tap your left shoulder. Place the right hand down and shift your weight to your right hand. Tap the left hand to the right shoulder. Engage your core to keep you hips level. Repeating for 10 repetitions on each side.

  • Advanced modification: Add a resistance band around the ankles.
  • Beginner modification: Perform this on your knees.?
 Backwards lunge into knee

Backward lunge into knee lift

Stand with your feet hips-width apart. Step the right foot back into a?lunge position. Engage your abs and lower your right leg down until your knee almost touches the floor. Then return to standing, but instead of bringing your right foot to rest on the ground, pull it up toward your chest, balancing on your left leg. Slowly step it back into the backward lunge. Repeat 10 times before switching sides.

  • Advanced modification: Place a resistance band around your forearms and hold your arms in a goalpost position during the exercise.
  • Beginner modification: Perform a backward leg lift (instead of a backward lunge) into the knee lift.
Balance Beam Walk

Balance beam walk

Balance a book on your head and walk forward with one foot in front of the other, like you're walking on a tightrope. Then walk backward the same way. Be sure to step heel-to-toe, so that your right foot is directly in front of your left with the right heel almost touching your left toes. Walk in a straight line for five steps forward and then 5 steps backward. Repeat 3 times.

  • Advanced modification: Do the exercise with your eyes closed.
  • Beginner modification: Remove the book or hold your arms out to the sides for added stability.
Lateral Shuffle

Lateral shuffle

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and sit your butt back almost into a full squat. Take a step to the right with your right foot, and then step the left foot toward the right. Take three steps to the right then three steps to the left. Repeat this five times for 30 seconds.

  • Advanced modification: Place a band around your upper thighs.
  • Beginner modification: Stand upright with a soft bend in your knees (half squat) rather than a deep bend into a full squat.
Touchdown Arms with One Leg Balance

Touchdown arms with one leg balance

Stand tall with your feet as hips-distance apart. Loop a resistance band around your forearms and bring your arms into a goal-post position. Then pull your abs in and bring your right knee up so that your thigh is parallel with the ground. Hold for 5 seconds, then switch sides. Perform 10 repetitions on each side.

  • Beginner modification: Perform the exercise without a band.
side plank

Side plank

Start in a plank position. Slowly twist your torso toward the left, stacking your feet with the right edge of the right foot on the mat. Continue rotating the entire body to the left so that you are balancing on your right hand and the edge of your right foot. Keep your legs stacked and reach your left hand straight up toward the ceiling. Hold for 10 seconds before switching sides (so that you’re balancing on your left hand and the edge of your left foot.) Repeat 3 times total.

  • Advanced modification: Place a band around your upper thighs and pulse the top leg up 10 times in each side plank
  • Beginner modification: Perform the side plank on your knees.
v sit

?V-sit

Start in a seated position with your knees bent and your feet resting on the floor in front of you. Engage your core muscles and gently lean back a couple of inches. Slowly lift your legs up in the air so that they are in a table-top position. Reach your arms straight out in front of you so that they are parallel to the ground. Keeping your core engaged, extend the legs straight up at a 45-degree angle into a “V” position. Hold this “V” position with the shoulders relaxed, abs pulled in and inner thighs squeezing together for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times.

  • Advanced modification: Reach your arms up alongside your ears.
  • Beginner modification: Hold onto the backs of the legs for support or keep the legs in the table-top position instead of extending them straight. You can also place a resistance band around your ankles or upper thighs to help with balance.

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