Most Falls are Preventable—Get Stronger for Better Balance

Dave performs a bicep curl while standing on one leg. Most falls are preventable with balance training.


More than one in four older adults falls every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fortunately, most falls are preventable.

Strength and balance training is one of the CDC’s top recommendations for preventing falls. I have witnessed my personal training clients achieve significant improvements in their strength and balance, reducing their fall risk and enhancing their quality of life.

Real People, Real Results

For Jack, 81, our workouts helped him play his best tennis ever. We practiced forward and lateral balance, enabling Jack to move around the tennis court with confidence.

Janet, 69, aspires to hike every trail in her guidebook, 100 Classic Hikes: Washington. Our workouts provide a safe environment to practice walking on unstable surfaces. We use a balance pad, BOSU ball, and half-round foam roller to simulate the uneven terrain of her planned hikes.

Melody, Dave, Gary, and Lesley, ages 60-72, have formed their own exercise group to motivate each other. I’ve witnessed increases in their strength, along with the ability to perform increasingly challenging balance exercises.

Balance-Improving Exercises

One way to assess balance is the single-leg stand. Stand on two feet behind a sturdy chair, then lift one foot off the floor. Count the number of seconds you can hold this position before putting your foot down. Once you can hold it for 20 seconds, you can progress by closing your eyes.

Remember: Perform all exercises described here safely. Stand behind a chair or within arm’s length of a wall, so you can steady yourself if necessary.

To improve dynamic (moving) balance, I like the tightrope walk. Walk forward in a straight line using a heel-to-toe gait, like walking a tightrope. To make it easier, instead of walking heel-to-toe, take longer steps for increased stability.

Lateral balance is also important, for example, when getting out of a car, or when stepping sideways to avoid an obstacle in your path. Try the box drill—step sideways into an imaginary box, one foot at a time, then step back out again.

Down But Not Out

One study on balance training for older adults theorizes that falls are most likely to occur when our attention is divided.

A client in his 80s was on a sightseeing walk with his grandchildren when he tripped and fell over a crack in the sidewalk. He told me that he’d been so focused on enjoying the scenery that he forgot to watch where he was walking. Fortunately, he was unhurt. He had been doing strength training consistently and I believe this helped his bones, muscles, and joints overcome his fall.

The study recommends that balance training should incorporate dual- and multi-task exercises. Try this: Stand on one leg while performing a weighted bicep curl with one arm.

Better balance is achievable. Many exercises require no special equipment. As a personal trainer, I recommend a regimen of strength training and balance-specific exercises for reducing fall risk and improving quality of life.

Mike Harms owns a personal training studio in Edmonds, Wash. He is certified in training older adults. Learn more at

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