We’ve talked about how to balance on one foot and on your hands, but sometimes it’s nice to do an exercise that isn’t just about balance. Plenty of standard strength training moves can be done in a one-sided way, challenging your brain and body and giving you a heck of a core workout.
Use one dumbbell
Hold a heavy-ish dumbbell in just one hand — if you have two, put the other on the floor — and do the arm exercise of your choice. For example, you could stand and press it overhead.
You’ll notice that your entire body has to adjust to keep you balanced: The muscles at the sides of your torso have to engage, and you may also feel it in the hip on your opposite side. You’ll also have to pay more attention to exactly how you move the dumbbell, to be sure it’s on a steady path the whole time.
Find an unsteady surface
Want to make this more challenging? Do a one-dumbbell bench press, but with your back on an exercise ball instead of a bench. The ball will want to wobble under you (be careful here, and use light weight at first). The rest of your body will have to work even harder to stabilise you.
You can use unstable surfaces for any exercise: Bosu squats are a classic, or you can use any kind of pad or cushion. Don’t go too heavy; these shouldn’t take the place of regular squats or your usual leg exercises. They’re most helpful to get your body used to unusual movements and to give your brain a fun challenge.
Lunges and split squats may not look like a balance exercise, since both feet are on the floor, but when you try them you’ll find your body wants to fall to the right or the left. You’ll have to step carefully, and stay aware of how your weight is supported on your feet.
My personal nemesis in this category is the Bulgarian split squat. I love/hate this so much, it’s my go-to move when I’m stuck in a hotel gym with just a few dumbbells. You rest one foot on a bench behind you, then do your best to squat with the leg that remains on the floor.
It only takes a little bit of weight to make this an intensely challenging move, and you will feel it (oh, how you will feel it) in the side of your butt.
This article has been updated since its original publication.