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9 Moves to Balance Your Body Strength

Nine simple drills that balance your entire body, so you're strong and flexible from head to toe.

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Move: Strengthen Abs
Photo by Susan Pittard
Colin Hayes
Colin Hayes
Colin Hayes
Colin Hayes
Colin Hayes
Colin Hayes
Colin Hayes
Colin Hayes
Colin Hayes
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About This Workout

A physique that has perfect symmetry starts with what you can't see in the mirror. Work out your weak links -- the differences in strength and flexibility between your left and right side, your upper and lower body, and your front and back halves -- and "you can sculpt an incredible form," says Gray Cook, a physical therapist and the author of Athletic Body in Balance. Cook has acted as a body whisperer to Olympians and everyday exercisers alike, so tie your drawstrings and get ready to unlock your roadblocks with his nine simple drills. Let's see what this baby can do!

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Your Move Groove

These first five tests will tease out any glitches that are keeping your muscles from working together the way they're meant to. Grab some strips of masking tape and a broomstick and give yourself three chances to nail each task. For any that you fail, add that drill to your workout routine. "If you focus on acing these movements, the muscles will take care of themselves," Cook says. Keep tabs as you go by jotting down each pass or fail, and heads up: You must conquer the tests in each section before attempting the next.

Straight-Leg Raise
Sit much? The couch-potato position can lead to a combo of tight hip flexors and hamstrings, which will nip the range of your legs' motion in this drill.

  • Lie faceup on floor, arms out to sides with palms facing up.
  • Lift straightened left leg directly up. Your goal is to have the leg nearly perpendicular to your body while your head, arms, and right leg remain neutral and in contact with the floor. Achieving an angle of 70 degrees or more is good enough for a pass.
  • Lower left leg to floor and repeat test with right leg.

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Trunk Rotation

Hunching at your desk can cause your core muscles to weaken in some spots and tighten in others. But failing this test on your left side doesn't necessarily mean that's your tight half, just that all the muscles along the movement pattern could use more practice twists.

  • Holding broomstick across your collarbone with both hands, palms facing in with arms crisscrossed, sit cross-legged inside a doorway with shins touching frame.
  • With back tall and broomstick held in place, rotate torso to the right. Your goal is to touch the door frame with the broomstick while it remains level and in contact with your collarbone.
  • Return to center and repeat to the left.

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In-Line Lunge

So you think you can dance -- now prove it. This drill reveals whether your hips and core work in sync for everything from hoisting groceries to doing Zumba.

  • Cut a piece of tape the length of your shin and stick it on floor perpendicularly across threshold of doorway. (Make sure tape is centered.)
  • Holding broomstick across your shoulders with both hands, palms facing forward, stand in doorway with left foot forward, heel abutting front end of tape, and right toes touching back end of tape.
  • Lower right knee to touch tape. Your goal is for your right knee to touch the heel of your left foot while you keep the broomstick level (no touching the door frame).
  • Switch sides and repeat.

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Hurdle Step

This drill is all about balance. You may think that walking around in high heels all the time will mean you crush this one, but the opposite is true: Keeping your calves perpetually propped up saps their ability to fire when needed.

  • Attach a strip of tape across a doorway at a level just below your kneecap to create a hurdle.
  • Holding broomstick across shoulders with both hands, palms facing forward, stand with feet together facing hurdle, toes just below tape.
  • Slowly bring left foot over tape and tap left heel on floor. Your goal is to clear the tape without touching it while your body remains relatively still; the broomstick shouldn't dip or touch the doorway.
  • Return to starting position and repeat with right foot.

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Deep Squat

This test puts the previous movement patterns together in one package. Having a hard time passing? Practice the first four drills until you nail them all -- that should do the trick when you attempt this one again.

  • Place a piece of tape on floor perpendicular to threshold of doorway and about a foot from door frame.
  • Holding broomstick overhead with both hands, palms facing forward, stand in doorway with feet shoulder-width apart and toes straight ahead, touching tape.
  • Lower into as deep a squat as possible. Your goal is to keep your heels flat on the floor, feet parallel and hips below the knees. No part of the body or broomstick should touch the door frame.

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Core Curriculum

Get to the center of things: Test how strong your abs and back muscles are. For the drills below, try to do as many reps on one side as the other; your totals need to be within 10 percent of each other in order to pass. That means if you cranked out 20 push-ups with your left arm, you'll need to do at least 18 with your right to be in the symmetrical zone. The same rules apply as with section one: Whenever you fall short on a test, make that move your homework. "Try to double the number of repetitions you do on your weak side while using a 70-to-30 ratio of reps versus your other side," Cook suggests. That is, do seven repetitions on your weaker arm or leg for every three you do on the stronger one. Only when you can pass these two tests should you try your hand, er, body at the next section. Hit it!

One-Handed Push-Up
Think of your core as having four quadrants, Cook says. This drill will reveal how strong those upper quadrants are.

  • Start on floor in full push-up position (with arms straight), right palm resting on a basketball or a low step (second or third step), left palm flat on floor.
  • Your goal is to do as many push-ups as you can with good form, keeping your back straight.
  • Switch sides, placing left hand on ball or step and right hand on floor; repeat.
  • Compare your rep totals.

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Chair Pistol Squat

The strength of your core's lower quadrants, challenged here, affects whether your legs have what Cook calls "movement competency" -- that is, mobility, stability, and strength. Who doesn't want that?

  • Sit on edge of a chair seat, arms extended in front of you, left foot raised off floor.
  • Push through right heel to stand up on right leg.
  • Sit back down briefly and repeat. Do as many reps as you can.
  • Switch sides and repeat on left leg.
  • Compare your rep totals.

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Upper- and Lower-Body Power

Pair strength with speed and you've got power. Power is the key to so many moves, including your tennis swing and box jumps in CrossFit. Find out here which is your better half, using tape and a tape measure. If you flub either drill, again, practice makes perfect.

One Clap Push-Up
If you can't master this test of upper-body muscle, work up to it like so: From a full push-up position (arms straight), lift your left hand up to tap your right shoulder before putting your palm back on the floor; switch sides and repeat. Do as many reps as possible.

  • Start on floor in full push-up position, balancing on hands and toes.
  • Lower chest toward floor, bending elbows out to sides, then quickly press up, lifting palms off floor to clap them together before landing in start position.
  • Your goal is to do a single one-clap push-up.

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Standing Long Jump

"Women are typically more powerful in their lower body relative to their upper body," Cook says. But that doesn't mean this one's a cinch: Give yourself three tries.

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes behind a strip of tape on floor, arms bent by sides.
  • Leap as far forward as you can and use tape to mark your landing spot. Measure distance with tape measure.
  • To pass this test, your jump should be greater than the height of your body.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2013.

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