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Five exercises to help improve your balance for icy conditions

As we all know, Wisconsin weather can be called confusing at best. Temperatures can swing from 30 degrees one day, to 70 degrees the next day. Wisconsin winters can be particularly problematic due to the snow, ice and cold that lasts from December through March. One area of concern is slipping or falling on the ice. In general, people are more careful when they can see ice in the way, but what happens when we run into black ice or ice covered with snow? Is there anything we can do to prevent these falls, or limit the severity of injury when slipping? There is! I have several exercises and tips that can keep you healthier during the Wisconsin winter ahead.

Here are five exercises I recommend to help prevent falls on Wisconsin ice this winter.

  1. Calf raises – The first line of defense in protecting against falls is our foot and ankle muscles. When slipping, these muscles contract to help stabilize the body. Practicing calf or heel raises can help strengthen your calf muscles and the supporting ankle muscles to stabilize the ankle. Standing with both feet shoulder width apart with toes pointed forward, lift your heels off the floor and put your weight on the ball of your foot. Repeat this ten times for three sets. For added difficulty, you can do a single leg calf raise.
    calf raises
  2. Single leg balance – similar to calf raises, doing a single leg balance helps stabilize and strengthen the ankle muscles as your first line of defense to protect against falls. Stand on the ground and lift one leg up towards your chest. Stay in this position for 15-30 seconds. Repeat two times on each leg. For added difficulty, stand on carpeting or a pillow. For those of you who say you don’t have time to do these exercises…balance while brushing your teeth. That should be at least one minute twice per day. This not only will protect you from falls, but maintain healthy teeth as well!single leg balance
  3. Chair squats – Stand about 1.5-2 feet in front of a chair, place your feet shoulder width apart with your toes pointed forwards. Slowly sit backwards and lower your butt back onto the chair. Lean forward and push back up. Ensure that your knees are not going over your toes. This helps strengthen your hips and legs and can help increase the size of your glutes. Ideally when we fall on the ice we want to land on our buttocks, given it’s a strong and fleshy area. Doing two sets of ten repetitions twice per day can get you started in the right direction.chair squat
  4. Lunges – Stand on one leg and step forward with the opposite leg. Slowly lower the knee towards the ground, ensuring that your knee is not going over your toes. Slowly stand back up and repeat on the opposite leg. Often times when slipping on the ice, you may get into this position and strengthening these muscles can help prevent groin, quad and hamstring tears. Performing two sets of ten repetitions on both legs can help strengthen your leg muscles.
    lunges
  5. Push-ups – In the event that you do fall and attempt to protect yourself, it is important to have upper body strength to control your fall, but also prevent against injuries to the upper body. In older patients, slips on the ice usually result in injuries to the legs, whereas with younger patients the injuries usually occur to the upper body. Lay on the ground facing down with your hands shoulder width apart. Either on your feet, or on your knees (easier position), straighten your arms until they are locked out. Slowly lower yourself back down to the ground. Do two sets of ten repetitions.
    push ups
    Here’s some other tips and tricks to keep you safe.
  • When a slip does happen try to fall on your butt. Our butt has the most amount of muscle and tissue and can easily absorb the force of hitting the ice. Attempting to catch yourself with your arms often results in shoulder dislocations, arm and wrist fractures. It is normal human nature to try to catch a fall, but it is proven safer to land on your butt.
  • Walk like a penguin. Taking short, flat-footed strides keeps a larger surface area on the ground and gives your body more stability. Penguins naturally have a foot-out gait that gives them better balance. So instead of taking large steps, take small controlled steps.
  • When carrying items make sure your body is balanced. Carrying heavy items in one arm causes the body to tilt in order to maintain balance, which can result in an inability to protect yourself, given you are carrying items.

About Joseph Fox

Joe Fox, MS, LAT provides athletic training services to Affinity Health System with outreach athletic training at Oshkosh North High School. He specializes in gait analysis and is the creator and director of Affinity Health System’s Gait Analysis program. Joe earned his Bachelor’s degree in kinesiology-exercise science with an emphasis in athletic training in 2005 from the University of Wisconsin Madison and earned his Master’s degree in exercise science – athletic training from the University of Iowa in 2007.

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