Thursday, 29 August 2019

Why Tai Chi Improves Your Balance?

We have received many reports from our participants - 85% aged 70 and over - saying how their balance has improved after joining one of our classes.

For some time now Helen and I have speculated that the eight core movements of the Tai Chi of Arthritis/Falls Prevention (TCA/FP) programme target some particular muscle groups seen as important in maintaining our balance, especially as we get older.

The eight core movements from Tai Chi for Arthritis/Falls Prevention - Part 1.

Research has shown the TCA/FP programme developed by Australian GP Dr. Paul Lam has proven beneficial in falls prevention as well as promoting improvement in general health and wellbeing:
“The Sydney Central Area Health Promotion study is community based and the world’s largest fall prevention study with 700 subjects. After 16 weeks of Tai Chi (80% doing Tai Chi for Arthritis), the incident of multiple falls was reduced by an incredible 70%.”
Alexander Voukelatos et all, Journal American Geriatrics Society, AUGUST 2007–VOL. 55, NO. 8, A Randomized, Controlled Trial of tai chi for the Prevention of Falls: The Central Sydney tai chi Trial. (NB: 80% of subjects were taught Tai Chi for Arthritis).
We think the benefits of the TCA/FP programme stems from the emphasis on the weight bearing movement from side to side found in the eight core movements. From an anatomical and movement science point of view we describe this side to side movement as happening medio-laterally and in the frontal plane.

Exercise physiologist and exercise scientist, Sean Wilson, in a recent article at his blog Fit Grey Strong has speculated, like us, that the muscles on the outside of the hip (the abductors) and inside leg (adductors) play a significant role in maintaining our balance as we get older. He references some very interesting research into the important role these muscle groups play in maintaining our balance. See below for the references mentioned.

The research suggests that exercise programmes aimed at improving balance and preventing falls could benefit from more emphasis on movements that strengthen these particular muscle groups.

The sequences found within the eight core movements called, Single Whip (to the right and left) and Wave Hands (to the right and left) target these muscles. Both sequences emphasize controlled transfer of weight from side to side, from one leg to the other and back again.

Many of our participants say they can feel how hard their hips muscles work when we practise these movements in our classes.

We aim to support all the programmes we teach with evidence from research, especially in relation to balance and strength in older adults. It seems we may now know a little more about why the TCA/FP programme has performed so well in falls prevention.

If you enjoyed this blog you may like our previous blog post on Keeping strong. As we get older we begin to lose muscle mass, strength and power. Staying strong can help us enjoy a high quality of life and have a positive impact on preventing falls as we get older.

Please do share this blog post with family, friends and colleagues who you think might like to read it.

Research referenced by Sean Wilson at Fit Grey Strong with three bonus papers on Tai Chi and its influence on our gait - 2. 8. & 9.

Daun F, Kibele A. Different strength declines in leg primary movers versus stabilizers across age—Implications for the risk of falls in older adults? PLoS One [Internet]. 2019 Mar 7 [cited 2019 Aug 29];14(3). Available from:
Tseng S-C, Liu W, Finley M, McQuade K. Muscle activation profiles about the knee during Tai-Chi stepping movement compared to the normal gait step. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology [Internet]. 2007 Jun 1 [cited 2019 Aug 23];17(3):372–80. Available from:
Inacio M, Creath R, Rogers MW. Low-dose hip abductor-adductor power training improves neuromechanical weight-transfer control during lateral balance recovery in older adults. Clinical Biomechanics [Internet]. 2018 Dec 1 [cited 2019 Aug 19];60:127–33. Available from:
Inacio M, Creath R, Rogers MW. Effects of aging on hip abductor-adductor neuromuscular and mechanical performance during the weight transfer phase of lateral protective stepping. J Biomech. 2019 03;82:244–50.
Porto JM, Freire JĂșnior RC, Bocarde L, Fernandes JA, Marques NR, Rodrigues NC, et al. Contribution of hip abductor-adductor muscles on static and dynamic balance of community-dwelling older adults. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2019 May;31(5):621–7.
Takizawa M, Suzuki Y, Kobayashi Y. Adductor magnus is just as much an antigravity muscle around hip joint as gluteus maximus. Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine [Internet]. 2018 Jul 1 [cited 2019 Aug 19];61:e536–7. Available from:
Mille M-L, Johnson-Hilliard M, Martinez KM, Zhang Y, Edwards BJ, Rogers MW. One step, two steps, three steps more ... Directional vulnerability to falls in community-dwelling older people. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2013 Dec;68(12):1540–8.
Zhu Q, Huang L, Wu X, Wang L, Zhang Y, Fang M, et al. Effects of Tai Ji Quan training on gait kinematics in older Chinese women with knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Sport and Health Science [Internet]. 2016 Sep 1 [cited 2019 Jul 7];5(3):297–303. Available from:
Hong Y, Li JX. Biomechanics of Tai Chi: A review. Sports Biomechanics [Internet]. 2007 Sep 1 [cited 2019 Jul 7];6(3):453–64. Available from: