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Building Better Balance Training & Pelvic Control

sandbag training

Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist (Creator of DVRT Restoration,  Pelvic Control, & Shoulder Course)

The other day, I wrote about what it really means to have “balance” and better exercises for pelvic control (you can read HERE). Balance is something I hear a lot and when I worked with at risk fall patients in the clinic, it was a primary focus of mine. However, what people often don’t realize is that balance is actually a pretty complex topic. It isn’t any ONE thing and there has been research to show that one balance task doesn’t predict how well you do in any other balance task. So, it can be specific. 

With that in mind, why do I focus on “balance” as well as the idea of pelvic control? What most of us think of balance is our ability to maintain our center of mass over our base of support. A great example of why people find exercises like lunges so difficult to “balance” is because as we step in one direction we have our center of mass actively moving over our base of support. That requires us to have strength in deceleration as much as creating force. This is a BIG reason in DVRT we prioritize more dynamic forms of strength training. 

How does pelvic control play a part in all this? Your pelvis can be thought of as the foundation of how to control your trunk and transfer force through your extremities. So many knee, low back, and shoulder issues are due actually to lack of pelvic control. Even when I work with athletes that can squat a ton, but their low backs bother them, it is often lack of pelvic control. 

This is why we spend so much time talking about dead bugs, bird dogs, side planks, and half kneeling drills. These are foundational to having good pelvic control and why Josh correlated many of these to healthy shoulders (you can read HERE). 

How else can we build these qualities and assess how much “balance” you have as well as pelvic control. One way I am defining balance in the context of our training is, “how well can you control your body in preventing unwanted movement.” That makes what most people think of balance actually very close to the idea of stability as well. 

One technique that I like, is something I took away from Gray Cook and Functional Movement Screen. Which is creating environments that require our reflexive systems to learn how to do all this very efficiently. While we have spoken a lot about how unstable surfaces don’t translate to better strength (the jumps in instability are too great as the research shows), we can change the environment by changing our stance to challenge our body to use the systems as they are meant to be integrated and we can identify movement compensations through several of these strategies (one reason half kneeling can be very challenging for some individuals). 

pelvic control

The technique that I took from Gray is a rather simple one. It is using a small balance beam to go through different walking and movement patterns. No, we won’t have you ten feet in the air, we just want to change how much stability you have from the ground and see if you can produce motion while resisting other unwanted motion. 

These carries for example are probably a better representation of what loaded carries can do for core training because you literally can’t cheat. If you lean, if you step without using the feet correctly, if you don’t integrate the body from the ground up, then you won’t stay on the balance beam (nor will you hurt yourself if you step off). 

balance training

Once we spend time using carries we can use some movements like these in line squats. Now, before people scream about how my knees should explode, you must realize that this is teaching me how to use my feet correctly, requires ankle mobility, and hip stability all in concert to perform the motion. As someone with issues with their knees I can perform all these motions pain free. 

Is this going to become all part of your workout? No, absolutely not! Is this going to have you lifting massive loads? Probably not. Does it mean it doesn’t work and doesn’t have an important place in our training that by improving our ability in these drills we won’t see a positive transfer to other lifts? We SHOULD see a VERY positive transfer in a variety forms in our training. 

So, where does this type of training go? If you find these movements VERY challenging then I would put them in the beginning of your training when you are more fresh. The reflexive strength work will enhance stability, mobility, and your strength in other lifts. 

If these are rather easy for you, then you can put them at the end of your workout as a finisher. Either way, start with a few reps (maybe 3-4 “down and backs”) and build up volume. It is better to go slower and be thoughtful about your positioning than trying to rush it for getting just more volume. 

These are wonderful ways to get people more aware of how to use their body and create a stronger foundation for success in training. They give so much feedback to you and the lifter in qualities they may need to spend more time developing.

Thanks to Perform Better than is giving us a chance to pass along a 15% coupon code “USB15” for their great balance beams HERE for such types of training.