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Why Balance Training Plays A Big Part in Strength

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If there is a quality that probably most lifters care the LEAST about, it is balance training. Those into general fitness may have perked up, but is balance training one of those things we give lip service too, but have very little understanding or value really into training? You might have already guessed that if I believed that, I wouldn’t have taken the time to devote a whole blog on better understanding of balance training and helping people realize it has HUGE value in all forms of strength and fitness training.

Usually when people write such posts you imagine they are some freak of nature when it comes to balance training. Either I could jump off the roof of my house and land on one leg in a perfect squat, or maybe you envision me jumping in the gym from stability ball to foam roller to finally sticking a landing on the tip of my toes on a medicine ball. Obviously I am having a little fun because most people don’t even know how to define balance so how could we value something we don’t even understand?

balance training

Balance training isn’t just random circus acts, but can be a thoughtful way of training. 

What most people think of balance, not falling over, is actually on the right track much more than a lot of definitions I get when I travel teaching. While I could probably count on two fingers the number of clients I had come to me in over 25 years of coaching to improve their deadlift, I would probably have to use my hands and feet (then some!) to count the number of people that would put down “have better balance” as one of their goals on their initial assessment form.

If you think I just worked with an elderly population, you would be wrong! While proper balance training (in the case of the elderly goes a bit beyond the scope of just today’s post) is important, most other people value balance training. Athletes would come to me to want to improve their balance because they associated with being more agile, fluid, fast, and powerful. Moms, dads, business people would want better balance training because they thought of it as being a sign they “still got it”.

In all honesty, balance was never my saving grace. Growing up a VERY awkward kid (I broke my ankle when I was 10 walking out of the garage of our house and tripped over the garbage can off to the side. My Dad couldn’t even understand HOW it happened!) balance was almost my kryptonite. In fact, one of the things that I loved about strength training so much in high school was that I could have poor “balance” but out muscle a lot of the other basketball players. That would eventually catch up with me and looking back I wish someone would have taught me what balance training really was and how to actually make it accessible in my training.

Let’s Answer the BIG Question…

It is difficult to have this discussion on balance training if we don’t even know what we mean by balance. There are several different types of balance (as we will get into), but in general, it is defined as one’s ability to keep their center of mass over the base of support. Not too sexy right? Plus what muscle does balance training even train?!

Some of these real questions are part of the reason we don’t tend to really value training in our strength training. What I will help you see though is that balance plays a HUGE role in many of the exercises that make us real world strong! In order to better understand, we also have to mention that balance can be dynamic or static. Huh?

Okay, standing on one leg, for example, is more static balance. I’m not moving and neither is my base of support, I’m purely working on resisting movement. That in of itself has value and many of our muscles and chains of our body are designed to resist unwanted movement. Even big muscles like your lats, obliques, and glutes are as much about resisting movement as they are producing it! My point is that we can train strength, we can train muscles, but we can also help a lot of other issues like stability, mobility, and understanding better how to use our bodies.

How is that possible? For one, static balance is a nice way to introduce how to resist the frontal plane and transverse plane of motions. A big key in being able to develop more force and largely what we mean about “stability”. These types of drills also teach us how to engage our foot properly (as taking one foot off the ground makes the stance foot grab for the ground) and this helps us understand how our knees, glutes, low back, and even upper body is impacted by our feet!

You might be seeing a lot more images like these! These show how the body is actually connected and what we should notice is how much of our body works in diagonals and we are made for locomotion over all movements! In order to perform a complex action like walking we need chains of our body like these and our lateral chain to be functioning at a high level. So, we could argue that balance training uses A LOT more muscles than most familiar gym exercises. 

At first glance DVRT drills like Cory Cripe and Megan Berner show may just WEIRD right? 

Introducing balance training to people doesn’t have to be so advanced either! Cory shows how using half kneeling positions like this Arc Press progression is a great way to establish foundations of better balance and stability. 

What the above video of DVRT Master, Cory Cripe shows is a more advanced static balance training drill. The movement of the Ultimate Sandbag around the body requires all 35 core muscles (including the glutes) to work at a high level to resist that unwanted movement. This is actually VERY different than standing on unstable surfaces that many people THINK is balance training and it really isn’t.

Besides the research showing that standing on unstable surfaces don’t make you stronger (don’t get mad at me, you can read HERE), we should know WHY! The main reason is that such training methods make us SO unstable that our body can’t express force and works so hard on just not falling over we don’t actually train any qualities. As you see, the biggest reason though will be where we go with these ideas.

Physical therapist, Jessica Bento, shows where we can take some of these ideas and what we will be focusing upon, but don’t miss her mention of the importance of the feet!

The Other Type of Balance

The reason I put Jessica’s video above into this post is not only about her feet. What you see her start to introduce is more movement oriented balance training. When we lunge, step-up, DVRT deadlift progressions (we will show below) that require stepping actions does a lot for building our balance training. Best of all, we get to satisfy the idea that balance training is just a part of a good strength training program. The first great example we will look at is with Jessica during these more advanced step-up progressions.

Step-up drills are awesome ways to build more dynamic balance training because we are moving our center of mass in functional positions. In fact, I would say step-ups are amazing for not just helping knee issues, but building greater glute strength and core stability.

Drills like Jessica shows again are great demonstrations how if we understand what balance training is, how we can build progression and accomplish more fitness goals than we often think possible!

Robin Paget does an amazing job showing how we progress our balance training to more power and sophisticated forms of training. The point is that balance has a lot more components to it than most realize. The act of accelerating and deceleration of our body is so essential in both balance, but strength and injury resilience. When people say they want to do higher level core training and better glute exercises THESE are the drills that we should be focusing upon because they not only train the muscles, but the body to be so much more effective and strong. A little understanding of the science can completely change our perspective! Like these awesome HIGH level balance training drills that DVRT UK Master, Greg Perlaki shows. Now I hope you will make balance training more of a focus on your training!

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