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 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?
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Intent drives intensity. It would just be too easy to go through the motions of this DVRT Big 6 exercise: the arc press. However, there is so much meaning and purpose to this that if you were to simply go through the motions you would do yourself a huge disservice! This is why I love including the core straps to help improve the experience and make it more meaningful. One of my favorite #sideplanks with lots of Christmas cheer!
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.
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These are the WEIRDEST shoulder exercises you have ever seen right? I mean, are they EVEN shoulder exercises? That is where the disconnect in functional training sometimes shows itself in that we don’t really understand how the body works, nor how it is connected. ________ What you see is a representation of what is commonly called the “spiral line” of the body. The connection that starts from under our foot, runs up our leg, through the pelvis, then CROSSES over to the upper part of the body. No, this is not a singular muscle, but series of muscles that are connected. They allow us to do complex movements like locomotion without being mindful of how much careful interaction of many muscles it takes to both move us through space and balance us at the same time. Why is this important to your shoulder drills though? _______ Many shoulder issues can actually be traced back to issues in the lower leg, the opposite hip, and core instability. Since the shoulder sits a top of these structures you can imagine if there is an issue what is below the shoulder it is going to impact the shoulder itself. So, many times I show that we need to integrate our feet, hips, and core with our “shoulder” training. I put it quotations because the shoulder never functions by itself and really it is a byproduct of how chains like the spiral line function effectively and efficiently. _______ What I wanted to show with these 3 #DVRT movements how we can take these concepts to higher levels integrating the chains of the body to not just make the shoulders stronger, but more resilient, mobile, and most importantly, working with the entire body, as our body is designed to function and move in life!
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!
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Stability training usually gets a polarizing reaction from people. Those that consider themselves see no place in a “real” strength program for them while those that THINK they like instability training largely think of exercises that make themselves shake a lot. The reason this concept causes such strong reactions is because neither group really gets what is trying to be accomplished. ______________ 💥 The “hardcore” lifter should realize that proper stability training can help a lifter develop more force in the more familiar #gym exercises like squats, deadlifts, and presses. Proper stability movements can reinforce the strength of the hips, trunk and shoulders making one not just able to lift more weight, but to be more resilient at the same time. Research shows that by strengthening the body in patterns that go beyond “the basics” actually makes the basics that much better! _____________ 💥 Those that think they are performing stability exercises by standing on unstable surfaces or using objects that “slosh” a lot also have to understand these are NOT stability exercises. What often happens in such movements the body can not produce the force or power to really move, so the body spends excessive energy just trying to survive. That is why research has shown such movements don’t carry over to greater core strength or anything like the movements that cause lots of shaking. ______________ 💥 Good stability training is about connecting the kinetic chains of the body and teaching the body to move more efficiently in many different patterns and directions. What #DVRT coach @peretzthetrainer shows is these concepts through various movements. Focusing on functional movement patterns and using the Ultimate #Sandbag to help prioritize accuracy of movement, we actually develop greater carry over to what we do in and out of the gym. We can’t fix something if we don’t know how it works! Stability training can be great, but only if we truly understand what it means!
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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What is deceleration strength? #DVRT master @dvrtfitness_uk not o oh gives us 4 dynamic examples but does a great job breaking down why it is essential for functional strength and injury resilience! ——— ⠀ Within this post I simply try to refer to the ability to ‘catch’ the weight. In other words to absorb force. ⠀ ⠀ Why is that important?⠀ A lot of people have issues with injuries because the inability to receive the force that is coming down. ⠀ That’s where most injuries occur. ⠀ 🏃♂️Deceleration plays a BIG part in drills like kettlebell swings. In fact, the success of a kettlebell swing is predicated upon our ability to correctly absorb force. That is especially true when we add some instability in our sprinter stance and have to react to forces laterally and in rotation that are trying to alter our ability to be strong! ⠀ 🏋️♂️This can be trained and should prevent most injuries. Here are a couple of ways to practice this ‘catch’. Rotational High Pull where this catch happens on both sides of the body, doing a pivot and also extending the hips with the High Pull. ⠀ ⠀ 🏋️♂️Another way to practice similar pattern is using our MAX Lunge snatch. Obviously an advanced exercise but with the more complex movement and longer lever arm teaches us true reactive strength!⠀