Set the Foundations: Include Balance Drills in Your Workout

Balancing drills build stability and strength in your feet and ankles, the foundations of natural movement.

Having trained with Pavel Tsatsouline and many of his expert instructors, I understood how barefoot training helps us master the proprioceptive link between the foot and the ground to generate force and balance. So I was certain I would quickly master MovNat founder Erwan Le Corre’s form of barefoot training at my MovNat Certification in 2012. I quickly learned I was no Erwan.

I’ve been an athlete my whole life, and I had been working with barbells and kettlebells since 2003. Thus, my humbling experience in the MovNat certification came as somewhat of a shock.

Since then, I’ve spent an average of three days a week continuing my strength work and three days a week working on movement practice. I have trained with expert movers – Erwan and his lead trainers, Ryan and Jarlo at Gold Medal Bodies, Ido Portal, and others – and I’ve deconstructed my patterns to become a better mover.

Today I will share some ways to create better movement in the feet and ankles, from the perspective of a gym owner who incorporates this work with individual clients and in group exercise classes.

Combine Balance and Strength

My clients are mostly sedentary, middle-aged folks who’ve compartmentalized exercise and movement into three or four sixty-minute blocks of exercise per week. Most of them don’t have much patience for general mobility work, balancing, or crawling drills that don’t elevate their heart rates or “kick their butts.” Thus, I’ve learned to integrate some of these movements as warm ups or active rest phases built into larger strength and conditioning blocks.

The following video is a sample of how we incorporate some foot strengthening and balancing work into a kettlebell/bodyweight workout. You only need a kettlebell and a two-by-four beam (mine is twelve feet long) to complete the workout. If you don’t have a beam, you can also use a concrete curb.

Strength and Balance Drills for a Solid Foundation Part One

  1. 10 kettlebell swings
  2. Walk forward and backwards on the beam, focusing on relaxed movement – easy breathing, loose hands, nice tall posture.
  3. 5-10 push ups
  4. Forwards/backwards walk on the beam, as above. This time, add 5-10 controlled calf raises with toes aligned on the edge of the beam.

Strength and Balance Drills for a Solid Foundation Part Two

  1. 10 kettlebell swings
  2. Back to the beam for the walks and calf raises. Now add 5 squats with toes still aligned at the edge of the beam.
  3. 5-10 push ups
  4. Beam sequence again, this time adding a tripod drill on the board.

Strength and Balance Drills for a Solid Foundation Part Three

  1. 10 kettlebell swings
  2. Move through the full beam sequence as in round two. After the tripod drill, transition into a foot-hand crawl on the beam. In the video I show this crawl going forward, but it’s also fun and challenging to try moving forward and backward.
  3. 5-10 push ups
  4. Precision jumps

As you’ll see in the video, I conclude the workout with some light jumping drills to work on relaxed precision landing.

  1. First I work my way down the board doing a one-leg, leg-swing jump.
  2. Then I return back down the board doing a two-footed broad jump.

The emphasis here is on trying to land quietly on the balls of feet. Luckily, I have one jarring, loud landing in the video so you can see what not to do on the broad jump.

Strengthen Your Foundation

Graceful natural movement requires relaxation, postural integrity, balance, and mobility. While honing these skills might not be as immediately gratifying as doing burpees, it is essential for moving well and establishing a foundation for sexier, more advanced natural movements like climbing and vaulting.

I have added the brief strength and conditioning interludes in the movement sequence so you can still get a workout while practicing these foundational skills. In my next articles and videos, I will continue to use this humble two-by-four beam and a kettlebell/bodyweight approach to build complexity and skill.

Further Reading

Related articles:

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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