Balance is defined as the ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to it’s support base.
Many of us have no problem standing upright on two feet. Varying degrees of deviation from this, though, can be challenging. Bodyweight movements like running, air squats and pistols definitely require proficiency with balance. Add weight to the mix and you can take it to a whole ‘nother level- front squat, overhead squat, snatch, split jerk. Now you’re not only coordinating and balancing your own weight but the load lifted as well.
Let’s take a look at running first. Many people don’t look at running as a skill. They tend to view it as propelling themselves through space by pushing off with their leg. The CFE view of running is quite a bit different. It’s more of a pose-fall-pose. Balance plays a critical role in this style of running since we’re basically talking about trying to efficiently move from one support base to the next (ie. foot to foot) while allowing our center of gravity (our hips) to continue moving forward. The ability to pull the foot up under the hip and transfer the other one down under support instead of reaching in front of the body allows for this continuous forward motion. Reaching the foot in front and landing on the heel, tends to create a time lag where there is no forward motion until your hips catch up to your support on that leg. So not only is the heel strike slowing the runner down and creating more stressful impact, it’s also inefficient in sustaining forward motion energy. When you lose it, you’ll need to push off with the trailing leg to gain it back.
Balance in a squat is a different matter. Centering yourself over support and lowering your body is no small task. It requires the proper amount of flexibility (hamstrings and calves) and strength (upper back) in order to get to the position. If your calves and hamstrings are tight, you’ll find yourself going forward onto your toes at the bottom of a squat. If your back is weak, you’ll find it rounding as you drop into the bottom position. Both of these issues can be problematic for balance. Pistols (aka one legged squats) are another challenge. They require a great amount of flexibility along with the ability to counterbalance your torso and hips with the leg that’s off the ground.
Finally, the “loaded” versions as you guys have found out recently (overhead squat & snatch) require intense focus and determination. It’s not easy to negotiate a heavy overhead squat. One wrong move with the hips or shoulders and you’re dropping the bar.
What can you do to get better balance?
First of all improve your flexibility. That will go a long way towards helping you stay balanced. Secondly, work on your midline. Midline stability is at the core (get it?) of everything we do. If the middle is loose, the downstream chain reactions get magnified- for the worse. Finally, practice. Do the 10 minute squat test. Pose running drills. Handstand practice.
Good body awareness in space and good balance will pay off in your training. Case in point, gymnasts tend to come into CrossFit and really tear it up due to their honed balance and coordination skills!
Stay balanced, my friends!
To check out the previous CF Adaptations Articles, click HERE.
Dr. Chris Biles, DC is the head trainer and owner of CrossFit Waxahachie. He is a Level 1 CrossFit Certified Trainer and is passionate about all things fitness. He has competed for many years in adventure racing, mountain and road bike racing, and marathons. His main sport now is the new Sport of Fitness- CrossFit.