Functional fitness is everywhere: throwing sandbags, lifting heavy odd shaped objects like boulders, flipping tires, climbing walls, climbing ropes, etc. I believe in all of it and do it all myself. These workouts are getting us back to a Paleolithic functional type of fitness. Even so, there is one element missing: aggressive dynamic athletic balance.
In Paleolithic days, balance was natural because man operated on uneven ground, climbing over boulders and moving on slippery surfaces; there were no perfect vertical and horizontal planes anywhere like walls and floors for visual references. Today, every workout is done on a flat surface in buildings with perfect vertical and horizontal planes. When you leave the gym, you get the same flat surfaces. All sports are played on a flat surface except for a few.
Balance is the key to success in all sports. Who is the best athlete? The one who looks the most graceful and balanced. The object of most sports is to either be better balanced at a high performance level, or to throw the other guy off balance.
At the Dynamic Athletic Balance Gym, we have developed patent pending equipment and protocols to activate athletes’ dormant ancient balance system. We use aggressive, but safe, athletic balance challenges that progress in difficulty as the athlete progresses in balance skills.
Every athlete we have trained has increased their vertical by an average of 10% or more. Agility, speed, and lifting strength also improve.
How does this happen? First off, it is not simple balance training, no one-legged stands on a half round ball or foam roller. Each session is one heck of a workout. You need your whole body involved to do it right. We have had some of the fittest people in the world on our specially designed training equipment known as the SlackBow, and they are sweating, breathing hard, and swearing after ten minutes of doing nothing but trying to stand in one place on this piece of gear.
Here is why we think we get our results: the autoimmune system, as we broadly define it, is the automatic human system designed to protect us. It does things like move blood from your fingers to your vital organs to protect them when you get cold, as well as makes your fingers sting to let you know you need to get out of the cold. The same system makes you sneeze when a foreign object gets into your nasal passage, and it is the same system that makes you pass out if you get too hot.
The human balance system protects us from falling down. How important is your balance system in protecting you? Studies by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that falls are the number one reason for emergency room visits by people over 45!
The human balance system keeps your unbalanced body upright. What do I mean by “unbalanced body”? If you were to make a wooden form of your body with the exact
same weight distributions, the wooden form of you would fall over. Unlike the wooden form, as you now stand in your office, there are hundreds of muscles firing to keep you upright.
When you run and make a fast cut, your subconscious system will say, “Whoa partner, we don’t want you to go that fast because your balance system is only operating at 60%. So we, your human protection system, are going to make you uncomfortable at the higher speeds and slow you down so you don’t fall.” Naturally and subconsciously, you will operate at a slower speed to avoid the risk of falling.
Conversely, if your ancient balance system is up and running at a higher level, you will feel comfortable at faster speeds so you can use more of your strength to cut faster and be more agile.
There also seems to be another factor that we have yet to understand but have seen with our own eyes: the kinetic chain seems to improve. We measure every athlete’s vertical when they start and then again at the end of four weeks; when we watch them jump, they look more graceful at the end of the training period.
We have also had reports of improvements in deadlifting. We assume that it is evidence of the same results, an improvement in the kinetic chain.
This result may be due to the fact that balance training makes you use all of your muscles in balance. No two athletes report post-workout soreness in the same place. Those sore muscles are the weak link in the balanced muscle system.
Essentially, what we have found is that muscle strength is not the limiting factor in making you faster, more powerful, stronger, and more agile, the limiting factor is balance.
Most athletes are more than strong enough, they just lack dynamic athletic balance. This is true for all athletes from golfers to triathletes to skiers.
If you can’t walk around in the woods on a bumpy, hilly surface all day, how do you get your ancient balance system to work? At the Dynamic Athletic Gym, we get it done in about 8 weeks, with 2 to 3 sessions per week.
Our primary piece of equipment is the SlackBow. The SlackBow is a derivative of slacklining. Slacklining is the practice of walking along a line (typically a 1-2 inch wide piece of nylon webbing) hung between two anchors (usually trees). The difference between slacklining and tightrope walking is that the line is not rigid or taut, instead, it moves, stretches, and bounces like a trampoline. You can actually perform the exercises shown in the pictures with a slackline rather than the SlackBow, just be sure that it is a 2” web and the span is at least 14 feet.
The SlackBow is a tricky bit of engineering and we have filed a patent on it along with the training protocol. The SlackBow was in development for two years at Auburn University. One factor we found very important for the design was the length. Fourteen feet is the minimum that gave us the type of instability necessary for the training method. We have a skill progressive, safe protocol that challenges the balance system in all three directions: left/ right or side-to-side balance, the front/back or stopping/starting balance, and the 45 degree rotational position used in punching, hitting a ball, or throwing. In addition, we have upper body exercises to improve the stability muscles in the shoulders and arms.
When an athlete gets on the SlackBow for the first time, his leg will shake side-to-side almost violently. These are his muscles communicating back and forth saying to each other, “You fire!” "No you fire!” “No you fire!”
This is true muscle confusion. In fact, it is confused neurological communication to the muscles.
Like I said before, when a human being stands still, his muscles are firing all over the body to keep him from falling over, but you don’t see those muscles firing. Stand up after lying in a bed for two months and you will see a lot of shaking and unsteadiness. This is what happens with Slack- Bow training. At first, the muscles violently overreact (seen as shaking). As time goes on, the shaking disappears and the athlete looks very steady on the SlackBow. We know it is not a muscle strength issue because the improvement is so fast. Much of the shaking goes away in about six sessions.
The athlete learns that his whole body is involved in the process. So many athletes have said to me, “Oh, it’s core work.” Balance is whole-body work, not core work. The head has to move to be a counter balance, as do the arms, free leg and shoulders. I say “free leg” because no matter how you look at it, balance at the extremes is a one-legged activity.
If the athlete can overcome the natural insecurity that comes about from not being able to do something well the first time, then they will progress quickly at improving their balance. Some athletes cannot overcome this feeling and give up on their dynamic athletic balance training after one session.
The reason I got started using this type of training was because as I got older, I wanted to keep my balance by working it out. Sorry to say, half round balls, foam rollers,
and swiss balls did not do it for me; they were too easy. I could not do the slackline the first time and that told me it was a good balance challenge.
After 6 to 8 weeks of training, the athlete will see great improvements in their sport. By then, we feel the balance system is activated and becomes like riding a bike, they just need to do it once a week after that.
Of course, if they want to progress to the highest levels in their sport, they need to do it at least twice a week as part of their standard regimen.
Balance is Power!
This article was featured in the Feb/Mar 2012 Issue of the My Mad Methods Magazine. “Balance is Power! Improving the Kinetic Chain for Enhanced Performance" was written by Jim Klopman. Learn more about the My Mad Methods Magazine by Clicking Here
Jim Klopman is the inventor/developer of the SlackBow and Dynamic Athletic Balance Gyms. At 58 he wanted to continue to perform at a high level. Two years ago he realized the missing link was the natural loss of balance. He went to work developing his own system to improve his balance. He soon realized that he had discover one of the secrets of all athletic performance, super athletic balance. Find out more.