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The 3 Stages of Balance and Stability Training

article by Carson McQuarrie

Endurance athletes are familiar with strength and power training as well as plyometrics for training the lower extremities during different phases of the year. When athlete’s strength capabilities have progressed from strength-endurance to maximum strength and power training they often begin incorporating plyometrics before races. What is often overlooked is the link bridging these two gym exercises is balance training. In this article, we’re going to discuss what is balance training and its benefits, examples of what balance training exercises may work for you and how to improve at them, and how to periodize your balance training with your regular weight lifting and plyometrics throughout the year.

What is Balance Training?

“Balance training, or more scientifically known as proprioception training, is a type of exercise that improves body awareness in space.”

This type of movement can be modified to suit any athlete’s ability level and used to improve a specific weakness or imbalance, to prevent injury, or to focus on improving a specific strength or ability relevant to a particular sport. A review of the scientific literature encourages endurance athletes to make this a regular part of any athlete’s training program. 

Examples of Balance Training Exercises

When an endurance athlete begins doing stability exercises it’s beneficial to find movements that are within their ability. These exercises will likely start out very simple in the beginning, however, by adding more reps and sets they can be made more challenging. Keep in mind, these exercises require focus. Practicing stability movements a few times a week goes a long way and improvements come quick, even if you’re a beginner.

Beginner stability exercises:
  • Standing on the edge of a platform with your toes balancing on either one or two legs.
  • Standing on an upside-down Bosu ball in a stationary position.
  • Standing on a solid stationary beam balancing on either one or two legs. 
 Intermediate stability exercises:
  • Standing on a right-side-up or upside-down Bosu ball with one leg. 
  • Holding a kneeling position on a large exercise ball. 
  • Perform a wood chop movement with a medicine ball on an upside-down Bosu ball.
Advanced stability exercises:
  • Standing on a Bosu ball either right-side-up or upside-down on one leg with the opposite knee brought to hip height all while circling a medicine ball around the top of your head. 
  • Hold a kneeling position on a large exercise ball while holding and/or moving a medicine ball in a particular motion. 
  • Standing on an exercise ball without support for several minutes.
“Stability (proprioception) training is beneficial for virtually any athlete competing in any sport and can be completed on a year-round basis.”

Balance Training Periodization

An endurance athlete may be recommended to start with a short foundation of strength-endurance training prior to spending more time focusing on maximum strength exercises and eventually power movements such as plyometrics. Stability training can be done in conjunction with typical gym-oriented workouts, however, it may be more beneficial to complete 3-6x a week. An example of how an endurance athlete may incorporate stability exercises into the periodization of other gym-oriented exercises may look like the following:

Strength-Endurance Phase (2-6 weeks)

Endurance athletes don’t need a lot of stability capabilities during this phase, however, athletes would benefit well from preparing for the maximum strength phase, prevent imbalances, and prepare for more difficult stability exercises prior to the maximum strength phase. A protocol for an endurance athlete to start out with may look like this:

  • Standing on the edge of a platform for 2 minutes on each leg twice.
  • Standing on an upside-down Bosu ball for 3 minutes. 

Maximum Strength Phase (8-12 weeks)

Endurance athletes will gradually build the weight during the phase and decrease the reps per set from perhaps 10 down to 4-5 reps per set, completing 3-5 sets. It is during this phase endurance athletes will benefit from further preparing for heavier lifts as well as plyometrics soon to come by increasing the difficulty level and volume of their stability exercises. It is perhaps more ideal to have stability training volume reach the highest volume during the peak of this phase. An example prescription of what an endurance athlete may build up to during this phase could be:

  • Balance on an upside-down Bosu ball with one leg while circling a medicine ball around the top of one’s head 10 rotations in either direction per leg. 
  • Single leg hops on top of a Bosu ball completing 2x 3 hops.  
  • Holding a standing position on top of a large exercise ball for 3x 2min. 

Power/Plyometric (4-8 weeks)

Endurance athletes starting out with plyometric training are perhaps better served by starting out with low volume over a slightly longer duration of 6-8 weeks. For athletes with experience in plyometrics, a shorter duration phase may be more appropriate, given personal athlete individuality. It is during this phase that stability is important for injury prevention of muscle activation. A relatively high volume of stability movement can be maintained during this phase. An example prescription of what an endurance athlete may build up to during this phase could be:

  • Balance on an upside-down Bosu ball with one leg while circling a medicine ball around the top of one’s head 5 rotations in either direction per leg.
  • 3x 5 single leg hops on top of a Bosu ball.  
  • Holding a standing position on top of a large exercise ball for 3x 3min.
  • Complete 2x 3-5 squats on a large exercise ball. 

While it may not be the same for every athlete’s periodization it can be estimated that these phases may fall in sequence to different endurance sport-specific training phases throughout the year, so while an endurance athlete may decrease the maximum-strength training to shift towards power/plyometric training as they near a race, stability training volume can follow a similar periodization of volume with the preceding gym-oriented exercises.

Conclusion

In review, stability (proprioception) training is beneficial for virtually any athlete competing in any sport and can be completed on a year-round basis. It is important to find a comfortable ability level to start at and build from there and use as a foundation prior to completing any plyometric movements. If you’ve never incorporated stability or any strength training into your endurance training working with a coach can be a great introduction to learning how to progress with confidence and sustainability. 

 

Carson McQuarrie is a dedicated athlete and coach with Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC) who specializes in cycling, strength and conditioning, and plant-based nutrition. For more information on his coaching services, or to schedule a coaching consultation with him click HERE

 

TEC

 

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