Balance Training and Programming for Athletes

23 Feb Balance Training and Programming for Athletes

Balance is a combination of proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. Balance is predicated on knowing where the “body is in space” and recognition of extremity positions and movements. It is governed by the neural, vestibular, and muscular systems of the body. Balance is a component of all athletic actions regardless of the individual’s chosen sport and improving one’s balance capacities can positively affect performance in daily life and sport.

According to Michael Clark, Director of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, Balance (stabilization) enables the neuromuscular system (muscles and nerves) to synergistically produce force, reduce force, and dynamically stabilize the entire kinetic chain in all three planes of motion.

In general terms, balance allows an individual to maintain proper joint alignment and center of gravity during any functional movement pattern, sport related or not. Relative to sport it allows for example a golfer to maintain the postural positions of the swing, perform the athletic actions of the swing with greater efficiency, and recognize extremity positions during the swing.

If an individual is lacking the balance capacities to perform such tasks, the ability to execute complex athletic actions in an efficient and effective manner will be compromised. To counteract and provide the individual a greater opportunity to perform complex movement patterns with greater efficiently, an individual can implement a series of exercises to improve one’s balance capacities.


Prior to the implementation of balance training exercises it is best to assess your current balance capacities. One of the easiest and most effective assessments to achieve this goal is the Single Leg Balance Test. Performing this assessment will provide you a baseline of information on your current balance capacities and a reference point as improvement occurs.

Once you have determined your initial balance capacities the next step is the implementation of exercises to improve one’s current balance levels. The process by which this occurs is through a systematic approach which continually challenges both the muscular and nervous systems of the body.

Limits of Stability

The systematic approach of challenging and improving your balance capacities hinges upon the concept of limits of stability.

Limits of stability can be defined as the distance outside of your current base of support where you can go without losing control of your center of gravity. (Michael Clark, Integrated Training for the New Millennium, 174) For example, Olympic gymnasts have excellent balance capabilities. Through years of training they have developed the neuromuscular capacities of their bodies to a very high level. They have achieved this by constantly challenging their bodies with more and more difficult exercises outside their normal base of support. This then allows them to control their bodies when performing their gymnastic routines.

Typically, your normal base of support is standing on two feet. Once you begin to move outside of this base of support (i.e. two feet on the ground and not moving), balancing becomes more difficult because you are challenging your own limits of stability. An example of this would be as follows: If you were to stand on only one leg (i.e. single leg balance test), it would become more difficult. If you closed your eyes, it would become even more difficult. The reason again is you are challenging your own limits of stability.

Increasing your limits of stability through balance (stabilization) training allows your nerves and muscles to operate more efficiently, adjust to the requirements of athletic movement with greater ease, and perform such actions with less fatigue.  Generally speaking, the greater increase in your limits of stability, the better your chance of success with any athletic movement.

Systematic Progressions

As stated earlier we will utilize a systematic approach to challenging your limits of stability through stabilization (balance) training. This systematic approach of challenging your body is often referred to as a progression. Progression is simply the process by which more and more challenging exercises are implemented into an individual’s training program. The result of a progression is continual improvement in ones stabilization capabilities.

Balance training should follow the following progressions:

  • Slow to Fast
  • Simple to Complex
  • Low Force to High Force
  • Static to Dynamic
  • 2 arms to 1 arm
  • 2 legs to 1 leg


If these guidelines are adhered to in the progression of your balance training, you will find continual improvement within this capacity of your body relative to athletic actions associated with sport. A sample progression incorporating the guidelines above would be the following:

  • Single Leg Balance
  • Single Leg Balance Narrow Base
  • Torso Turns One Leg
  • Balance Beam Taps
  • Steamboats


Once mastery occurs of the first exercise listed above it is then time to progress to second exercises in the series. This would continue on through the sample list provided until the last exercise in the series is reached. Mastery of exercise occurs when the prescribe time or repetitions of the exercise are completed with no difficulty.  Keep in mind the importance of balance as it relates to daily life and the participation in sport, recognizing improvement in one’s balance capacities can have a direct affect on the efficiency in which you perform daily tasks and sport.

About Performance Coach Sean Cochran

Sean Cochran, one of the most recognized performance coaches in sports today. A career spanning positions with 2 major league baseball organizations, over 10 years on the PGA Tour and work with top professionals including three-time Masters, PGA, and British Open Champion Phil Mickelson, future hall of fame Trevor Hoffman, and Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy provides Sean a proven track record of success.  He has been involved in the production of numerous performance videos and authored books including; Performance Golf Fitness, Complete Conditioning for Martial Arts, and Fit to Hit. He has been a presenter of educational seminars for numerous organizations including the world renowned Titleist Performance Institute.

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