The Truth About Balance Training

The other day I walked into the new big-box gym that I’ve been working out at and witnessed a ghastly sight…

A 30-something guy who looked to be in reasonable shape but was probably a fat loss client was working with one of the Stock Trainers at the gym. You know, the beefy guy who makes workouts up as he goes and who’s only jobs are to count your reps, provide an occasional motivational quote (“ALL YOU”) and maybe a spot or two.

Anyway these guys were chatting and then started doing something more ridiculous than Chael Sonnen calling himself the champ and carrying around a replica UFC belt.

Now picture this: the Stock Trainer instructed his client to get up on a BOSU ball (uh oh), handed him a set of dumbbells (come on) and made him do a simulataneous squat and side raise (please god stop the madness)!

Why? Why!?! WHY!!!!

What the hell are you trying to do with this exercise?

Let me play devil’s advocate for a second and consider the possibilities:

POSSIBLE REASONING #1: increase fat burning by increasing the metabolic load due to the combination of 2 exercises with standing on a BOSU ball which activates more stabilizer muscles

WHY THIS IS RETARDED: the limiting strength factor here is the amount of weight you can side raise, so the legs and hips (the much bigger muscles) aren’t stimulated at all. While standing on a BOSU does increase stabilizer muscle activation, doing so also decreases prime mover muscle activation and the prime movers (quads, glutes) are much bigger and will burn much more fat than the teensy-weensy little stabilizers.

BETTER WAY: do a set of heavy squats supersetted with side raises. Then stand on 1 leg with your eyes closed during your rest time. Some things aren’t better combined, like blending together your dinner of steak, potatoes and broccoli.

POSSIBLE REASONING #2: standing on a BOSU while performing different moves will improve balance and what’s wrong with working on balance once in a while?

WHY THIS IS RETARDED: unless you’re training to be the seal who balances on a ball while balancing a ball on his nose, or you are a surfer or skateboarder, this is completely non-functional for your task.

BETTER WAY: look at the needs of the individual and choose the balance exercises most appropriate for those needs.

Now here’s where we get into some meat…

Balance is specific to the environment and is a reaction or reflex that keeps you still.

Unless you’re trying to play a statue, balance is a dynamic event.

It’s like trying to drive straight – when you’re first learning, you take the grip of death on the wheel and try to lock it in straight. But once you learn to relax, you realize that it’s about making little adjustments as you go.

That’s what balance is all about – your ability to make little adjustments to stay on track.

There are 2 main types of balance to train: righting reflexes and tilting reflexes.

A righting reflex is what you need when standing on one foot with your eyes closed.

A tilting reflex is what you need when the ground is moving under you and you’ve got to adjust to it to stay balanced, like in surfing or skateboarding (or being a circus seal).

In MMA and most sports, righting reflexes are what you need to be balanced.

Now when you want to work on balance, you can focus on your specific needs and in the case of MMA: righting reflexes. So that means you have no need ever to stand on a BOSU ball or wobble board (unless it’s a rehab type situation).

There are also 2 types of righting reflexes you can train: static and dynamic.

A static righting reflex is when you’re standing in one place and have to keep your balance, like if you’re standing over a guy on his back trying to ground and pound him out while he’s trying to throw you off balance and get you to the ground.

Here’s an example of a good exercise to train your static righting reflex (I can’t believe how old this video seems LOL):

Now, a dynamic righting reflex is if you’re moving in and out and changing directions quickly, like Dominic Cruz’s standup game.

Here’s a drill that you can do that will help with your dynamic righting reflex, and possibly help you be a little quicker and more nimble on your feet:

[flv: 640 360]

[More Info on the 6 Components of Quickness for MMA Here]

So there you have the “Truth about Balance” training…

Unless you’re a surfer, skateboarder, or circus seal in training, stay off the BOSU and focus on the specific exercises and drills that will improve your skills where it matters – in the cage and on the mats.



P.S. Please hit “Like” to stop the madness and spread the good word.


Leave a Reply

7 Comment threads
6 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
8 Comment authors
Travis SobalvarroSamHanelleEltonEric Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Travis Sobalvarro
Travis Sobalvarro

I think there is an entire world of other purposes your missing out on and possibly judging a little too harshly. The BOSU has helped me reverse many years of standing gate duty with tons of gear and guns added to my body weight that lead to severe heel and foot pain. It wasn’t fully determined if it was nerve damage or planar faciatus but at one point after getting an injection it spiraled down to a whole new level of pain. I could barely walk in the days after the injection. When I went to physical therapy they had me do various stretches and a balance stretch one foot at a time on a similar device to a BOSU. Since I didn’t have access to that board they used in PT, I used the BOSU to stretch and relieve tightness in my feet. I invested quite a lot of… Read more »


Yo Eric,

I have been doing that X-Drill a couple times. I don’t know if its me or what, but today while sparring with a junior student…my footwork felt kinda light. I was moving around a lot more than usual, and i wasn’t as gassed out as I normally would be!! Just now during wrestling takedown…as tired and worn out as I was, i was still able to move around more than usual. Hmm, well, i don’t know about this though, but even my sprawls felt lighter than usual.

Thought i’d share share this with you and return the ‘credit’ to its owner. 🙂 …am also saving up to purchase your programs too..LOL!!

Great job!!


THANKS, THANKS, THANKS for this post! Recently I also saw a guy going kettlebell swings on a bosu, although he was effectively doing (wobbly) squats and a front raise with a teensy weensy kettlebell. Lunacy, I tell you, I all but fainted. One of these days I’m going to get slapped at the gym for staring with my mouth open in utter disbelief … 😀


WOW – KB on a Bosu lol – classic!


I do train clients on Bosu occasionally (ok I have used my Bosu prolly about 8 times in the last year so not regular) purely to see how a client can stabilize themselves, While I do agree with your point of view about being functional specific it does have its place but def not whilst doing weights 🙂 I do similar exercises as you discussed like eyes closed standing on leg etc much harder and safer I think. Good article – there are way too many fancy arsed pointless things done in gyms just for the sake of trying to be different. PS thanks for the X training example, I will modify my 180box jumps for a change


What’s funny about this is that true – for the Mixed Martial Artist, that balance act on a bosu ball may not be part of the ‘needs’. But maybe the customer and stock trainer in your scenario were working on the bosu ball for exactly what you said: Skateboarding and/or surfing. Which would = needs specific to the individuals goals based on whatever stock trainer stock assessment he may hae made on gym rat fat loss client.


It’s quite possible, however being in Toronto pretty brings the likelihood of surfing down to a near zero, while being a late 30’s execute looking guy probably makes it unlikely that he’s a hardcore skateboarder. Now circus seal on the other hand….


Any tips on balance for kids? I work with a very uncoordinated 6 year old who, after about a year, can stand on one leg for about 10 seconds with his eyes open. Eyes closed – no way. This is above water improvement as he couldn’t lift a leg for a count of 1 and 2 before toppeling over! He ‘was’ (and still is a little) over weight, which contributed to his lack of balance, but his uncoordination issues were due to other factors (neural) vs physical strength. As I continually work on impressing upon the child the importance of diet its the parents who need to follow the plan more than the kid – sleeping habits are horrible as well. Its sad really. I do the best I can and can only mentor as his own parents aren’t a good example of anything I am trying to suggest. Standing… Read more »


It sounds like you’re donig good so just keep going! Progressively increase the difficulty of the exercises and you’re good to go. This is a case where using tools like the BOSU and such are beneficial.

Todd I. Stark

There is a third potential rationale, and while it doesn’t make that silly exercise any more reasonable it does point to a richer understanding of “balance.”. Yes, balance is largely activity specific, but it also relies heavily on something mor general, our proprioceptive sense, which is not activity specific but derives from a map we create between senory and motor regions of the brain and which is a single factor underlying most of our coordinated activity. We typically don’t pay much attention to it until soething goes wrong with it, and then we have all sorts of stability and coordination problems. There are sometimes good reasons to work on extending this proprioceptive mapping in our brain for rehabilitation or performance improvement by doing things like static balance drills. However this fits well into the model in your article which suggests that standing on one leg after oter exercisesis a fair… Read more »


I’ve been doing that X-drill off-and-on ever since you posted about it a couple of years ago; that sucker is harder than it looks!


Dragonmamma! Been a while. Good to see you around here again. 🙂


Thanks! I’m still reading everything, just not posting. (I either had to cut down on computer time or workout time.)