How to Improve Your Performance by Rebalancing Your Body: A Lesson from a World Record Strongman

I would like to share a training method with you that is rarely understood in the realm of fitness but so powerful it completely saved me from persistent hip discomfort and tension within a few days. Over the course of a few months, I saw improved performance while hiking steep hills and a more powerful leg drive while cycling. Aside from athletic performance I also just felt improved balance and foundational strength.

I was having trouble keeping my pelvis aligned properly which led to pain in my right hip. I visited quite a few top professionals in physical therapy, chiropractic, and other rehabilitative modalities without any real improvement. They all had ideas, adjustments, and corrective exercises but none of these methods helped for very long, if at all. X-rays and different scans all came back normal. I was even told my hips and spinal discs looked like a twenty-five-year old’s even though I am almost sixty-two years old. These good reports were great to hear but did not fix the issue.

Being a man of faith, I sought God’s help to show me what to do and felt strongly He was telling me to look at how my feet and glutes were working together. You will often hear strength coaches talking about how to strengthen your glutes and a few talk about the feet as well. However, it’s important to note that your feet must work together with your glutes to keep everything in alignment. You can have strong feet and strong glutes that are not working together, which is what I found with myself. I had been doing years of barefoot training and living which made my feet strong and functional. I also have strong glutes, but they were not working in unison with my feet resulting in unlevel hips. Even though my feet were strong they were over-pronating and throwing my hips out of alignment. So, I began concentrating on keeping the integrity of my arches by standing and walking with my lower shins aligned directly over the middle of my feet. This activated my arches and helped me not overpronate. Within a few days, I was doing this normally and it was becoming a habit.

Single Leg Balancing

It was at this point I found a training concept that naturally aligns your feet and hips without having to think about it or constantly looking at your feet. In fact, this method will strengthen your feet, your glutes, and the entire midsection far better than anything else I have found in forty plus years of training. Please understand you don’t have to have foot pronation to implement this method. However, if you do have foot pronation or pelvis misalignment, I strongly believe this method of naturally but gently forcing you into the right position will correct it. Within a week’s time, it cured my hip tension. And it has not returned since training this way.

Here is some little-known information that bears heavily on this topic. The bottoms of your feet have more nerves than any other part of your body making your feet the control panel, so to speak, that tells the rest of your body how to work. For example, your feet will tell your glutes how to fire, when to fire, and how much to fire and not to over fire. The foot is truly a remarkable piece of God’s engineering to which I devote a whole chapter in my new book, Renew Your Youth God’s Way

This training method is a unique version of one-legged balancing. The reason I say unique is that I first started doing single foot balances on 2x4s and other blocks of wood. I saw small but not great results but could tell I was on the right track. From there I started trying single foot balancing on unstable surfaces such as wobble boards and even slack lines. I quickly started seeing great results and knew this was the ticket. Today we will concentrate on using the wobble boards.

When I first started trying to balance on the wobble board, I could do about 10-15 seconds on my left foot but it was hard to balance at all on my right foot even though both feet were equal in strength. I quickly learned that my right foot was in more pronation and was throwing my hips and weight distribution completely off. The balance board allowed my right foot to quickly tell my entire body how to balance. After just a week or so I could balance on either foot for over a minute. I also noticed my glutes were firing like never before, even better than when I was pulling trucks for over a mile. My whole core was working better as my body had to constantly fire and adjust to the unstable surface. As I started to progress, I made the one-foot balancing even more interesting by pressing light dumbbells and kettlebells overhead alternating from hand to hand which really makes it interesting. While I don’t make a habit of it, I found I could press my old 105lb kettlebell overhead for a few reps while balancing on one foot on the board.

Your best bet is to start slow and get a feel of balancing on the board with both feet and then start working on one foot at a time. Then you can try pressing a dumbbell or kettlebell. Remember there is no need to try to lift heavy and I would even caution you against it. In the photo, I am using a 20lb dumbbell but light as it is, it really works your entire body in a tremendous way. I am only using the heavy kettlebell for a fun example.

Pressing a dumbbell on a wobble board

Let’s Get Started

  1. Start by simply balancing on your board with both feet for a couple of minutes at a time to get a feel of the unstable nature of the board.
  2. Progress to using one foot at a time for 30 seconds or more, paying attention to which foot is easier to balance on. Often, I will balance for 15 minutes or so alternating from one foot to the other. This will work your feet, glutes, and entire midsection. 
  3. Progress to pressing a light kettlebell or dumbbell overhead for reps with one hand while balancing on one foot on the wobble board. Be sure to do the presses with each arm one side at a time, shifting the weight from one hand to the other. This technique will really tell you how well your kinetic chain works together.

Some Additional Drills

Another progression once you’re competent at the above, is balancing on one foot on your wobble board while pressing an Olympic barbell overhead with one arm. The long bar creates a slight instability in your upper body that forces you to stabilize in your upper and lower body simultaneously. This will yield even better gains in strength and balance as well as teach your entire body to adjust quickly to change. Greater body awareness and injury prevention will come from this drill. 

Pressing a barbell on a wobble board

You can add very small plates on the barbell to challenge yourself more. However, I strongly suggest not going very heavy with this drill. You do not want to create too much extra torque on your body until you have mastered the basics of one-legged wobble board balancing.

The final progression I’ll mention is lifting light weights on the wobble board with your eyes closed. This is exceptionally difficult but will force your kinetic chain to work together and adjust quickly. Be careful with this variation for obvious reasons.

Final Thoughts

One of the things that makes this approach to training so great and result producing is it exposes weak areas but will correct them as you keep practicing the drills. If you have a weak side and trouble balancing on it, don’t overthink anything just keep doing it and your body will correct itself and strengthen the weak areas quicker than you think. Because being barefoot allows the feet to engage correctly and signals the rest of the body how to fire and adjust it is important to do these balancing drills barefoot to get the most out of the training.

As you continue to progress and make these drills part of your training you will see great results in whatever you do. You will renew and retain your youthful strength and mobility as well as see diminished pain in your back, hips, and knees. Like the principles in my book Renew Your Youth God’s Way, the Lord wants to renew our youth and show us how to retain it. I wish I knew this method many years ago when I was doing my truck pulling records. 

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John Brookfield
John Brookfield is a multiple world record holder in strength and fitness. He holds records in nail bending, card tearing, and pulling semi-trucks for the distance of one full mile. He has been featured on TV shows such as Regis and Kathie Lee, Good Morning America, and the Today Show. He is also in the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley's Believe it or Not. John has been a popular speaker and presenter at many fitness expos and the Perform Better training summits. John has written many books such as Mastery of Hand Strength, Training with Cables for Strength, and The Grip Masters Manual. He recently finished a new book titled Renew Your Youth God’s Way revealing to you God's special plan and principles on how to renew and retain your youth physically, mentally, and spiritually.

6 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Performance by Rebalancing Your Body: A Lesson from a World Record Strongman

  • I read the article, am a NICU cross-fitter, bought the board and have started using it. I am anxiously awaiting the results – giving it six (6) months.

    Thank you

  • A similar set of exercises, but slightly easier as a starting point because it doesn’t use an unstable surface, is Dan John’s Standing Bird Dog. I have been doing this every other day for over 6 months now and I have found that it is not only a corrective exercise but also a diagnostic one. I had a serious pelvic misalignment as a result of a poorly managed knee injury as a teenager. It didn’t stop me participating at a high level in many outdoor endurance sports but eventually everything caught up with me and led to a second knee operation from which I have been rehabilitating for a few years. My understanding of the harmful compensations I had developed and a route to correcting them were both provided by the Standing Bird Dog. I think it is safe to say that this one exercise progression has had a more positive influence on my progress towards normal movement than any other I have adopted.

  • I have been balancing on one foot with eyes closed and arms crossed for two minutes each side for a few years now. I have done up to 6 minutes which might be a world record and really makes the medial glutes and lower legs burn. Definitely keeps my neurology in top shape in my 60s where it’s considered good if you can balance on one leg with eyes closed for six seconds…

    • This information is very valuable ! With over 25 years experience in the health & fitness industry and a Master’s Degee in Health & Human Performance, I know from experience that the information is correct and be will helpful if practiced. I will use a BOSU and other balance apparatus that I already own plus my Power Plate to practice ,and teach, the drills suggested. Next I will buy the book!
      Thank you,
      Andrea Kay, MS

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