His “800 Pounds of Parents” directly inspired Jonathan’s prolific fitness career. He is a multiple Personal Trainer of the Year Award-Winner (ACE, IDEA, and PFP Magazine), creator of Funtensity, brain fitness expert, blogger and master trainer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). His book, Abs Revealed, delivers a modern, intelligent approach to abdominal training. A former astronomer, Jonathan used to study stellar bodies – now he builds them!
StrongBoard: An ACE Integrated Fitness Training® Model-based Workout
Stability and mobility—you can’t have one without the other. To move one part of your body, other part(s) of your body must not move. In other words, mobility requires stability elsewhere, and stability is the prerequisite for movement. This article and balance-training workout featuring the StrongBoard Balance Board demonstrate how the ACE Integrated Fitness Training® (ACE IFT®) Model can help you make this connection for your clients by choosing movements and intensities that create a harmoniously challenging fitness experience that is unique and specific to each client’s needs and goals.
Look at Balance Training
Balance training is often approached in widely accepted, yet misguided ways. For example, the usual test of balance is to stand on one leg and keep your eyes closed. This is very demanding, but also makes little sense. Think about it: In life, you don’t really do anything while standing on one foot—even two feet—with your eyes closed. Also, when you are standing on one leg, you are rarely motionless (except when doing the test). These factors create false fails and discouragement from a test that is unrealistically hard.
In life, we most often have our eyes open and we are moving, whether on one or both legs. And these movements are often performed in response to something in the outside world—something we want to pick up, put down, go toward or move away from.
The Three Balance Systems
Balance involves the visual, vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The standard approach to balance training previously described inexplicably challenges balance in one of the hardest ways—visually. Of all the senses, your brain has the most resources devoted to the visual system. This is because it needs to intake, process, interpret and act upon both expected and unexpected information from the outside world.
The proprioceptive system is always working because your brain needs to know where your body parts are in space, what they are touching, if they are moving, etc., to maintain whatever position you are in. But even though the proprioceptive system is highly active, it deals with less input from the outside world, so it operates mostly in the background and beneath the level of conscious awareness.
As such, it makes the most sense to train balance in a way that more accurately mimics real life. This means challenging the proprioceptive system first and then adding vestibular challenges (by moving the head). Visual challenges (moving or closing the eyes) should be added later, if at all.
Balance gets better when it’s lost. We understand this concept intuitively when it comes to other components of fitness, but have trouble grasping its application to balance. For example, to develop aerobic fitness, you need to “lose your breath” in a challenging training effort. Likewise, to develop strength, you need to challenge the body’s muscles by making them temporarily weaker in a challenging strength-training effort. With balance, however, you might feel that you aren’t training effectively if you lose your balance at any point, but this is exactly what creates the greatest training stimulus. On the other hand, a balance challenge that is too hard and results in constant and continuous loss of balance—like the ill-advised practice of standing on a stability ball, for example—develops nothing useful as the nervous system is experiencing so much stability overload that it cannot learn anything. Furthermore, as in the case of standing on a ball, it mimics no sport or activity we do in life.
A well-designed balanced board features a stable surface with underlying instability and provides enough challenge to cause the exerciser to occasionally lose balance. For the most part, however, movements can be performed well with constant microcorrections to body positioning. Additionally, to be most effective, the movements on the board should mimic real-life movements as much as possible.
Bringing the ACE IFT Model to Life
The following workout featuring the StrongBoard Balance Board was developed using the ACE Integrated Fitness Training Model as a guide. The ACE IFT Model provides a framework for developing stability or mobility as appropriate in a specific area of the body (phase 1), reintegrating it into full-body movement (phase 2), adding external load and creating a stimulus for strength gains (phase 3) and increasing movement speed to develop bodily control (phase 4).
The ACE IFT Model features five distinct movements:
- Bend and Lift: A bilateral hip or quad-dominant movement (e.g., squat, deadlift, glute bridge)
- Lunge: A unilateral or asymmetrical lower-body movement (e.g., single-leg squat, lunge)
- Push: A vertical or horizontal pushing movement, either bilateral or unilateral
- Pull: A vertical or horizontal pulling movement, either bilateral or unilateral
Movement-based training ensures your exercise programs translate to real-world movements. When people enjoy a workout that correlates with what they do in their everyday lives, they are more likely to see the benefits and stick with it.
The Equipment: The StrongBoard Balance Board
The StrongBoard Balance Board can be used to complement and intensify favorite balance- training exercises, and also presents the opportunity to perform new ones. The board features four springs that connects the board to its base. The best balance tools feature a solid platform that is unstable because this more closely mimics real life, such as standing on a boat while in motion on the water. The deck is stable, yet it experiences motion from the waves underneath.
Additionally, this workout also includes the option to use the StrongStrap by Stroops to expand the board’s range of exercise options, including a greater ability to load both the lower and upper body with a bar or handles attached to Slastix tubing.
- The width of your stance affects stability—a wider stance increases stability, while a narrower stance reduces it.
- When getting on the board, advise clients to step on it with one foot and allow the board to bottom out (touch the platform) before transferring weight to that foot and putting the other foot on the board.
This workout uses timed supersets of two exercises (exercise A and B). Perform each movement for 30 seconds, rest 15 seconds between each set, performing each superset twice, then move to the next. (After two to three workouts, consider adding a third set.) Have clients rest one to two minutes between supersets while you swap out the attached equipment as necessary.
Note: The extra heat generated by the numerous small muscle actions necessary to perform the movements and maintain balance means your clients might find this workout to be surprisingly challenging. While the prime movers are working as well, there is a large increase in stabilizer and secondary muscle activity in all of these moves.