What is Structural Balance?

Have you ever hit a plateau in your training?


Would you believe me if I told you, you could improve a lift such as your bench press, without actually bench pressing?



Take a few minutes to learn about how Structural Balance can help you break plateaus and reach new heights very quickly!


Structural Balance is a term popularized by Charles Poliquin. It refers to the optimal ratio of strength between specific movements.


The concept is simple. Your body moves and functions as a unit, and if certain movements or joints are much weaker than others the body will neurologically or muscularly inhibit the stronger movements.


Let's look at an example taken from an article by Poliquin. See the article here.


The article presents what Poliquin believes to be optimal ratios between certain movements, based on years of training top athletes and recording data on them.


Poliquin states that "The athletes who achieved those ratios tended to perform better on the international scene and had the lowest incidence of injuries"


Optimal Strength Ratios


Close Grip Bench Press

Absolute score: 160 kg (352 pounds)

Relative score: 100%


Single-Arm External Rotation (8 reps)

Absolute score: 15 kg (33 pounds)


Relative score: 9%


This means that in order to be structurally balanced you should be able to externally rotate a weight for 8 reps at around 9%-10% of the weight of your maximum close grip bench.


For the purpose of this point, we will look closely at two exercises below, which were performed by his client, NHL hockey player Jim McKenzie.


Initial Testing


14-Inch Close Grip Bench: 280 pounds


Single-Arm External Rotation: 8 pounds for 3 reps


As you can see the single-arm external rotation was severely weak compared to the bench press. After 12 weeks of strength training using 3 different exercises to train external rotation, McKenzie was able to perform 35 pounds for 8 reps as well as increase his Close Grip Bench Press to 331 pounds! That's a 51-pound improvement without even performing a bench press! You will also notice that the 35 pounds for external rotation are equal to 10.6% of the max bench of 331 pounds, which fits right into the ideal ratios outlined above.


I challenge everyone reading this right now to test your external rotation, and implement it into your training and you will notice aches and pains go away, increased mobility and an improved bench press.


Lower Body Application


The concept of structural balance is not something that has been extensively tested scientifically, it is simply data analysis. We can, however, apply the same concept to lower body training.


I touched on this subject in a recent article Train According to Gravity and Jump Higher


Cleather, Goodwin and Bull (2012) tested the relative forces experienced at each lower body joint during a maximal jump. They found the following;


5.5-8.4 times bodyweight @ hip

6.9-9.0 times bodyweight @ knee

8.9-10.0 times bodyweight @ ankle


So what does this mean?


It means that the hip experiences the least amount of force during a jump compared to the knee and ankle, and the ankle experiences the most force.


To be structurally balanced it would make sense to train these structures according to the force they experience.


Overpowering the hips while neglecting to adequately train the knees, ankles and feet will lead to the knees, ankles and feet not being able to handle the large amounts of force produced by the hips. They will become the limiting factor holding back improvement of performance.


I would argue that the majority of fitness and health professionals are too focused on the hips. You might have heard someone tell you for example that;


"your hips/glutes are weak"

"your glutes aren't activating properly"

"You have a lazy glute"


You also might have been prescribed hip activation exercises such as monster walks, or banded squats.


I believe that the solution to the problem is to train the feet and lower leg to handle more force and overall function better. This will improve the neurological connection of the feet to the knees and hips as well as allow the hips to produce more force because the lower leg, ankle and foot can now handle it.


Your body is smart. If it realizes the feet, ankles or knees cannot handle the force the hips can produce, it will neurologically inhibit the hips!


This article was meant to help you gain perspective and challenge some of the common information out there. If you have questions, comments or disagreements, reach out!


Thank you for reading,


Matt




Email: matthew@alliance-athletics.com

WhatsApp: +1 (204) 891-6851

Instagram: @alliance_athletics_



Note:

The information above is not a substitute for medical advice. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, it is always better to see your doctor before starting any type of rehabilitation to ensure you are properly diagnosed.



References

Achieving Structural Balance, Charles Poliquin (1999) from https://www.t-nation.com/training/achieving-structural-balance


Cleather DJ, Goodwin JE, Bull AM. Hip and knee joint loading during vertical jumping and push jerking. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3966561/

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