These 5 exercises all have a high degree of natural difficulty. By mastering them, you will see improved performance and stability in several exercises. Each exercise will challenge you and force you to overcome your weaknesses. Best of all, you will see improved strength, technique, and a reduced risk of injury. And I promise – no wobble boards, Bosu balls, stability balls, or other gizmos needed.

The key distinction that I need to make is the difference between a need for mobility versus a need for stability. There is a large focus on mobility in the fitness world. Some circles treat mobility work as a cure-all, while never addressing stability training or skilled assessment. This is deeply flawed. A lack of stability can create a false lack of mobility. Technique, strength, and safety can suffer as a result.

If you are unsure which you need, the answer is simple – get assessed. A FMS (Functional Movement Screen) will reveal the answer to you. Using the FMS before starting a program and then again as a check-up tool will save hours of wasted time. Blindly assigning mobility or stability exercises and praying for the best will work for some, but definitely not all.

functional movement screen

Go to www.functionalmovement.com to learn more about the FMS

As Gray Cook & Mike Boyle are fond of repeating – “if you are not assessing, you are guessing.”

A great example of a stability need is a person with the mobility to squat deep, but cannot squat with a flat back and an upright torso. This person is flexible, but lacks the control, strength, or technique to squat deep with great form. An approach emphasizing mobility will lead to two results:

1 – They don’t improve. This is frequently seen in plateaus with beginners, who struggle with technique on many of the compound lifts. It is very difficult to improve a lousy back squat with more back squatting.

2 – They get injured. Simply put, they lack the stability to move well and compensate. Overcompensating leads to chronic overuse injuries. (For more on this, read this excerpt from “Advanced in Functional Training” by Mike Boyle – http://graycookmovement.com/?p=118)

Fortunately, there are exercises that make addressing stability needs very simple. One approach is to follow a step-by-step program that individually addresses and strengthens individual pieces or patterns. This is my preferred method in a post-rehabilitation setting. It helps address the issues that led to physical therapy in the first place.

Another approach is to use exercises that are “self-limiting” – naturally difficult exercises that demand stability. These exercises either remove the ability to compensate or limit progress until they are mastered. This is my preferred method for most beginners, athletes, and people without current injuries. The 5 following exercises are among the best for this method.

Simple Guidelines:

  • Avoid pain. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that you are doing something incorrectly. Example – Back pain during kettlebell swings is a surefire sign of poor form.

  • Don’t rush. Powerful concentric, controlled eccentrics. Own the movement.

  • Focus on strength. There is no need to treat these like sissy exercises. Example – Naked (bodyweight) Get Ups teach; heavy get-ups transform.

  • You don’t need instability training to improve stability. Wobble boards, balance discs, balance pads, and stability balls are great rehab tools. They are lousy for strength. Common sense applies here – Master a stable surface before fiddling with an unstable one.

Bang for Your Buck Exercise #1 – Kettlebell or Dumbbell Goblet Squat

Benefits – Keeping the weight in front of you increases the strength, stability, and activation of the anterior core. It’s difficult to arch your back with a goblet squat. Having the weight in front of you also allows you sit back on your heels easier, while maintaining a more upright torso. Squatting with a goblet, even a light 2.5lb plate, is an excellent way to groove proper squat technique.

Learn how to perform the Goblet Squat here

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIrcxSkwui8]

How to Program
#1 – As a warm-up – Prying Goblet Squats, 3 sets of 5 reps, about 5-10 seconds per rep.

The Prying Goblet Squat is an excellent all-purpose warm-up drill, courtesy of Dan Johnl. It benefits both inflexible and unstable athletes. If you are inflexible, it forces you to stretch while building strength in a new position. If you are too flexible, doing them correctly will teach you where your body’s limits truly are.

Learn how to do it here

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaQPfi8f27E]

Key – don’t round forward. If you cannot stay upright, you’ve gone down too low.

#2 – As a strength exercise – Goblet Squats, 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps, depending on training age and goal. Heavy goblet squats for sets of 10 are excellent for building good technique. For developing core stability, I prefer longer sets of 15-20 reps with a moderate weight. The longer time under tension for the core builds excellent stability and muscle memory for the squat.

Exercise #2 – Barbell Front Squats

Benefits – The benefits are the same as the goblet squat, namely the more upright torso, but the front squat demands excellent technique, mobility, and especially stability. People outgrow goblet squats as a strength exercise very quickly. Progressing to the front squat as soon as squat technique is developed is key to maximizing performance.

A key benefit is the inherent difficulty of front squatting with lousy technique. You’ll simply fail, dump the bar, or be incredibly uncomfortable. A focused cycle of front squatting is an excellent way to improve squat technique, especially if you are only used to back squatting. In fact, I prefer the front squat as the primary squat exercise for the vast majority of my clients.

How to Program – I follow Eric Cressey’s recommendation of only using front squats for 6 reps or less. At higher reps, the upper back tends to fatigue too quickly when using heavy weight.

Learn how to front squat herehttp://robertsontrainingsystems.com/blog/front-squat/

Exercise #3 – Turkish Get Ups

Benefits – Trains the core in every way (anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation). Improves scapular stability in both arms. Improves glute strength and activation, if using the high bridge variation. Dramatically improves strength & stability in lunging exercises.

Two types of clients are guaranteed to do them in my training programs:

1 – Elderly clients & beginners. If fall reduction, balance, or coordination is the goal, learning how to safely move to and from the floor is essential. For fat loss, a get up is incredibly challenging for a new exerciser. They also teach you to slow down and not rush through every workout.

2 – Young athletes, unstable or not. Young athletes respond very well to Get Ups. They frequently don’t need as complicated of stability programs as older or post-rehabilitation clients. Performing Get Ups in the warm up or as a dedicated core exercise will go a long way towards athleticism in youth athletes.

How to Program

  • Daily, for 5 reps per side, as per the Program Minimim.
  • In a warm up, for 3-5 reps per side, pausing at each transition point for 2-3 seconds.
  • As dedicated core training, 5 reps per side, focusing on using heavier weights.
  • As a technique drill for lunges, focusing on longer pauses in the half kneeling position.

 

Learn how to perform the Naked Get Up here (starts around 3:45) –

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vWKMuDH528]

#4 – Bottoms Up Kettlebell Anything

It is difficult to perform Bottoms Up work incorrectly, or with too heavy of a weight. You’ll lose control instantly. Therefore, they are an excellent self-limiting exercise for core stability or improving a troublesome movement.

Benefits – Bottoms up work requires excellent core stability, grip strength, and scapular stability. Without any one of these, the kettlebell simply will not go stay in place. Many people have reported improved bottoms up work only when they squeeze their glutes, tightly grip the kettlebell, and brace their core.

Bottoms Up Variations – Farmer Carry, Waiter Walk, Press, Clean, Get Up, Isometric Hold

How to Program – Frequently as a corrective exercise, in a warm-up, or at the end of a workout for dedicated core or technique training. I rarely use them in place of a strength exercise, unless stability is the #1 goal of a training program.

How to Perform – Hold the kettlebell by the handle, upside down. Knuckles facing up to the ceiling at all times, straight wrist. The bottom of the bell is “up”, as in facing the ceiling.

#5 – ½ Kneeling Postures

Benefits & Overview – ½ Kneeling is a posture more than an exercise. But it’s incredibly versatile. I often use this for two exercises – rows and overhead presses. Both versions are excellent ways to improve technique, strength, and stability in a lunge exercise without directly working on lunges.

In the ½ Kneeling Row (Band or Cable, One Arm or Two), several things are happening. The legs, hips, and core are working to keep the body perfectly still. They need to counterbalance the rotational pull of the cable or band, which improves core activation. It is also very difficult to cheat through the exercise.

With the ½ Kneeling Press, we are reducing the tendency to lean back and hyperextend the lower back with overhead pressing. This forces the core to stabilize the body while the arms press overhead.

How to Program – Typically for moderate to high reps, 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps per side. The focus is on building stability in this position and cleaning up movement, as opposed to building maximum strength. A great option is performing 2-3 sets of Bottoms Up Waiter Walks per side, walking for 30 seconds each rep. Start light, it’s tougher than you would expect.

How to Perform – Watch Gray Cook demo ½ Kneeling here

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDYeRbucGt4]

Conclusion

By implementing these 5 exercises, either as warm-ups or specific drills, you can drastically improve your performance on several difficult exercises. Use them to improve stability, and then focus on the most effective exercises for strength possible. You’ll notice improved ease of movement and performance after just a few weeks.

If you feel that you would benefit from a FMS Screen and stability training, I include both in all of my training programs. You can call 508-507-9008 or e-mail [email protected] to schedule a consultation. There is also a directory of certified professionals at http://www.functionalmovement.com/experts.

Benefits – Trains the core in every way (anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation). Improves scapular stability in both arms. Improves glute strength and activation, if using the high bridge variation. Dramatically improves strength & stability in lunging exercises.