Real life stability training

Real life stability training

When most people think of stability based training, their minds automatically jump to bosu balls, half foam rollers, and rubber mats. While these tools may have merit in rehabilitation and very low grade exercise settings, they aren’t really the most effective way to improve stability from a sports performance (or real life performance) setting.


This ultimately comes down to the principal of specificity, which implies that our gym-based training needs to be relevant and appropriate to our desired outcome.

When it comes to unstable surface training, it does improve our capacity to perform on an unstable surface.

But we don’t live or perform on an unstable surface.

So while the use of the instruments mentioned above will certainly improve our capacity to balance and produce force on unstable surfaces, this improvement is actually quite unlikely to carry over to our ability to balance and produce force on stable surfaces (AKA the ground) – particularity if we are already training regularly.

In fact, there is research to suggest that in more athletic populations, the addition of unstable surface training into a more traditional strength and conditioning regime may actually blunt or reduce the improvements in performance produced by that regime [1].

Which is obviously quite counterproductive.


So what can we do instead?

So we know that stability is important. This holds particularly true when we are discoing trunk and hip stability. If we cannot stabilise these areas of the body both during movement and when resisting movement, it can lead to inefficient or dangerous movement, and subsequently a number of issues down the road.

Stability in the real world ultimately comes down to our capacity to maintain good alignment during movement (again with emphasis through the hips and trunk). This is obviously easier during bilateral movements than unilateral movements.

In more demanding situations, stability can be further challenged by the need to maintain good alignment during movement while resisting forces that are further challenging stability. An example of this could be a rugby athlete trying to break a tackle while running (in a split stance), where they need to maintain good alignment to produce force safely, while also resisting the external force applied by the tackling player.

If we take these factors into consideration, it can provide a valuable and thorough guide on stability based training, and the progressions and regressions associated.


Real life stability training progressions.

So, as mentioned above, our starting point should be developing basic hip and trunk stability. This means glute bridges (and their single leg variations), deadbugs (anti-extension core strength), and pallof presses (anti-rotation core strength).

Once we have the ability to stabilise the hips and trunk in what could be considered a ‘low level’ capacity, it is time to challenge our ability to maintain balance bilaterally. This means developing strength in squat and deadlift variations. While this is not a particularly challenging from a stability standpoint, it is important to develop a high quality of movement in these exercises, and maintaining a stable trunk is an integral component of that.

During this time we should also focus on developing strength in unilateral movements. Think single leg squat and deadlift variations. By moving to a single leg or split stance we increase the stability demand of these movements considerably for both the trunk and the hip. Developing strength in these movements is therefore essential to improving our stability on a single leg.

Split Squat

From there we can makes all of these movements more challenging from a stability perspective through two key mechanisms.

The first is offset loading (which I have written extensively about HERE).

The second is through the addition of unstable loading. While this could make an entire post on its own (and probably will now that I think about it), I will explain it briefly.

This describes the addition of unstable loads that move uncontrollably during movement. This can be accomplished by adding additional loading to barbells or bodyweight exercises that is effectively tied to the bar with resistance or power bands (see example below).

While this demonstration uses a squat as an example, the same methods of loading can be applied to split squats, deadlift variations, and single leg deadlift variations.

This method of loading greatly increases the stability demands of the movement on a stable surface thus replicating the ability to resist uncontrollable forces during movement (such as that seen in athletic situations).

While I wouldn’t use these as a primary form of loading (as the stability demand is so great it limits our force and power production), they do make a fantastic assistance exercises that compliments traditional loading methods nicely – allowing us to improve stability considerably without masking our performance increases.



So to summarise briefly, stability in a real world setting doesn’t really describe our ability to balance on an unstable surface.

It rather describes our capacity to perform movements with a high degree of movement quality on a stable surface – this also includes our ability to resist external forces during movement on that same stable surface.

This can be trained by ensuring hip and trunk stability is maintained during bilateral and unilateral movements and through the addition of uncontrollable loading methods – while on a stable surface!





1. Cressey, Eric M., et al. “The effects of ten weeks of lower-body unstable surface training on markers of athletic performance.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 21.2 (2007): 561-567.

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