Why Athletes Need Balance and Reactive Training

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Athletes are constantly given false representations of how to improve strength and overall athleticism. That's why most high school athletes, once in the weight room, go straight for the Bench Press. True, it's a great, basic exercise that will build strength in the chest and triceps. But when you're looking to reach the next level of athleticism, you'll need to challenge your body in different ways off the field to be ready for anything and everything on the field.

Balance and reactive work are two areas of training often overlooked in favor of beach body exercises, like the Squat and Bench Press. Balance training, or stabilization endurance, is any type of training that challenges your stability while performing an exercise—for example, performing a Squat while standing on the back of a BOSU ball.

The first time you do this exercise, your legs will probably shake violently. But adapting your muscles to this new facet of fitness will prepare you for those awkward landings after a hard-fought rebound in mid-air or a high catch in the middle of the field.

Balance work increases an athlete's ability to sense stimuli within the body. This means that with proper balance training, you'll make harder, more explosive cuts to blow by opponents.

Reactive training is a vital aspect of all standout collegiate and professional athletes' exercise regimen. Reactive training is the ability to generate force quickly. Think of an offensive lineman coming off the line or a baseball player getting the bat around on a 95-mph fastball. Athletes who embrace reactive training are able to engage their muscles quickly and effectively, whereas those who limit their training to basic strength exercises are unlikely to explode past the competition. Examples of reactive exercises include Box Jumps or Up/Downs at the sound of a coach's whistle. The  athlete engages his neuromuscular system as quickly as possible to react to the external stimulus [the whistle].

Athletes shouldn't feel the need to pick just one of these training styles. Balance, reactive and strength training are all important tools in achieving higher levels of athleticism. The best workouts incorporate all of them, simulating game situations as much as possible. It's up to the athlete to continue challenging his or her body in new ways.

Incorporate the three exercises below to improve your balance and reactive capabilities on the field or on the court.

BOSU Ball Squat

  • Carefully get on the back side of a BOSU ball
  • Assume athletic stance with feet shoulder width apart
  • Perform squat

Sets/Reps: 3x15
Coaching Points: Don't go too low // Keep the knees behind the toes // Keep head up and back straight

Tennis Ball Reaction Starts

  • Stay low when exploding off the line
  • Back should always be flat and low
  • Maintain a straight angle to ball
  • Don't reach or dive for ball

Sets/Reps: 3-5 sets, with 30-45 seconds rest between

Single-Leg Squat

  • Keep weight light
  • Hold weight up in front to help with balance
  • Hold weight lower as you advance

Set/Reps: 3x6; work up to 3x10

Source:  Military.com, dotFIT.com

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock