balances: everything you need to know
Balances are a basic body difficulty (BD) that we need to include in every RG routine, no matter your age or level. They are also important because they are the first stepping stone towards pivots, another essential BD. If you struggle to master them, coach them or simply understanding them, this post is for you.
Technical Definition: What exactly is a balance?
Probably you already know the basic definition of what a balance is but when we refer to balances in RG we refer to the moment when the athlete remains motionless above the area (in gymnastics this area is small, eg. the tip of the toes of only one foot) of support and does not fall. We have three types:
Balances on the foot Executed on the toes (relevé) or flat foot. These are performed for a minimum of 1 second fixed in the shape. If the routine is not a free one, a minimum of 1 Apparatus Technical element needs to be executed if the shape is well-defined and the apparatus element is executed correctly but the stop position is insufficient, the balance is valid with a technical execution penalty.Ex. Penche Balance.
Balances on other parts of the body Ex. Chest-stand.
Dynamic Balances. Executed with smooth and continuous movements from one form to another and a clearly defined shape: All relevant parts of the body have to be in the correct position in the same moment of time. Fouette Balance.
But how do they work?
The balance condition will be achieved if, and only if, the centre of gravity lies on a vertical line passing through the area of support at the floor.
When the gymnast is motionless, the sum of all the forces acting on the body must be zero. The force of gravity vertically downward will be balanced by the force upward from the floor to the foot (the Normal force), acting on the same vertical line. When a gymnast wobbles or falls off a balance, it's because the centre of gravity is not in line with these other equilibrium state forces.
This concept is based on Newton's Third Law of Motion, the action-reaction law:
Whenever one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body exerts an oppositely directed force of equal magnitude on the first body.
How to master them: Progressions and tips
Yeah, Yeah... All this technical information is very cool but how is it that gets to do them without looking like you just stepped on a Lego piece? Well, obviously, it depends on the balance. There are a few steps that everyone can follow. Some of these steps may feel quite basic for the more advanced gymnasts, this is why instead of using them as part of the main training, incorporating a couple of these balance drills to the warm-up is a good idea.
1. Perform the balance shape on the floor
If the balance requires front or side leg work, you can do it on your back (ex. Superman, front side balance, wine grass...). If it requires back leg work (ex. Penche, arabesque, scorpion, attitude...), try to do it on your stomach. You will develop the flexibility needed and learn how to hold the correct shape engaging your buttock and abdominal muscles, among others before trying to balance. To complement this first step you can do some slow kicks, with or without resistance bands, to get better extensions. This is essential if you are aiming to learn a balance that is not performed with hand support (these have a higher difficulty score).
2. At the barre/wall on flat foot
Once you have the shape of your balance with the correct alignment, you can practice it standing with the support of a barre, a wall or a chair.
3. Plies and releves at the barre
We can incorporate a plie holding the balance and then get on our toes to develop our balance and stability further. If done correctly it will help with your turnout and ankle strength, which you need for your balances.
4. At the centre on flat foot
Once you are comfortable on the barre, it's time to try this on the mat with no support. It will be hard to maintain the body posture you have been working on previously but with a bit of perseverance, you will get used to it quite fast.
5. Prep-to-land drill
Gymnasts can sometimes hold a balance for a decent amount of time with a perfect posture, but fail to perform it correctly in the middle of a routine because they don't land it correctly or they don't have enough time to get into the balance carefully and they end up wobbling. This is why the actual move into the balance is key! Although the prep lasts a fraction of a second, it can be tricky. Especially for beginners because the ankle needs to be strong, and more importantly, you need to learn to transfer the centre of gravity from your previous posture to the balance without going too far. So for this drill, we need to go from standing on flat foot to the balance and land it straight away with our feet together with no wobbles or heavily landings. Just for this exercise, you don't need to hold the balance at all and you don't even need to bother using an apparatus. Make it nice and clean!
6. Practice in the centre, on releve
Time to do the full balance on the mat with no help! After all these progressions, it won't take long for you to get the hang of this because you already gained the strength flexibility needed. You also know how the correct shape feels like in your body, so you will be able to correct little mistakes that you can make along the way faster. Not to mention that your muscle memory will help to transfer your centre of gravity straight into your balance and then land it properly without having to concentrate or remember all these steps in the second that the balance should last.
7. With apparatus
It's important to practice the balance with your apparatus as your body position can change slightly depending on what you are doing with it. It obviously requires more co-ordination and concentration to use it while balancing. This doesn't mean that doing any balance without it it's a waste of time. It's good to focus on one thing at a time when we are only starting to master a certain balance!