Strength, flexibility and balance are the primary qualities that determine your athletic ability, but skipping ahead to things you’re not ready for won’t do you any good.
Something that the @maddoxmethod program implements frequently are the front scale and the back scale. These movements help you build the essential attributes you need for more advanced skills. You might be thinking… standing on one leg is no big deal - and yeah, it’s not if you’re not focused on what’s going on in the rest of your body.
Scales are a class of basic gymnastic balance exercises in which the body remains straight while pivoting on a single leg. They get their name from the old-time weight measurement balance scales, where one side goes down as the other rises.
As you can see in the photo, I’m not just standing on one leg. My whole body is engaged as I lift the leg to the front or back.
Try it out!! And no cheating!! Move slowly with your leg locked out and your entire body engaged. Did you run into any trouble? Was it easy for you?
Although scales look simple, they can help you assess your current levels of strength, flexibility and balance. Head over to maddoxmethod.com to check out the whole blog on how you can use scales as an assessment tool to help you work on the areas that are your biggest issues.
Key Points of Performance:
Basic Front Scale:
- Relax shoulders
- Lock out legs
- Keep back straight
- Point toes
Basic Back Scale:
- Lock out legs
- Keep chest up
- Straight line
- Point toes
Let’s start with flexibility.
First things first, your hamstrings need to be able to lengthen appropriately to perform the scales to full extension, but some people with extremely tight hip flexors may feel those limiting as well.
To keep your chest and upper body tall and upright, you may need to work on your mid-back spinal extension.
Flexibility signs to watch for:
- Tightness in the back of the legs - this indicates you need additional work on your hamstring flexibility.
- Tightness in the front top of your thigh - this indicates your hip flexors need additional mobility work.
- Your back rounds out when you move your leg - this indicates you need to spend some time on spinal extension.
These cues allow you to asses your flexibility limitations and see what you need to work on. When practicing the scales, don’t push yourself into bad form. Only go as far as you can maintain perfect form.
Now, let’s move on to strength.
Strength may not seem like it would be too much of a factor with scales since it’s just lifting your leg, right?
When performed correctly, this exercise requires strength that you may not have developed in your previous training.
- Keep both knees locked out throughout the entire movement uses the quadriceps muscle in that fully extended position. If you haven’t practiced this, it can be quite an intense contraction and it’s easy to relax it a bit as you lift the leg.
- When you lift your leg, you’re also trying to keep your hips level. Don’t let your hips and one of your buttocks tilt downward; if this happens, it indicates a weakness in the glutes of the standing leg.
- Finally, if you’re having trouble keeping your upper body tall and upright, you're likely to have strength deficits in your core and spinal muscles. Your anterior and posterior core muscles are needed to keep a stable “base”, and your mid and upper back spinal muscles keep you from hunching forward (this may also be combined with decreased flexibility in the spine).
Finally we will address balance problems.
I saved this for last because flexibility and strength can often be mistaken for “poor balance”.
If your flexibility is lacking, you’ll have to fight harder to stay in position which can throw off your stability, and if you have weaknesses, you’ll simply be unable to hold the position you need and will fall out of it easily.
Both of these can make it look like you have balance issues when that’s not necessarily the case.
Balance as a whole is a combination of strength, flexibility, and equilibrium in certain positions. “Pure” balance issues may be coming from the vestibular system (inner ear) or other such central processes - distinct from extremity concerns.
You might be thinking, how can you test a pure balance problem from other factors? These assessments are a good place to start:
- Start by standing with your feet an equal distance apart and close your eyes. If you feel swaying or can’t maintain your position here, with both feet firmly planted, then it’s definitely a balance issue.
- Next, stand on one leg and tilt your neck back so that you are looking at the ceiling. Point your nose right up at the ceiling. Don’t try a front scale yet, but just lift one foot off the ground a bit so that all your weight is on one leg. It’s interesting how much of our balance perception is based on our sight of a level horizon. Look upwards and you won’t have that cueing and you may find yourself quickly falling over.
- The final progression is closing your eyes while standing on one leg. Don’t worry about lifting your leg high, just stand on one leg. Here we don’t have any visual cues, we are relying on our internal body position sense and this is a good challenge for your balance.
If you find trouble with any of these tests then you can simply perform them as exercises on their own. Set a timer for a minute and do a few sets. You should progress relatively quickly, and if not, you may need to seek professional advice.
No problem with these balance tests? Equilibrium is probably not your primary restriction. Work on your strength and flexibility and you’ll likely see a great improvement in your ability to hold the scales.
Did you have any trouble in your assessments? Try these 3 variations to build up your strength and balance:
- Seated Scales - this modification is only possible for the front scale, but it can be a great way to get used to raising your leg while keeping the knee locked out and toes pointed.
- Hand Hold Support - If you feel like you’re falling over when balancing on one foot, you can lightly hold on to something while you perform the exercise.
- Leaning with Side or Back Against the Wall - this modification is very helpful if you need more support than a hand hold, and if you have significant problems with holding an upright posture.
Now, if you feeling like the scale movements are too easy, here’s how to step up the scales:
- Front Scale Pistol - If you can do a pistol and front scale then you should try this out! You might need to bend your upper body a bit more forward to keep your balance, but work on keeping the chest up high and the leg locked out straight.
- Back Scale One Leg Squat - This is a nice variation on a single leg squat and requires quite a bit of glute strength in both legs to keep your positioning correct.
Be sure to adjust your practice of the front and back scales based on your current level of performance. Pay attention to your form, first and foremost, and only move on to more advanced variations when you’ve worked hard on the basic front and back scales.