The Y Balance is a phenomenal exercise. When you look at it, it requires pretty much everything; strength, stability, mobility… and balance of course. This first part of this post will take you through what the exercise is and how to perform it.
How it works
The Y Balance exercise as whole can be broken down into 3 distinct components – the anterior reach, the posterolateral reach and the posteromedial reach – which will be explained further below. One foot remains fixed on the floor, forming the centre of the ‘Y’, whilst the other foot performs the reach. The fixed leg is the ‘working’ leg during the exercise as the onus is on the muscles surrounding the ankle, knee and hip of this leg to control the movement. Athletes should aim to keep their hands on the hips during the exercise to avoid using them to aid balance.
The goal of the reach is to touchdown on the floor as far away as possible from the centre of the ‘Y’. However, the most important aspect to re-emphasise during the exercise is that the fixed leg is the working leg. The touchdown with the reaching leg should be performed with the toes and must be as light and delicate as possible. All of the weight must remain on the fixed leg. Coaching cues which use similes such as ‘broken glass’, ‘hot floor’ and ‘weighing scales’ can work well to highlight the intended delicacy of the touchdown.
The reach is not a lunge!
The individual components
- Anterior reach
The fixed foot remains in place whilst the opposite foot reaches straight out in front of the body. Touchdown with the toes of the reaching foot as far away from the fixed foot as possible.
Whilst the fixed foot should not move from side-to-side or back-to-forward, during this reach it may move up and down. Imagine a CSI-style murder outline drawn around the foot on the floor. As long as you can keep the foot within this outline you may rise up onto your toes and let the heel come off the floor. This will not only facilitate further reaches but also challenge proprioception and stability in end-range plantar flexion.
- Posteromedial reach
The posteromedial reach can be thought of as the skater reach. The ‘medial’ part of the name is so called because the reaching foot moves to the medial side of the fixed foot. The movement of the reaching foot forms the first ‘/’ of the ‘Y’.
The athlete should descent into a quarter/half squat position to reach as far as possible during the posteromedial reach. This challenges stability of the knee in the frontal plane. A deeper squat will typically provide a greater challenge to stability.
- Posterolateral reach
The posterolateral reach can be thought of as the crossover reach. The ‘lateral’ part of the name is so called because the reaching foot moves to the lateral side of the fixed foot. The movement of the reaching foot forms the opposite ‘\’ of the ‘Y’ to the posteromedial reach.
As with the posteromedial reach, the athlete should descent into a quarter/half squat position to reach as far as possible. This reach can be used to mobilise the hip of the fixed leg into internal rotation as will be discussed in the second part of this article.
Teaching the Y Balance
The most effective way to teach the Y Balance is, quite simply, to draw a ‘Y’ on the floor. Coach the athlete to reach as far as possible on each of the lines and to touch on them as gently as possible. When introducing the exercise it may also be prudent to allow the athlete to use their arms thereby reducing the level of difficulty.
If it’s not possible to draw lines to set out the circuit, a good alternative is to use small cones. Place the cones in a small ‘Y’ around the athlete and coach them to push the cones as far away as possible. This is a great technique to use for athletes who have a tendency to stomp down when they reach – if they stomp on the cones they won’t be able to move them.
The Y Balance ticks a lot of boxes and it’s a stalwart exercise in many of my programmes. Is the Y Balance in your coaching toolbox? Come back for part two next week and I’ll explain how, when and why I use the Y Balance.