How and When to Use the Y Balance

In the first part of this post I explained what the Y Balance is and how it should be performed. This follow-up instalment will look at how and when I apply this exercise with some of athletes I coach.

Using the Y Balance a screening exercise

The most popular use for the Y Balance is as a testing/screening exercise and rightly so. Research by authors various suggests that the test is a strong predictor of lower extremity injury – see Gribble et al (2012) for a review. The Y Balance is a shortened version of the older Star Excursion Balance Test (SEBT) which includes the most important reaches and loses a couple of the less important ones.

For specific guidelines for performing the test I’ll direct you to Plisky et al (2009), however, I will summarise a few important points. Firstly, reaches are measured as percentages of limb length. Use the following formula to work this out:

  • (Reach / Limb Length) x 100 = Reach Percentage

N.B. Limb length is measured from the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) to distal portion of the medial malleolus.

The Y Balance testing kit. You have to love FMS and their margins… that is at least if you’re their accountant.

Secondly, my ‘red flag’ issues would be either of the following:

  • Composite reach <95% of limb length
  • Unilateral reach differences in excess of 4cm

Now you could spend a thousand dollars on a neat little kit to test the Y Balance… or you could by 3 haberdasher’s tape measures for less than three pounds and then tape them down with a few pence worth of electrical tape. The choice is yours.

Using the Y Balance as a warm-up exercise

The Y Balance is a staple in many of my warm-up rotations. Most people are now pretty familiar with the RAMP acronym for setting out the goals of the warm-up. This stands for:

  • Raise body temperature
  • Activate the appropriate muscle groups
  • Mobilise the appropriate ranges of motion
  • Potentiate subsequent performances

I like using the Y Balance here because it can hit the first three goals. It activates and mobilises pretty much everything from the waist down and certainly gets the blood flowing after a few circuits performed without rest. It’s a great one to start the warm-up with because of the proprioception and balance elements too.

There are a few modifications I often employ when using the Y Balance in the warm-up. For example, for those with ‘tight’ ankles I may get them to keep their heels fixed on the floor and to push the knee forward during the anterior reach. They may also perform some extra repetitions of this reach alone. The goal here is to actively mobilise the ankle joint and facilitate a few extra degrees of dorsiflexion. Similarly, for those with limitations in hip internal rotation, I will try to emphasise the internal rotation element of the posterolateral reach. Effectively this turns into more of a traditional bowler squat exercise.

Using the Y Balance as a ‘working’ exercise

I like to treat the Y as I would a single leg squat.

Although it’s not typically used as a working exercise, there’s no reason why it can’t be. It’s important to know that as the stability of a movement decreases so too does the activation of the prime movers, but that’s no reason exclude it from your training. I’d say that the Y Balance falls in the same stability class as the traditional single leg squat and my experiences would suggest that it responds well to the type of loads and loading schemes that you’d utilise when single leg squatting. Load in whatever manner takes your fancy, although dumbbells are probably best way to introduce an additional load.

 

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? If so, how do you use it? Drop us a comment below.

 

References:

Plisky PJ, Gorman PP, Butler RJ, Kiesel KB, Underwood FB and Elkins B. (2009). The reliability of an instrumented device for measuring components of the star excursion balance test. N Am J Sports Phys Ther, 4(2):92–99.

Gribble PA, Hertel J and Plisky P. (2012). Using the Star Excursion Balance Test to assess dynamic postural-control deficits and outcomes in lower extremity injury: a literature and systematic review. J Ath Train, 47(3):339–357.

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