• wedelen01

Balance Like GSP, RDA, and BJ Penn | ft. Billy Edelen

This post focuses on dynamic nervous integration work. Specifically we're using proprioceptive footwork drills to build balance, coordination, strength, and increased reaction time in the feet.

General Focus

In this type of work we are teaching the nervous system to fire in an efficient, rapid fashion. Essentially we are training the body's sensory receptors (the feet) to make movements and reactions associated in sport in a quick dynamic fashion.

The goal is to have no force lost and a minimal pause between needing to coordinate a movement and actually making it. These exercises are great at building coordination, balance, and kinesthetic awareness, which is the understanding and feel of where your body is in spacet. Performing these bjj footwork drills will minimize the risk of injury and will allow athletes to make quick decisions without thought.

History

This type of training is the pioneering work first introduced by Marv Marinovich. It is also used by his disciples, including Nick Curson of Speed of Sport and Gavin MacMillan of Sports Science Labs. Both have worked with elite combat athletes, including BJ Penn, George's St. Pierre, and Rafael dos Anjos. In future installments I will continue to share the training advocated by these gentleman. I feel it is some of the best all around training for direct sports performance and injury prevention/rehab purposes.




Normal Problems

Many people, and myself doubly included in my active competitive playing days, have hips that stay in a more externally rotated fashion. This causes the foot to turn out. This leads to other faulty movement mechanics including excessive supination (walking on the outside of the foot). This takes pressure off the midline of the foot and takes weight off the big toe, which is abused in my original sport of basketball.


I essentially lost all of my big toe function by the end of active playing days after a turf toe injury. This then caused the plantar fascia to be locked up on the bottom of my foot.  I also relied on arch supports and ankle braces.  This kept my foot bound and turned off most of the nervous system integration (neuromuscular connection) into the foot. In essence my feet did not work at all like a foot should.


How Do Footwork Drills Help?

This helps us to develop more stability, balance, and coordination between our feet and the rest of our body system. The more our feet can work well and fire in these challenging movements there will be increased sport performance.

Universal Cues

  • Stand on 2 foam rollers or PVC pipes that are 4 inches in diameter.

  • Turn your feet outwards to where your toes are pointing away from one another.

  • Hold onto a two long sticks (think of something like a crutch or a smaller piece of PVC pipe that Crossfitters use for shoulder mobility) to keep your balance. You can also hold your hands on a wall as well if sticks are unavailable.

  • Weight through all 4 corners of foot

  • Actively engage shin muscle

  • Lengthen through crown of head

  • Glutes engaged to extend hips and stand straight

  • Shoulders down and away from ears

  • Elbows in tight

  • Note: this should feel good or slightly painful on the bottom of your feet. This is your fascia and knots in these muscles breaking up. Your toes will wake up and have more life because the nerve channels are being opened up. This is what plays into the increased coordination, balance, and speed or reaction. Hence the name: dynamic nervous integration.

#1 Feet Angled Out (External Rotation of Hips)

  • Begin rolling your feet on the pipes in this outward fashion.

  • If you become comfortable with this challenge yourself by purely balancing on your feet with no external support.

#2 Feet Angled In (Internal Rotation of Hip)

Just as the title says our feet are angled inwards and we're rolling the pipes inward and outward like the last one.

This will feel a little more difficult because the "meat" of your fascia will not be in contact with the pipe. Rather, your toebox and heel will be in contact where you will have to focus on an eccentric (lengthened) contraction of the musculature of the bottom of your feet.


#3 Rolling Pipes Forward and Back In Place

This drill focuses on heel to toe balancing (forward and backwards) whereas the previous 2 drills focused on side to side balancing. These changes in the plane of motion target different muscles. This helps us to develop more stability, balance, and coordination between our feet and the rest of our body system. The more our feet can work well and fire in these challenging movements there will be increased sport performance.


Procedure

  • Pipes should be running perpendicular  (sure to side) to your body with one in front of the other.

  • Begin rolling heel to toe keeping a neutral (straight) foot.

  • Try to keep your weight centered more through your toes and the ball of the foot. All sports are played on the toes so we should train that way too!

  • If you become comfortable with this challenge yourself by purely balancing on your feet with no external support.

#4 Sliding Forward and Backward on Toes

This drill focuses on activating the toes to where they are able to stay connected to the unsteady surface of the pipe. This requires the mover to internally rotate the hip so that the feet are in line forward. This allows for you to properly align your big toe for all other movement based activities in the correct plane of motion.


Procedure

  • Pipes should be running longways parallel with your feet

  • This means your foot should be on the pipe lengthways

  • The tendency to fall will be off the side of the pipe as the unsteady  pipe is causing for your foot to supinate or pronate. The ability to control these subtle muscles connecting into the feet are essential movers in making this movement occur.

  • Spread toes and grip downward with them onto the pipes.

  • Put weight through the toes and ball of foot

  • Remember all sports are played on the toes so we should train that way too!

  • Move the pipe on one foot forward with the toes and then do the same on the other side. This will progressively move you forward.

  • If you become comfortable with this challenge yourself by purely balancing on your feet with no external support.

What You Should Feel

Your toes should begin to activate. You'll learn how to grip and work with them in that fashion while also spreading them out from one another. You'll feel yourself wanting to fall off the edge of the pipe. This puts you in tune with the supinators and pronators (inversion vs eversion). You may fall at first but then you will learn how to activate those muscles to keep yourself balanced. In essence your stability and fine motor control of your foot is being activated in a way it seldom is in modern culture.


#5 Rolling Pipes Forward and Back

This drill focuses on rolling the pipes forward and then ultimately backward. This is somewhat similar to our third exercise in this series except we are continuing to roll forward for a continued amount of time and ultimately backwards. Rather than gripping the toes directly onto the pipe we must focus on using the bottom of the foot that makes up the arch to move the pipes forward then backwards.


Normal Problems

This exercise will highlight the tendency for people to avoid putting weight through the plantar fascia on the bottom of the foot. This can be a really tender and tight area for most people, and especially athletes who demand a lot from their fee

Footwork drills such as this help to undo this tension in the bottom of the foot, which allows for the rest of the leg to function better as a whole. Also, relieving the tightness on the bottom of the foot, especially on the big toe side, allows for a more neutral foot alignment.


What You Should Feel

You should feel the muscles on the bottom of your foot open up. This will allow for increased coordination and stability with the feet. Basketball footwork drills such as this challenge your balance and ability to move while under this type of stressor. Don't be discouraged as this stress will allow for you to move in a more fluid fashion in all walks of life, and especially in your athletic performance.

You may fall at first but then you will learn how to activate those muscles to keep yourself balanced. In essence your stability and fine motor control of your foot is being activated in a way it seldom is in modern culture.


#6 Rolling Single Pipe Forward and Back

Instead of two pipes we are using one. This puts both feet on the same pipe and challenges your balance and fascia in a different way.


Final Notes

Adding these footwork drills into your training regimen will significantly help your movement and body awareness. Your base structure (the feet) will fire at a more efficient rate, making everything just a little easier. You will feel more grounded in your sport as everything begins with the feet touching the ground.

These footwork drills will be challenging at first but the increased body control will be well worth it. Notice the difference this makes your lower legs and hips feel by changing the orientation of your feet.

Stick to the process and monotony of BJJ footwork drills. Your body will be ready for the demands of the support and will ultimately thrive.


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