How do you become a peak performer? Jim Klopman, the author of Balance is Power, believes that your balance is the most powerful — and often, the most neglected — pathway for getting in peak performance shape.
In this episode, we talk about how balance is your sixth sense, and why continually retraining your balance will not only improve your wellbeing, but also prevent life-threatening injuries.
If you are a human being who works on a computer, you don’t want to miss this episode.
How did you get so interested in balance?
When I was 50 years old, I went skiing with the famous Stein Eriksen, who was really the founder of the slope-style, fun, stylish skiing. He was also one of the greatest racers in the world.
The legendary Stein Eriksen.
I came away from that day going, “Well, I want to ski well into my 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. How do I do that?”
It wasn’t fitness, because I wasn’t as fit at 50 as I was when I was 30. The fitness space has gotten so scientific and so good at keeping people fit. It’s remarkable, in terms of diet. So I knew it wasn’t that.
I thought, “Maybe there’s a degradation in skills.” But the more you think about that, that’s not true because the more times you do something, the better you get.
What were the components that were missing that were causing people to not ski as well? And what was the component in other sports?
“Why would a golfer skill start to degrade in his 40’s?
“Why would a baseball player skills start to degrade in his 30’s?
“It just didn’t make sense to me.”
Then I thought, “Maybe it’s balance.”
I went out into the marketplace, and there wasn’t any balance training worth a damn.
So, I developed some of my own and my skiing got remarkably better.
Then I tried it on other athletes, and they became more agile and coordinated.
I thought “Maybe this is the missing link” and I went down the rabbit hole.
From there, I discovered, invented and created a lot of things that I don’t think are really being explored in the scientific space at all.
Why should we be concerned about our balance?
Over the age of 65, falls are the number one cause of accidental death and accidental injury. Now, it’s not considered a disease by the NIH, it’s considered an accident. And while there are not as many deaths from falls as there are from cancer or heart disease, it’s close to that of strokes.
That number has nearly doubled in the last 15 years. It’s not going down, it’s going up. Many diseases are going down because of better medical care, better fitness, and better diet. But deaths from falls and injuries over the age 65 have nearly doubled in 15 years. It’s become a huge problem, and nobody’s addressing it.
The federal government is kind of addressing it. They say falls are a $30 billion a year expense, and they’ve got $30 million study that they’re doing, which I think is kind of comical. The study is based on studying elderly people who have bad balance. That’s like going to smokers who have lung cancer and saying, “We want to talk to you about helping you with your smoking problem.” It’s too late.
Balance is something you need to be working on earlier. One of the most important things we have in the book is the four main causes of why people are losing their balance, and why this is an unseen disease. It only pops up after you’ve become injured.
If you’re over the age of 45 and you go to the emergency room, there’s a 50% chance you’re there for a fall. That’s a huge medical cost in the emergency room space.
By the way, those are just the people who are injured badly enough to end up in the emergency room. There’s a whole other group who have sprained ankles, dinged up knees, and they don’t go see the doctor for a week or two afterwards.
We’re all about concussions nowadays, right? We’re thinking about little Joey playing football, little Sally playing soccer, and we think that’s where it all starts. The number one cause of concussions in the United States are falls. We don’t even acknowledge that this problem is out there.
Falls are the number one cause of industrial death. Everyone else just calls it an accident. To me, it’s a balance lost disease, and there’s a clear reason why that balance is lost.
The worst part about it is that it doesn’t take anything difficult to restore that balance. It’s ridiculously easy to restore it, and it happens in a very short period of time.
What does balance training entail?
All balance is just balancing on one foot or the other.
Every sport you play is transitioning weight from one foot to the other. The only sport that this is not true is weightlifting, where they try to keep weight evenly situated between two feet.
We focus on one foot balancing. I invented the Slackbow, which is a frame that holds the slack line.
It’s infinitely controllable so we can have level 1, 2, and 3. Then we have a little plate we put on the line called the “slack plate.” The purpose of that is to give flatter platforms for the foot to be on.
We also found that a rope is easier to stand on than a 1-inch line, and it’s easier to stand on a 2-inch line. Our 3.5-inch plate makes it that much more difficult to stand on the line.
We don’t walk on the line. The reason we don’t walk on the line is there is no sport where one foot is directly in front of the other in a parallel line. They’re generally right next to each other.
As soon as you walk in the door, we’re evaluating you. If you come in and we don’t think you’re ready for the line, we have floor work that we do.
I have another product called the SlackBlock, which is a step before the slack line. We also do a lot of work on balance boards.
We do a lot of work on movement and balance. We do it basically in slow motion, which helps you learn how to balance better.
We do that movement work because we find a lot of people have locked up parts of their body, through other fitness exercises or whatever behaviors they have.
To truly have balance, you have to be fluid. If you see a great balance athlete, like Gretzky or Jordan or Steph Curry, one of the ways you describe these guys is “they were very fluid,” because the whole body is engaged in the process.
They’re not muscled up so badly in the upper shoulders that they can’t move that part of the body.
We have ways of changing the body’s fluidity. Not through instructions, but we take them through movement patterns. We’re letting the body make those decisions, we’re not trying to get the conscious mind involved.
We’ve had no injuries at all, so we know how to progress you up through the training levels. We can evaluate where you are and know when it’s time to move.
How quickly can we retrain our balance?
We have people come in and they get better so quickly, it’s like magic. Somebody will leave session one and come back and begin session two better than when they left.
The body has a neurological software system, and we’re just reengaging it. It turns back on and it wants to turn back on. It feels good to the body to have it turned back on! It just seems to come on automatically.
I had an older skier, the guy was 65 years old. He came to me and said “I got a real problem. My group is waiting on me, and they’re getting ready to throw me out of the group. One of the skiers in this group is one of the best racers in the world.”
I said “okay.” We trained him twice.
“He came back after skiing with his group one day, and accused me of hypnotizing him. After two sessions.”
I said, “what do you mean?”
He goes, “You know how I told you that the group was waiting on me?” I go “Yeah.”
He says, “I’m waiting on them now. I’m beating them all down to the lift, and I’m waiting on them.”
We get those results all the time, and it’s like magic.
Anyways, that’s how quick it can happen. If you’re an athlete, you’ll notice a result within two to three sessions.
What are the big factors that are destroying our balance?
Nobody ever says we need to spend more time in the office. You’re living in this world that has perfectly flat floors, perfectly vertical walls, looking at soul sucking square screens. It absorbs you in this frontal vision and takes away your peripheral vision.
Yet, everybody goes and does what to have fun? They go challenge their balance.
They ski, they snowboard, they ride motorcycles, go to amusement parks, they walk in nature, they run, they play tennis, they play golf, they walk on slack lines.
“Everything you do to reintegrate your brain and make yourself feel better is a balance challenge of some sort.”
If you don’t think a balance challenge is fun, take a 1-year old child and turn them upside down. They love that. We all love that.
The world we’ve created — these cityscapes, modern buildings, homes, and so forth — everything’s perfectly flat.
Meanwhile, everything in nature is fractal and uneven.
That’s where we feel integrated and alive. We have psychic and physical death when we’re in each other’s spaces.
The second component of that is we think fitness equals going to a gym. When you go into a gym, you’re never in natural positions.
Never in my normal life am I sitting or lying down and lifting 400 pounds off my chest. I have no idea why a bench press is so important.
When is a guy lying on his back, lifting 400 pounds off his chest? Never.
Never in sport — anywhere, at any time — are you lifting both arms in the same direction at the same time. No sport except for weightlifting, ever.
Everything in life is what is called a lateral contralateral. We’re moving our left leg with our right hand, our right leg with our left hand. Or we’re hitting, throwing, pitching, balancing
We’re doing what’s called ipsilateral. We’re crossing the center line. Every time we move across in a center line, but when you’re in a gym, you don’t do any of that.
We show our clients how a bilateral movement will actually reduce your coordination. Then we’ll show you an ipsilateral movement, and suddenly your coordination gets better and you’re thinking improves.
A trainer took some elderly people with Parkinson’s from an old folk’s home to a boxing gym. He had them just start hitting a heavy bag — not for power, just to have that motion, that cross in the center line motion.
People who hadn’t spoken for two years started talking. People on wheelchairs stood up. It’s like the virtual cure for symptoms of Parkinson’s is to start boxing motions.
Researchers don’t know why, and now all the academics are involved and they’re coming up with all their brainy ideas. But I think it’s simply crossing the center-line.
What are the best shoes for balance?
I don’t care if it’s Nike or Reebok or Under Armor. They’re all bad.
Shoes are miserable for our balance.
You’ve got 200,000 receptors on the bottom of your feet. You are supposed to drive data! The big toe is a big toe for a reason: it’s supposed to be doing most of the work.
You look at all these old people who have neuropathy in their feet, and they are wearing 3-inch thick rubber soled casts. You’re just deadening the nerves in your feet by not letting them get involved.
We have clients that come in and they have their thick shoes on. A minute or two minutes in, they go, “Wow my foot, it really hurts!” and I go, “Yeah. Your foot has 25% of the bones and muscles in your body, and it’s working its ass off to help you, and it has no effect. So it just keeps working and grinding, and now it’s tired”.
They take off the shoes, and 30 seconds later they go, “My foot feels much better!”
What’s your #1 recommendation for retraining our balance?
Go move in nature. Get away from the cityscapes. Get to the parks, get off of trails and flat surfaces. Go engage fractal services.
Get on one foot, kick the other foot back, bend your knee, and get in a nice athletic position. Just try to stand like that for a minute or two.
When that becomes easy, put a bath towel down stacked or folded four times, or put two bath towels stacked so you are 2-3 inches off the ground on an unstable surface. Do that on each side.
If your interest is to really lift weights, get on one foot put a 10-lb kettle bell down six inches in front of that one foot. Stand up, go down, pick it up. Put it six inches out in front of you from there. Bend down, pick it up, and you’ll find at some point bending down doesn’t work. You have to squat down to get it. It’s a hell of a balance challenge.
What is a parting piece of advice you have for authors?
This is not a shameless plug, this is the God’s honest truth.
I work with Scribe Writing, and Zach Obront is a remarkable human being — and I don’t say that often because there’s not a lot of them in this world — but it’s a first quality company.
They judge people well, they judge what they have to say well, and they produce a great product. And the value is phenomenal. I still don’t know how they create that kind of value for the prices you pay. I just think they’re a remarkable group of people. So if you’re going to write a book, unless you’re a writer, going in alone is ridiculous and that’s my advice.
The second bit of advice I give everybody is, like I said, if you get knocked down, just get up again. What is that Chinese or Japanese expression? Down seven, up eight.
How can our listeners connect with you and follow you in your journey?
We’re available anywhere and everywhere, and we like to help anyway we possibly can, so we’d love to hear from you.