Balance: Key #6 to Summiting Kilimanjaro

Barranco WallOn day 5 we started our morning with a climb up a 500-foot lava rock wall.

It wasn’t a technical climb (meaning no ropes, carabiners, etc), but there were times it was close.

I remember two very distinct moments when I said to myself, “If I miss a step here I’m dead.”

Obviously, since I lived to tell about it, I managed that step just fine.

It’s tough when you can’t trust your body

It can be scary, though, if you don’t feel you can trust that you are going to step where you need to and can maintain your balance while pulling your body weight across a 4-foot cravass (don’t tell my brother).

Navigating a cravass is an extreme example – and doing that is not just balance, but also strength, and overcoming the fear of falling. But, there were balance challenges every single day. Some days were hours on end of scrambling up and down rocks. For me, the more technical the hiking, the more fun I had. For others in my group, it was sheer torture.

I do a lot of balance training on my own and with clients. It’s simple and it reflects the balance skills you need in the real world. Here is a simplified version to get you started.

Basic Balance Training

  • Stand on one leg.
  • Quickly turn your head left (while still on on leg). Stay there for 10-15 seconds.
  • Put your leg down and head back to center to reset.
  • Get back on one leg and turn your head quickly to the right. Stay there for 10-15 seconds.
  • Put your leg down and head back to center to reset.
  • Repeat with the other leg

(You can also try other head positions and eventually graduate to eyes closed)

How did that go for you?

My guess is that simple did not equal easy in this case.

Yes, this training applies in real life

Sometimes I get asked, “but when would I do this in the real world.”  My answer is, “do you ever turn your head to talk to someone while walking?” About 80% of our gait cycle (walking) is on one leg or the other, so this most definitely reflects the real world. You can then expand this exercise to looking and down. And, for an added challenge, try doing it with your eyes closed. Why eyes closed? Ever blink, sneeze, or cough while walking?

These are the same drills I did to prepare for Kilimanjaro (in addition to actually climbing in similar conditions). I needed my body to be able to trust that it could safely be on one leg with my head in different positions, eyes open or eyes closed.

The drills, combined with my other training, worked great. I never questioned a foot position, wasn’t wobbly on one leg while going up or down, and was able to navigate the rocky conditions with ease.

Although some people would classify me as an adrenaline junkie — I’m so not. I’m very opposed to putting my life in danger, but I do like pushing myself. And, I believe there is a very distinct line between those two.

For more about balance training, check out the Z-Health Essentials of Elite Performance DVD.


  1. […] Balance: There are lots of rocks and plenty of scrambling to be done, so having good balance skills becomes important. It’s no single rock that will get you (OK, there were two moments where the thought crossed my mind, “if I miss my footing here I’m going to die”), but it becomes the aggregate of the 60 miles that is rough on the body.  Click here for more on balance […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *