The Vestibular System And Its Importance

The vestibular system is the forgotten designated driver of our body. It’s always overlooked and doesn’t get enough respect for all that it does. It’s the first sensory system to develop while in the womb and acts as the foundation for the other systems such as your visual and proprioceptive system. When a baby’s vestibular system develops it interacts with gravity and further develops the child’s nervous system for movement. In fact, all your muscles and your eyes are neurologically tied to the vestibular system and it forms the body map and movement maps of how we interact with the world. The coordination of the eyes and head together serves as the basis for all the interactions in our lives.  Your head follows your eyes in almost every activity whether you’re keeping your eye on the ball, taking notes from a board, or even reading across this page. Another big factor the vestibular system contributes to are maintaining balance and equilibrium. The first sign of brain deterioration is when balance starts to fail (Smart Moves,p. 111 Carla Hannaford).  Overall this system is HUGE as it impacts how you process the environment, how you move, your sense of self, and even how you learn! It makes almost every other system possible.

Image result for big deal meme

The inner ear acts like gyroscopes in your head maintaining balance by allowing the tiny hairs and gel like liquid to communicate to your brain that your head is moving. Another good way to think of the vestibular system is modeling it like a neural GPS. The brain is the central processing unit of the GPS and it looks for three satellites which would be the visual system, vestibular system and the movement/sensory (proprioceptive). These satellites relay to the brain where it’s going and how to efficiently get there.

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New Air Force Satellites Launched To Improve GPS

Without those sensory organs of the vestibular system intact, our sense of balance and what we perceive to be happening in our body can go haywire.  Anyone who ever had or knows someone who had vertigo understands how scary it can be. To them, it feels the world is literally spinning out of control and fainting ensues because of the overwhelming sensations. The brain is not getting the correct or maybe adequate information from their inner ears and eyes and in turn, they don’t feel safe. When you don’t feel safe your arousal level, attention and sympathetic nervous system kick in. This is another example of a high threshold strategy when it’s not needed. Some of these high threshold strategies could be manifested by motion sickness, fear of spinning, claustrophobia, and dizziness. Things are out of balance in the vestibular system.

There are a couple of factors that go into balancing. Just like satellites relaying to the GPS of where it is, the eyes, the inner ear, and the proprioceptive system must work together. Dr. Cobb, the founder of Z-health, states that the vestibular system requires Signal Quality and Signal Integrations. Signal quality is how well the eyes, inner ear, and nerve endings in the joints and muscles coordinate together to provide a signal to the brain referencing what’s going on around you. Signal Integration, on the other hand, is about how your brain processes information its received from the signal quality sources such as the eyes and inner ear. Any small deficit in either the signal quality or signal integration can disturb how you sense, move, and interact with the world. Amazingly half of the children with some kind of learning disabilities have some kind of vestibular dysfunction. Here are some studies exhibiting how the vestibular training improved learning  Study 1, Study 2, Study 3, and Study 4. Just like any movement or reflex, the brain has to receive input and integrate it in order to form an output. The key to challenging balance is to stress both the signal quality and signal integrations. An example would be if you balance on one leg for about ten seconds and then doing it again but this time closing your eyes. It’s harder, isn’t it? Your challenging the signal quality by taking vision away so your inner ear has to work even harder.

It’s easy to overlook the vestibular system and not appreciate all that it fully does. By working on the vestibular system we can impact how we sense and process the world around us and become more resilient. The way we create this resiliency is challenging the inner ear of the vestibular system and integrating it with the other systems. The phrase “Its all in your head” applies definitely now because by simply moving our head is what stimulates the inner ear and the vestibular system to act. The simple activities and movements that we are all aware of such as running, jumping, spinning, rolling, flipping, rocking, and crawling all work the vestibular system without us even realizing because it involves moving our head (Original Strength).

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Rolling on the floor laughing will also count. I MEAN HAVE YOU SEEN ANCHORMAN!


These activities allow the fluid in our inner ear to move and signal the brain that we are in motion and hence adapt to whatever position we are in. Also, take into consideration differences in the vestibular system of a kid easily banging out cartwheels one after the other and an adult struggling to balance his hands on the floor to perform one. They are on totally different levels. The kid’s inner ear is much more adaptable and can tolerate the spins and whirls of the adventures of being a kid but for the adult, their vestibular system is a bit deconditioned.

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Life is a magical land full of candy and gumdrops.

What I’m sure feels like trying to find the keys in dark with a hangover.

Just like in weight training how the volume and intensity are manipulated, balance training manipulates the signal quality and signal integration. In other words, the visual system, inner ear, movement/sensory system and integration skills must be challenged together. I will reference Dr. Cobb’s formula from his sample page from the vestibular system which is also referenced at the bottom. (Z-health-

Stance/Body Position + Head movement + Eye movement = Increasing Difficulty

The mix and match of any of these three factors and it will contribute to challenging the intensity of your vestibular system. Moving your head and eyes in the cardinal directions similar to a clock is another fantastic way to progress.

The easiest start progression would be lying down and rotating your eyes and head in the same direction. If you really feel like shaking up the way you process the world then the hardest variation would be walking forwards or backward and moving your eyes and head in opposite directions (please do it in a closed environment where people understand the purpose of this exercise or alone so people don’t think your a walking exorcist). Here is a much better explanation by Dr. Cobb putting everything into effect.

Because we like to think like scientists, we can use a Test/Retest to establish a baseline to see if any of the drills work.

Test: Simply balance on one leg for 15-20 seconds and repeat with the other leg.

-take notes of how you felt and what happened either in your head or write it down

Retest: the one leg balancing

Did it feel easier, and or did you last longer? If it felt easier you made a reset in your vestibular system.

Another great way to challenge the vestibular system is to add any type of crawling or rolling variation. Luckily if you have any bear crawls or Get Ups in your program, you’re already working your vestibular system without even knowing. Lucky you! Here are some excellent drills by Tim Anderson teaching you use your eyes to drive your head and learning to crawl


Take time to breathe in each position to really own it and don’t let the simplicity fool you. Your vestibular system is working hard to get into position especially in an elevated half roll.

If you really want to dig deeper I implore you to check out the Near Point Gaze Stabilization and Far Point Gaze Stabilization on Z-Health. These drills are similar in which you keep your eyes fixed on something while moving your head in all the cardinal directions. The only difference is that the former is near your face and the other focused out on a target in the distance.

I’m sure by now you understand that moving your head and rolling is good but you’re probably thinking how is any of this going to make me lift more, be faster, conquer the world? I agree that these drills and skills are not going to automatically transform you into the cream of the crop.

Christopher walken cowbell 1 -  Bruce Dickinson: "The cock of the walk, baby!"

But they do serve as the foundation for all these great actions. If someone is able to process the world around them better, they don’t have to hold their breath, their already more relaxed and more trusting of their body since every little part is up to par. Also, you’ll probably pick up things around you faster than the next guy and won’t have to think about it. When you process things better it becomes easier.  It’s tuning a better software for a champion and taking off the parking break.

Here is some more food for thought, perhaps the reason many people’s vestibular systems are so deconditioned is because we no longer play. Playing stimulates the vestibular system and is why growing up kids were encouraged to play outside on swings, merry-go-round, tumble, crawl and just have fun. You don’t have to teach a kid to play or use their vestibular system. Just let them be as nature takes care of things!


Now let your ears jam out to this awesome song



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Ayres, A. Jean. “Deficits in sensory integration in educationally handicapped children.” Journal of Learning Disabilities 2.3 (1969): 160-168.

Carla Hannaford, Smart Moves(Salt Lake City; Great River Books, 2005,) p. 111

Original Strength: Regaining The Body You were Meant to Have by Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert



Bilateral positons to teach unilateral positions

I was inspired by this video of Quinn Henoch’s, founder of, YouTube page. I think it displays a concept that is paramount in learning and developing  motor control in unilateral exercise

This was a great way to teach the single leg RDL. Many people dread doing single leg work because they find it difficult get into position let alone balance on one leg. By hip hinging first bilaterally, you learn to shift your COG(Center of Gravity) to each foot and understand how it feels to have more of your weight on that side. By having your weight on each foot, you can take a breath to solidify the position there and learn to own it. A fantastic quote by Gray Cook sums this up “If you can’t breathe in that position then you don’t own it. You can’t survive in that position”. If you’re not able to breathe there then it becomes a high threshold environment because your body perceives it as a threat. By being able to breathe in this position they are able to own it and survive. It also helps for a person to have an understanding that their weight is supported by both of their feet and then can we explore in shifting their weight over each limb to get them more comfortable. Once they’re set in position and own it they can pick up the other leg and extend it. Now we can have fun loading it and plan accordingly with their mobility whether to pull from the floor or a box.

Another fantastic example of applying this approach is Pablo Orozco, Clinical athlete student, and founder, demonstrating the same concept of starting with a bilateral squat and progressing it into a pistol by shifting his weight to his right side and displaying the motor control on one leg.



This is an impressive display of the many planes of motion he can own and the fact that he can get there builds more resiliency. Katy Bowman talks about this concept of owning the different planes of motion in her book “Move Your DNA”  calling it “rainbow loads”. Pablo definitely traced the rainbow like a ninja! Kudos! The fact that your body can get into those different ranges of motion without feeling like you’re holding your breath is not only a remarkable display of motor control but can be a preventative measure from injury.

We can even apply it to the upper body as Karen Smith, SFG chief bodyweight instructor, and Phil Scarito, Master SFG, demonstrate the one arm pushup.

Phil sets the position by setting his whole body and maintaining tension as he corkscrews both of his shoulders into the ground. He uses the power breath to add more tension to the system so he is stable as he moves one arm off the floor and executes the movement. This is also an excellent exercise to teach the one arm one leg pushup which would be the gold standard of this concept which is to teach you to root with one hand and your opposite foot. If you can do that then you’re a stud!

While we do most of our training bilaterally, we cement our success by getting on one foot and spending time in those positions. Being able to shift your weight to each foot or hand is paramount in life and in many functional activities.

How can we develop this strategy? We need to start teaching people to be mindful and aware of their own bodies. Also, we need to slow down the pace of the movement so they can actually feel and breathe in those positions. So for instance, if we are in half kneeling or tall kneeling, we learn to own that position by getting there and breathing there in that position. I’m not saying that breathing is the answer to all your life’s problems but it is a start as you get the brain to say “It’s ok to be here, there is no threat, so now let’s move”

If you think this gave you something to think about, helped made you look at things in a different way, or liked it please share it.


Want to enjoy some riffs? Give Eric Gales “The Liar”a listen to!


Have a great Day!

DNS Core Activation

DNS Core Activation

For those who are obsessed with how to brace and use the core, I think this is an excellent video   Core Activation by Hans Lindgren to teach us to brace 360 degrees

It starts with the diaphragm as it pushes down to get intraabdominal pressure. A way of ensuring the right diaphragm pattern is to see the lower ribs expanding horizontally(0:32). I can’t remember if it was Chris Duffin or Bill Hartman who said that when you breathe you want to inhale horizontally and exhale vertically. When people classically breath up in their chest and clavicle this would be an example of what we do not want to see. This is inhaling vertically and all the secondary respiratory muscles turn on. Hans makes a good point on the people who breathe up in their chest that as they do so their stomach goes in and this overloads the muscles above their chest and then people wonder why their traps are so stiff. The student lays down on their back so he’s in a stable position supported by the floor/table and here we can observe the horizontal expansion of the ribcage. Now the connecting point is that we want the diaphragm moving the breath down to the abdominal cavity. He puts his hands on the ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine) asking the student to breath into his fingers to ensure the breath is complete as it moves down. Once the pattern is set the student has exhibited that he can create that pressure from the front and back and the next step is to automatize the pressure. The key is to maintain that pressure as he breathes out and never lose it. The ability to maintain this complete pressure exemplifies being able to consciously brace and we can apply this when we are under a load when lifting.

Chris Duffin has learned from DNS model and his thoughts are similar when he tells people to “Inflate the Obliques” (3:15) as this cue is a side effect of 360 degrees of bracing of his entire torso.

Back to the original video as Hans uses the thera-band as tactile feedback to teach the student to truly use his diaphragm to expand his ribs 360 degrees (2:42). Similarly, the purpose of a lifting belt is another example of tactile feedback to teach the lifter to force their torso to brace 360 degrees.The next position (3:30) is similar as he did on the table getting the person to take a breath at the bottom and focusing on maintaining that pressure and push against it.

At (3:58) we have the dead bug series still focusing on the fundamental key to holding and maintaining that pressure. Hans has the student maintain the position, building upon maintaining the pressure all the way down, as he moves his arms and legs. Another thing I want to point I think is fantastic because people forget to look for this in all their “Functional training” is Hans is teaching him to maintain the pressure in all planes. At (4:30) he pushes on his arms and legs also on the same side as if trying to flip him over to his side and hold the brace in the transverse plane and frontal plane. These are often the forgotten planes and are tough because we are not used to training in these positions(4:46). Also to continue the training, Hans has him resist him in the anti-extension of both the student’s arms and legs and even throwing in the resisted contralateral pattern that we see normally in the deadbug (5:07). These are all spices in the deadbug dish but Hans states that we must never lose focus of drill of the deadbug which is to have awareness of the position of the abdominal cavity and the chest position that is dictated by the ribs in bracing. The breath and pressure of the brace must be always maintained no matter what our limbs are doing.

At (5:20) Hans displays the wall supported DNS deadbug as a further progression as a way to integrate more parts to the complexity. This involves such getting the student’s lats turned on as his hands push into the wall. Again he notes to never lose the brace and points to his obliques (5:51) to make sure that he is not losing the brace and just not to mistake that you’re doing it right because your abs are on.

I feel the whole point is to automize this brace until it becomes a reflex as if someone was going to perturb your movement. I know this is something I definitely explore more and encourage you to explore it on your own or with someone.

Cheers and give Jeff Healy “Which One a listen. It’s awesome sauce!