There are few exercises that can reveal an individual’s strength and flexibility imbalances like the gymnastic scale. A scale is a relatively simple movement that is somewhat difficult to perform correctly.
The scale gets its name from the old-fashioned balance scales, where one side rises as the other drops. The scale as a fitness skill requires precise body control and balance and can be used as a great tool to evaluate weak points in a client for exercise programming. A gymnastic scale is defined simply as any balanced position on one leg where the other leg is held level to or higher than the hip. There are many variations based on that general definition, but this article will discuss the front scale leg lift.
In proper execution of a front scale, the body is straight and remains rigid. The arms are held straight out to the sides in the frontal plane at shoulder height, parallel to the ground. One leg is lifted in front of the body, slowly and under control, to the highest point at which the individual feels comfortable and can maintain proper body position. The lift is held for five seconds, upon which the leg is lowered slowly back to start.
The movement is repeated for three to five repetitions, and then the same number of repetitions should be executed with the opposite leg.
Here are key pointers to keep in mind while executing a front scale:
- Shoulders should be rounded back and downward, depressing the scapula throughout the movement.
- Knees are to remain locked throughout the exercise.
- The only movement of the body should occur at the hip joint of the leg being raised.
- As the leg is being raised, engaging of the abdominals (drawing in of the navel) will assist in stabilising the movement.
- Keep the torso tall and upright at all times.
- Lift the leg as high as possible while keeping form; specifically, the knee of the ground leg should remain locked and the hips relatively straight.
- Avoid excessive posterior tilt or rounding of the spine.
What does this exercise indicate when determining an individual’s weaknesses?
- A bend in the knee of the ground leg shows the weakness of the gluteal complex and tightness of the hamstrings.
- Rounding of the back indicates the tightness of the spinal extensors.
- The inability to raise the leg to at least parallel height while keeping form suggests the weakness of the hip flexors or quadriceps.
- Dropping of the backside or excess rolling of the hips points to the weakness of the gluteal complex of the ground leg.
- Failing to keep the torso tall and lengthened suggests weak core and spinal musculature.
Having the client perform a front scale leg lift on both sides during the initial consultation will yield valuable information for customizing an exercise program. Those muscles determined to be weak can be strengthened by performing the scale itself, often as part of the warm-up, while additional work can be structured into the exercise session. Tight muscles should be addressed during the warm-up session by means of self-myofascial release or active stretching, while focused flexibility work through static stretching of longer durations can be performed post-exercise.