I tried to improve my balance and control with these three mobility challenges from a martial arts champion

I trained like a Shaolin Monk and discovered that balancing on one leg takes a lot more strength than I thought

woman doing a high kick
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Every so often, I come across an Instagram reel and think "Yeah, I could do that." This time I was proven very wrong. What initially looked to me like a simple, three-move workout ended up kicking my butt and proved that I need to work on my functional strength and mobility. 

The workout, from professional martial artist Shraddha Rangarh, takes inspiration from Jackie Chan and the practices of the Shaolin Monks, both of whom are known for their exceptional balance and controlled movements. Rangarh herself has won multiple international gold medals in mixed martial arts disciplines. 

So, how did I get on? Spoiler alert: I didn’t manage to hit Rangarh’s rep count. But I did my best and came away having learned several important lessons, which were worth the sore hamstrings.

How to do the challenge

  • High kick into airplane: 3x15
  • Lateral hops: 3x12
  • Horse stance hold into one-leg-punch: 3x16

My adaptations

I’m comfortable lifting heavy weights, but dynamic exercises, like the ones demonstrated by Rangarh, require a different sort of strength. I was surprised to find that after 10 repetitions (reps) of the first exercise, I was struggling. My legs were shaking and I could feel my muscles starting to fail. 

After not being able to hit the recommended number of reps, I settled for doing 10 reps of each exercise over three sets, which suited me much better. 

My results

The first exercise challenged my ability to balance, while also asking more of my hip flexors than I usually would in a year. The stationary leg did most of the work, as the muscles were keeping me balanced through the move and bearing all my weight.

The lateral hops were difficult in a different way, requiring all my concentration to avoid slipping or stumbling. Afterward, I could feel it in my core and lower abdominal muscles, as I had to use them to keep myself from falling over. 

Horse stance into one-leg-punch was the easiest of all the moves for me, but my glutes and hamstrings still burned after the first set and I was sweating heavily. It turns out this routine also works quite well as a cardio workout!

My balance needs improving

I had to hold onto a table while doing the first exercise (high-kick into airplane) and struggled not to overshoot and topple when doing the lateral hops. To stay upright in the one-leg-punch part of the third move, I relied heavily on my glutes and core to control my momentum. Despite wobbling like a new-born deer, I did manage to avoid crashing into a wall while doing this move, but there were several close calls.

Moving slower made it harder

In order to keep my balance, I had to move slowly through each exercise. As a weightlifter, I tend to focus on slow, controlled movements to maintain good form, but applying the same principle to this mobility workout meant that my glutes and hamstrings were screaming after just one set. I’m sure with time, I could learn to speed up and complete the workout faster, but for now, I’ll be taking my time to avoid injury.

I’ll be doing it again

Doing this mobility workout has shown me that I need to build dynamic, functional strength, particularly in my hips. Despite having a good overall level of fitness, I’ve realized that by only focusing on increasing the weights I lift, I’ve unintentionally created a sense of false confidence in my abilities. As humbling as this workout was, I will definitely be doing it at least once a week to work on my functional strength and balance.   

Need a new mat to support your mobility practice? Have a look at our tried-and-tested guide to the best yoga mats

Lou Mudge
Fitness Writer

Lou Mudge is a Health Writer at Future Plc, working across Fit&Well and Coach. She previously worked for Live Science, and regularly writes for Space.com and Pet's Radar. Based in Bath, UK, she has a passion for food, nutrition and health and is eager to demystify diet culture in order to make health and fitness accessible to everybody.

Multiple diagnoses in her early twenties sparked an interest in the gut-brain axis and the impact that diet and exercise can have on both physical and mental health. She was put on the FODMAP elimination diet during this time and learned to adapt recipes to fit these parameters, while retaining core flavors and textures, and now enjoys cooking for gut health.