Tag Archives: balance

Unicycling and improved core strength

Screenshot from 2018-03-19 11-09-37


As I often say, even if unicycling didn’t have any unique benefits beyond improved balance, I’d still do it because of how much fun it is. Us unicyclists often like to tout unicycling as a great way to strengthen the core, though there hasn’t been a lot of hard scientific data to support this.

Until now. Last year in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, they did a study on the effect of unicycling on the trunk strength of children. They concluded:

Unicycling proved to be an effective and funny tool to develop proximal stability and strength, which prevents low back pain and improves the efficiency of energy transfer between body segments.

This is just one study, but it is terrific news. Hurray for unicycling! I admit I am very biased. Better core strength is often associated with better athletic performance in many sports, including running. Though this study was done on children, I can’t think of any reason this wouldn’t apply to adults, and it’s too bad they didn’t study juggling while unicycling. So if you want to strengthen your core, consider taking up unicycling!


What I’ve learned from 2 years of unicycling

Screenshot from 2018-02-01 13-03-32

Me juggling while idling on a unicycle, a very difficult skill to master

I’ve been unicycling now for over 2 years, and what an adventure it has been! Here are some things I’ve learned over these 2 years:


Most learning is subconscious

When learning a new skill(going backwards, idling, juggling while idling, etc), it’s critical to use the right technique or in the very least not do things that will impede your progress. While we all may use a different learning method, we should observe some general guidelines, especially early on.

As important as these guidelines are, they are not written in stone. Through trial and error we may occasionally find it helpful to ignore certain guidelines. It can be frustrating when we hit upon a technique variation that seems to work but later on doesn’t. If we’re persistent enough we improve, though we’re often not sure why. This is because so much of the learning is happening at a subconscious level, to the extent that it’s very difficult to describe or replicate what we are doing that is leading to success instead of failure. This is largely due to muscle memory and that practicing the same thing over and over again forces our body to do it more efficiently.

This isn’t all that unique to unicycling since it happens when learning just about anything. However, it’s because learning new unicycling skills is so bewilderingly difficult and complicated at first that every little improvement is celebrated as a victory. While we all have an innate sense of proprioception(the sense of where we are in space which helps with balance), unicycling will lead to a quantum leap improvement in this ability to the extent that we feel like we have acquired super-powers. This is why unicycling is so uniquely enjoyable.

Taking breaks can help you improve

This may seem counter-intuitive, but I can’t tell you how many times I thought I was going to be rusty after a break but instead got better. I am not saying you shouldn’t be persistent, but rather that after practicing on a consistent basis, a break of a few days to a week may be helpful, besides taking off one day a week(or whatever works for you).

Finding the magic formula to ensuring breaks will be helpful is interrelated with figuring out what is the ideal of amount of practice time. It varies from person to person, and more isn’t necessarily better. We probably all notice that there are diminishing returns to going beyond a certain amount of practice time, and that excessive practice can lead to burnout or extreme frustration.

This is why one day off a week from unicycling may be better than doing it 7 days a week, and anything more than a few hours of practice a day is unlikely to be helpful.

Besides providing rest, a day or a week off may help your brain and muscles properly assimilate what it has learned, and practicing excessively may interfere with this assimilation. This is why occasionally taking time off may be more helpful than detrimental to getting better at unicycling, or anything for that matter.

Variation is the key to improving

You practice the same thing every day, with the same unicycle at the same place at the same time and you’re noticing very little to no improvement. We all know the cliche that “practice makes perfect”, but some of us(myself included) get stuck on a learning plateau and we’re not sure why. Again, this is not unique to unicycling. Besides taking the occasional break, practicing subtle variations may help us improve.

What do I mean by variation? By playing around with tire pressure, or putting in different size cranks, or simply practicing with a different unicycle altogether. I’ve experimented with different tire pressures while learning to go backwards and would often notice significant improvements after a few days of variations. I’ve also tried carrying(not juggling) heavy balls to increase the challenge. Also changing locations can sometimes be helpful.

The reason this probably works is because these variations force our brains to discover the essence of a skill by feeding it unique data points it otherwise wouldn’t have access to if we practiced the same exact way every day. In this sense it is kind of related to cross-training.

Think of all the ways you can vary your routine. It doesn’t have to make learning much more difficult, but it should be different enough so that it feels new or a little awkward at first. One approach I’ve often found helpful is to warm up with a variation or something different, then I practice what I usually practice. Sometimes it’s a short trail ride with the municycle, then a long practice session juggling while idling with my freestyle unicycle.

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Unicycling is not just a lot of fun, it offers so many different fitness benefits without breaking the bank. Like I’ve said before it’s great cross-training for runners and offers similar fitness benefits. It also forces you to pay close attention to your body and all its asymmetries and quirks, like yoga or dance. Besides this, taking up unicycling is a great way to learn about learning.


The Attraction of Unicycles: A Lesson for Learning Complex Skills

How to Unicycle Backwards




Kids and acrobatics

AcroYoga pose called Hangle Dangle. Source: Earl McGehee

Acroyoga pose called Hangle Dangle. Source: Earl McGehee

I don’t have any kids of my own, but if I did, I would take their physical education as seriously as their intellectual development. After all, active kids are not only healthy kids, they generally tend to do better in school. This is why athletics are so important for kids and adults alike.

In order to get more kids interested in fitness, we should broaden what we consider to be athletics. The focus in schools is often on boring old calisthenics, team sports or track, and I think this is very limiting. I believe widening the scope of athletics to include acrobatics can help kids find the fitness activity that is right for them. It can also accommodate children who are not inclined to play team sports for whatever reason. If kids aren’t having fun with what they’re doing, they won’t stick to it. Many people don’t see acrobatics as athletic, but I do. How are the abilities of trapeze artists, tight-rope walkers, or jugglers not athletic?

What is probably the biggest stumbling block to wider acceptance of acrobatics as athletics is acrobatics close association with the circus. This association is unfortunate since the world of acrobatics offers so many fun ways to stay fit that can either be the mainstay of you or your child’s athletic routine, or a supplement to it. And before anyone mentions it, I am not recommending you or your kids take up acrobatic daredevilry.

Juggling is arguably the best gateway to this world, and it’s a safe(unless you juggle chainsaws), fun athletic activity in and of itself. It’s definitely a step forward that more schools are including juggling and acrobatics in their physical education programs. Acroyoga is another excellent way to practice acrobatics. Not surprisingly, juggling and/or acrobatics is linked with improved academic scores. The more options kids have when it comes to athletics, the better.