Good old Youtube, where would blog posts be without your inspiration!
All kidding aside, what makes for good, thoughtful, and smart fitness is becoming more difficult to discern by the minute!
The more novel the exercise looks, the more awkward and difficult looking, the more people think it is valuable. It is funny though, these are often the most misleading exercises.
Let’s get something straight right off the bat, because something is hard, doesn’t mean it is effective. There is one question that I ask every time I perform an exercise, why?
Why is this going to make me better? Why is this going to move me closer to my goals?
If the answer can not be more than the overly vague, “cause it will make you stronger!”, or substitute stronger with powerful, or even stable, I’m not really interested.
The “why’s” is what we focus on A LOT in our DVRT educational programs.
In fact, my new favorite is the idea of stability training, or more accurate, instability training.
The idea is not a new one, however, the understanding of instability training has always been one of mass confusion. It is as though when people don’t know what an exercise is and makes you wobble, shake, or look flat out silly, it must be “stability training!”
The truth is that instability training is very important to a sound fitness program. However, we have to dispel some myths before we can take advantage of this powerful concept.
Myth #1: Stability Isn’t Strength
It is a contradiction the fitness industry keeps battling. We know improving joint and whole body stability is important, but at the same time we don’t really believe it is strength training. Look, we make a whole different category not under the umbrella of strength training, but something else when most speak about stability work.
C’mon, strength is when I lift something heavy, so unless I’m doing heavy strength work I am not getting stronger right? Wrong!
There is a fun science term called intermuscular coordination. Simply put, it is how your muscles interact together. Every movement we perform is based around a complex series of muscle actions. Some producing force, some having to turn off the brakes, some having to resist motion, and often times, a combination of all of these things.
Renown fitness coach, Alwyn Cosgrove, has long had a simple challenge for people. He is willing to give them $1 MILLION if they can do one thing. Pick up a pencil with one muscle.
I know, you thought about it for a moment. You probably quickly figured out that such a simple thing is impossible. When you break down what even picking up a pencil requires the body to perform, you begin to realize the complex interactions that occur in the body constantly.
It begins to make sense after such an example, that building strength isn’t about a particular muscle or even a group of muscles. Strength is really teaching these muscles to work most efficiently together.
In reality, stability training is trying to teach this concept. With unstable exercises we are challenging the body’s ability to connect and work together to create efficient movements. A weak link in the chain will prevent us from truly being able to express real world strength!
So, instability training is all about improving strength. In fact, not having this coordination within the body could be the BIG reason you aren’t making progress.
Moral of the story: Don’t think of your exercises as either strength or stability training. Rather think how all the work you do is going to lead to more effective and powerful movements.
Myth #2: Instability Training Must Make You Wobble
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, functional training and stability exercises were one in the same. Yes, it was the mid to late 1990’s and those of us just learning about these concepts thought we had it figured out.
In order to train your core, your stability, make you injury resistant, you had to wobble, tremble, and pray for dear life you wouldn’t fall down during your exercises. Yes, we had people stand on all types of odd objects in the hope that we were making people more “stable” and therefore stronger.
Research has now shown us this is just not the case. It is easy to be those in the current fitness world laugh at such silly notions. However, it did make a lot of sense at the time. Especially when you consider that the “crazy” circus tricks of standing on various squishy objects has been replaced with crazy shaking weights, sloshing implements, and rebounding iron.
The reasons that NEITHER is really a great way to improve the body’s stability is that instability has to be as incremental as weight, repetitions, or any other training variable. Science has shown us that an exercise is drastically unstable, our body works so hard on maintaining balance, it can’t really learn to produce any force. Having such an imbalance in an exercise causes us to feel like we are working hard, but doesn’t yield any real world results.
Good instability training will force the body to try to maintain its alignment and “balance”, but also allows the body to exert force. The fine balance of the two leads to a more efficient moving body that can also have some UMPH behind its motions.
Moral of the story: Instability training shouldn’t be some random poorly progressed exercise. Rather, fit our four p’s of training; purpose, progression, programming, and proficiency.
Myth #3: There Are No Principles To Instability Training
Oye! The way people apply instability training would make you believe that this is a common belief. However, if something doesn’t have thought, guidance, purpose, and principles, then it really isn’t a method.
Instability training does have all these elements. Now, notice how I am using both instability and stability training in this post? You have to understand, the variable is instability, the goal is to build stability. Why make an issue of semantics? It can change how you see building those exercises within your program.
Since instability is the stress we are trying to provide the body, it has to come in small bouts. Just as if we were to use load, we wouldn’t just pile on the weight for people. Same with instability. A little bit at a time. That means we have to know the principles of adding instability.
How we hold a weight
How we stand with a weight
The level of instability of the actual implement
The plane of motion we move or resist
Speed of movement
In our next post we will look at these variables in more depth. However, you will right off the bat realize there are some definitive and specific means of applying instability. If we ignore any one of these variables, we can greatly increase the intensity and lose the effectiveness of the exercise we are trying to develop.
Understanding the balance and relationship of these variables allows us to create progressive and highly effective stability based exercises.
More of the story: There is a right and wrong way to develop stability based movements for a fitness program. You can’t ever just throw stuff into a workout and expect it to magically work.
Hopefully at the very least this post made you go, “hmmmm.” It is okay if you can see yourself making some of these mistakes. If you aren’t making mistakes then I don’t believe you are ever really trying. The goal is not to make mistakes, the goal is not to repeat them. As the old saying goes, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result!”