When I present national conferences people are often surprised that I don’t talk a lot about Ultimate Sandbags. Trust me, there is A LOT of DVRT, but not so much Ultimate Sandbag discussion. Why is that? Don’t I believe in the tools we offer? Of course I do, but the tool is just our hardware, DVRT is the software and is how we change how people think about strength training. That means everything I discuss is about addressing and understanding the problem in our fitness program, then how we create the best solutions. That sometimes means I have to break some hearts in the fact that I explain how some things that are popular, aren’t as beneficial as people think. A great example are landmine exercises.
For the record I don’t hate the landmine, that is as long as it is used for its original intent in performing mostly rotation and anti-rotational exercises. When the focus is on these types of landmine exercises, it can be a useful tool. However, in recent years landmine exercises have become more popular and even touted as a solution to so many common training issues. Looking deeper we have to question if the landmine is really solving what we think. Here are 3 ways that I think people really misunderstand landmine exercises and what they ACTUALLY do in your training!
For Bad Shoulders
Probably one of the biggest uses of landmine exercises is supposedly helping problematic shoulders. Especially those that have issues going overhead. Hey, I’m all for finding strategies that help people train and move better, but what’s happening here? Many people like pressing landmine exercises because the angle isn’t overhead and it isn’t purely horizontal. Therefore, many coaches think we are helping build the ability to have better mobility, avoid painful ranges of motion, all while increasing strength.
While many may not feel their shoulders kick in, it isn’t actually for the reason that most believe. In order to understand, let’s go over what happens during any press (either horizontal or vertical) with the entire body. When we move a weight away from our body, the additional leverage this creates forces our core to develop more tension. The core does this in an effort to stabilize our spine against the increased leverage and perceived load. We can use it to our advantage (we will discuss this shortly) to actually improve our shoulders and overall upper body mobility. The important point is whenever we push up or out, our core tension goes up (important to remember!).
Landmine exercises work in a very specific way. That is as the weight rises, the load decreases. The simple example of physics I like to use is when a strongman flips a tire (something I used to love to do:). When I would flip a very heavy tire (900 pounds plus) it would sound extremely impressive. However, there were two things happening that made the overall number a bit misleading. For one, you never lift the ENTIRE tire so I never actually lifted 900 pounds plus. Second, the whole technique in tire flipping is to just get the tire high enough where you can get underneath it and use leverage to flip the weight. In other words, if you can catch the tire about 45 degrees (maybe slightly more) off the ground, the effort to flip it is much less.
A little of my OLD coaching on tire flipping hopefully reminds you of the landmine.
This is the same thing that happens on pressing landmine exercises. The fact the weight gets lighter as it rises means that my core tension doesn’t go up. Therefore, I don’t learn how to use more core correctly and the positive impact I COULD have on the shoulder complex is actually negated. In other words, it may not hurt, but it also doesn’t help you very much in correcting issues of the shoulder and upper body.
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Problematic shoulders plague a lot of fitness programs and that’s why people turn to drills like landmine presses. However, few ever question if these work and when you see what causes many shoulder issues you will find out the answer is NO! Find out why these are better strategies!
Understanding issues that REALLY impact our shoulders helps us create smarter exercises!
When we change WHERE the force is coming from, we can change the results we see. As you see in the picture above, with the load coming from behind, instead of in front of us, we get that core stability that allows for better shoulder mobility which we don’t get during the landmine!
To Help Bridge Stability
One of the very common other uses of landmine exercises is in drills like single leg deadlifts where it can often be difficult to bridge to more challenging drills that have a large stability component. That has led to people using the landmine to train single leg deadlifts and make the movement more accessible. What could be “wrong” with that? Well, again we need to dig just slightly deeper.
With landmine exercises like the single leg deadlift, the landmine makes it accessible because it largely balances the load and the lifter at the same time. So? Isn’t it a great progression to going more single leg? That sounds good until we realize that what we need to teach people is how to control their own body. I look back and laugh at myself. Many times I would have someone hold onto something as they did drills like a single leg deadlift, but couldn’t get people any close to doing single leg deadlifts no matter how much we lifted. What I was missing was the motor control that training builds.
Basically, I have to learn how to control my own body through space. When I am artificially supported, my body doesn’t understand or learn how to accomplish this movement goal. Therefore, when I move to an environment like a single leg deadlift, I am not further along than I was before in being successful. Instead, what I did with DVRT is find ways to build progressive instability so that we could teach the body in incremental ways how to stabilize and balance so that we could really build success to more challenging drills like single leg deadlifts and more!
Creating better progressions allows us to learn how to control our own motion!
Better Squats, Deadlifts, and Rows
Outside of the landmine exercises I addressed above, I thinks squats, deadlifts, and rows are the most popular. Again, are we actually achieving what we think? Let’s look at two different aspects with squats and deadlifts specifically. Westside Barbell (a very successful powerlifting group) popularized the idea of accommodating resistance. What this means is as you stand up in the squat or deadlift, you can produce more force as the joints extend but due to the changing leverage and joint angles the force can’t be fully displayed because the body also has to address the need to decelerate. In other words, the weight gets “easier” as I stand up in a squat or deadlift of any sort, that is with a weight that isn’t really changing itself very much. That is why these powerlifters have used bands and chains to their movements like squats and deadlifts.
With landmine exercises, due to that changing leverage, the actual LOAD is also getting easier as I stand up in the lift so the strength I’m developing would seem to have even LESS carry over. You may wonder…”Josh, can’t I just add bands to the landmine?” While you could, it doesn’t change the fact that the leverage is still becoming easier. You might be fighting more band than actual weight which you might as well perform a band press or squat, or deadlift.
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It took me a long time to learn that strength just wasn’t about how much you could lift. Why not? . Most people never realize that strength is both forces we can produce and resist. While many are getting on single leg training, which I think is great, they miss the point that training positions in which you need to both produce and resist force is key. That doesn’t mean we don’t #squat but it does mean we can get the best of both when we use our Sprinter Stance squat. . The tools we use matter too! People think #functionalfitness is defined by the tools we use but it isn’t. Functional training IS defined by the intent and program you put together. These #kettlebell and Ultimate #Sandbag Sprinter #squats is about going from building the pattern and #hipmobility of the Sprinter Stance to challenging our ability to produce and resist force in different planes of motion. . Do such squats actually make you strong and build muscle? Well if course we want to challenge these movements with load but due to the unstable body and load positions we actually stimulate more muscle through the entire body and don’t become limited by the low back that often happens in so many squats. Having more sophisticated #strengthtraining SHOCKS people in how much can be accomplished when we are more thoughtful about our progressions and purpose.
Teaching people how to use tools like kettlebells and Ultimate Sandbags to teach movements like squats is so essential. Not because they add variety, but because each level teaches us something unique about the movement and allows us to progress!
Outside of straddling the barbell for landmine exercises like rows…squat, deadlifts, and most rowing drills are really awkward. That is because the load isn’t moving purely vertical but at an angle. Unlike squatting a barbell, a kettlebell, an Ultimate Sandbag where the weight goes vertical only, the horizontal angle can really throw off the movement which is why I like to bring back my tire flipping example.
One of the EASIEST ways to hurt yourself during a tire flip is to try to deadlift the weight. That is because, like the landmine, the tire moves at an angle. If you try to deadlift that weight, you develop a lever arm on the low back that puts A LOT of stress on the low back and makes it FAR more difficult to use the hamstrings and glutes. That is why personally, I always felt my low back trying to squat or deadlift with a landmine. This can CAUSE a lot of issues and when we consider the load is more stabilized artificially, it makes me wonder why we would use it when we have superior kettlebell and Ultimate Sandbag examples like those below.
You can see that to match the movement of the weight, I have to change how I move too!
Don’t Make It Ego
If you are having a slight Homer Simpson moment right now don’t worry, we ALL have many of those (the longer you are in the industry, the more you have!). Learning more and evolving isn’t a bad thing. Learning more and IGNORING it to just keeping doing what you were doing before definitely CAN be an issue. As the Maya Angelou quote says above, when we know better we should do better, the number reason one why is to help those that come to us better!