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Building Smart Muscle

ultimate sandbag equipment

It might be one of the funniest questions I would get people at conferences where I was presenting. I get it, online it can be hard to get an idea of someone’s physical size, so when you meet people in person it can be a bit surprising. While I am not going to enter the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding show any time soon, people generally are surprised to see me at 6’4 and 240 pounds. Why are they a bit taken back?

Most end up assuming because I am of a very decent size that the Ultimate Sandbag ideas I share are more of a “shtick” and I actually do things they would normally associate with muscle building programs. That is why I would often get the question of, “Josh, what do you REALLY do for your training?” They were even MORE startled when I would tell them, pretty much what you see us share all the time.

sandbag shouldering

The idea of building appreciable muscle without spending time isolating muscles (I really don’t isolate, even on the rare occasion of focusing on more single joint exercises for my neck fusion issues I still try to integrate more of the body) is so foreign to people. Even many fitness pros are of the mindset you do functional training for stability, mobility, injury prevention, even conditioning, but you got to really target muscles individually to build muscle.

While I understand where this mentality derives from a fear of being different, it really is unfortunate because if we look at why functional training wouldn’t build muscle very effectively doesn’t make any sense! In fact, I would strongly argue the opposite is true, the fact we train MORE muscles with every exercise, wouldn’t it stand to reason we build MORE muscle?

sandbag overhead press

Why worry about which deltoid muscle I am working when I can hit ALL of them and SO MUCH more with DVRT Ultimate Sandbag exercises like these?

Sure, you may not care if you train your multifidus versus your quads more, but in reality, you can do both very successfully. Training the muscles that make you move well, be resilient, and be real world strong can also be trained along side the muscles you like to see in the mirror (yes, they aren’t always different but you get my point).

A BIGGER point to my case is that the idea of taking something that is meant to perform and function a certain way and to make it try to do so in such an unnatural way is really an odd thought process if we want optimal results. If I told you I have an ice cream maker and you want to use it as an oven, that would make you scratch your head. While that may not be a perfect analogy I think you see where I am going.

The fear of not training muscles is a REAL thing for people as I’ve given this same explanation many times and I see the heads nodding but they still have so much apprehension because it is not what they are use to seeing.

The Science

So, while I am hopefully giving you an argument that we can not only build muscle very effectively with functional training, but we can build smarter muscle will make sense after a bit of science. I know, people don’t usually like to hear that word…science, but I think it will help drive home this idea.

In 2016 researchers (HERE) compared the impact on strength and power of a squat compared to a leg press. Heck, a leg press isn’t technically an isolated exercise, but it is definitely closer to the idea of isolated training than a squat. What did they find?

“Therefore, the squat exercise increased the performance in SJ, CMJ, and reactive strength index more effectively compared with the leg-press in a short-term intervention. Consequently, if the strength training aims at improving jump performance, the squat should be preferred because of the better transfer effects.”

Okay, that was strength, but we have been talking about muscle. Anything for that?

While there is not a lot because hypertrophy actually takes time to achieve and most studies don’t go that long. However, this 2017 paper actually reviewed many studies to answer the question are multi-joint exercises just as effective as single joint exercises (the closest we could get to functional training because the term is often so poorly defined and understood there isn’t a universal methodology for functional training). So, after scientists looked at 23 other studies (HERE) they found…

“Long-term studies comparing increases in muscle size and strength in the upper limbs reported no difference between single joint and multi-joint exercises and no additional effects when single joint exercises were included in an multi-joint exercise program.”

Not only did they show that muscle could definitely be developed without isolation of certain muscles, but actually ADDING single joint exercises (which I hear people feel like they have to do all the time) didn’t add anything significant to muscle and strength. I’ll explain why this may be the case in a moment, but they went on to also say…

“People performing resistance training may not need to include single joint exercises in their program to obtain equivalent results in terms of muscle activation and long-term adaptations such as hypertrophy and strength.”

So, we have established when it comes to building real world strength, multi-joint exercises lead to greater outcomes in the first study (as well as many others that are out there), but MOST surprising is the idea we don’t really need single joint exercises for building muscle either. If that is so shocking why may that be the case?

People often forget that the adaptation for building muscle is through the recovery of the stress that strength training creates. It isn’t a situation where more stress creates a higher level of muscle being built. Think of it this way, you have a limit to emotional stress you can handle, when you exceed that you have a breakdown of some sorts. Well, this is kinda like that. Developing more functional and smart muscle or just any form of muscle in general really is about the OPTIMAL amount of stress that is applied to the body. In fact, a big reason that anabolic drugs are used to build muscle is to accelerate recovery and allowing people to do more work than they normally would be able tolerate. Most people are not going to be on anabolic drugs just to get a bit more muscle so most have to be smarter and find the optimal amount of stress they can tolerate.

My point is when you focus on multi-joint exercises you get such a HUGE amount of stress on the body that if your program is built well and follow some of the concepts Coach Cory Cripe has written about (HERE and HERE) adding single joint exercises may just be too much to the body.

Ultimately my goal is to show you how you can build smart muscle. I am talking about building muscle that helps you in life and your health. To make your training more efficient and to help you avoid many of the common aches/pains that deter so many well meaning fitness programs. You can see, this isn’t just on my opinion, but the research backs it up. Check out the workout below to see how you can do this pretty easily for yourself and also build other important qualities like mobility, stability, power, and conditioning.

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