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Building Super Real World Strength

ultimate sandbag training

Even though things have been so different this year for all of us, one of the cool things that I was still able to do was present at several national virtual conferences. Being able to teach and share is something that really inspires me at this point in my career. After 25 years of coaching,  I am more focused on the next generation of fitness, performance coaches, as well as therapists in making a big impact on people. The “theme” this year was what real-world strength was really about and how we miss it all the time in our training!

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Two great national conferences I was honored to be a part of!

Most of our workouts are pretty messed up, I can say that because MY workouts were pretty messed up for a while. What do I mean? Ask what most people think being strong means and they will say something like, “well, your ability to lift something.” While that isn’t horrible, it isn’t complete. You may have more formally educated individuals say something like, “your ability to develop force.” That sounds similar and is also true, but is also incomplete. So, what does it meant to be “strong” and how does that impact how we think about real-world strength?

real world strength

I share this slide from one of my lectures because the late great, Dr. Mel Siff pointed out a VERY key factor of real-world strength that most people miss. The ability to create force under specific conditions! What does that mean though and how should it change how we think of real-world strength training?

The misleading narrative that a lot of outdated coaches will use is that if you get strong at the “basics” then that takes care of everything else. That would be awesome and I actually use to say the same thing. However, I use to say it because in some small (or large part depending on how you look at it) I was trying to mask the fact that I wasn’t very good at taking my strength training to more challenging environments or positions. I was REALLY good at moving up and down, but not so good when you asked me to take that strength into more unpredictable and less stable environments.

loaded carries

I always have a good chuckle when people think I’m not about training hard or heavy. I am, but versus the days I use to do competitive strongman training, I look to do it smarter!

Great, I stunk at taking my training to more real-world strength when things are moving in multiple directions at once or having to produce and resist force at once, but I’m one case study, right? Well, Dr. David Tiberio gives a great explanation of why this probably is not just a Josh phenomenon.

real world strength

That is another big key, the fact that our nervous system has to know HOW to coordinate strength in these different positions and directions. ONLY training up and down doesn’t teach our body largely how to take that type of training to more real-world strength. If the science is out there, then why do we ignore it? Largely because people don’t know how to use this information because they are stuck with just “squat, deadlift, bench press, etc.” Let’s look at some practical examples as we still base everything on the 7 movement patterns of squat, hip hinge, lunge, push, pull, and rotation.


How in the world do you make a squat more real-world strength? Isn’t just squatting on its own enough? Squatting bilaterally as we typically see does build a nice foundation, but doesn’t really tackle our real-world strength because we don’t often operate in such stable stance with loads in such stable positions. Changing the load position like our Shoulder squat is a way to now challenge the body to move up and down while also resisting force going from side to side. Doing so while also using our Sprinter Stance brings even MORE real-world strength elements to the movement as DVRT UK Master, Greg Perlaki shows. In the series below, but how we can challenge the squat in so many smarter ways outside of just beating up our low backs!

Hip Hinge

The hip hinge gives us even more options because we have elements of power and locomotion we can build. Sometimes the options seem overwhelming but having a system like DVRT gives us the exact direction of what to use and when to use them. That is what makes our educational programs (you can check out HERE for 30% off with code “laborday”) so powerful. We don’t teach you just new exercises, we empower you with the knowledge to know how to create and use the RIGHT exercise!


Pressing gives us so many unique opportunities to build real-world strength because we can go horizontal or vertical, one arm, two, or alternating, and from a host of different positions. We can use different tools to emphasize different strength training qualities.

Going overhead helps us teach more mobility and stability of the upper body together as you can see from these movement concepts.

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Push-ups are a great example of an exercise that can teach a lot about functional fitness or it can be the reason we hurt our shoulders. If it isn’t clear, in the first video you see my elbows flaring outwards. Yes, I know some people do this to target their chest more, but whether because you think you are developing your chest more or some instability causes it, it just isn’t a good thing. ___________ The reason is this puts the shoulders in a compromised position and they take too much stress. In real world pushing you would push away with your arms closer to the body, this allows us to use the whole body. Using the lats, gripping the ground with our hands, digging into the balls of our feet, these are all strategies we SHOULD be teaching to have stronger push-ups and save our shoulders. These progressions teach how to create proper tension in the hands and feet, how to use the lats to help stabilize the shoulder, and overall how to make a much stronger and healthier push-up. __________ The progressions I show from our #DVRT system demonstrate how we teach these concepts through exercise and build strength with good movement patterns. When we just use push-ups from our knees we lose the importance of total body integration and stability, we also don’t teach HOW to develop greater movement. Do we lose the impact on the upper body? Not at all! This allows us to train harder and work to greater progressions while be healthy at the same time. Nice idea that we can train hard and smart!

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There are so many options in horizontal pushing as well, but physical therapist Jessica Bento shows that it still has to be purposeful and progressive. 


Like pushing, pulling can be done horizontally and vertically and with the same challenges to the upper body. Most people never come close to exploring the options they have in pulling fully. Plus, they miss the real world strength application when they often take the core OUT of the exercise by lying on the bench. That goes AGAINST how the body functions and impedes our ability to build real-world strength.

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Exercises like these really help us demonstrate the important differences between bodybuilding and functional training. In bodybuilding circles this type of rowing exercise would be great. We take out the core and lower body (which is often the limiting factor for people) and just isolate the upper body. What could go wrong with that?! ____________ If your goal is to solely look better than this probably works. However, why not take an opportunity to help people move, perform, AND look better all at the same time? Especially because the number one reason people say they can’t achieve their fitness goals is time! What’s the issue? Most people don’t realize that our upper body is highly dependent upon our core and lower body through the various kinetic chains of our body. Taking away the core and lower body during our upper body exercises makes an imbalance in the body. __________ The easiest way to explain it is say you can develop 300 pounds of force when you are not supported by the bench. Then on the bench you can produce 400 pounds of force. Guess how much you can use when you are actually performing in life/sport? That’s right, 300 pounds. Our upper body, like our lower body, can only produce as much force as our pelvis can stabilize. So, why are these #DVRT drills better? __________ They allow us to integrate the natural chains of the body without getting TOO unstable where we can’t load the upper body. The different gripping options on the Ultimate Sandbag along with the unique leverage it provides allows us to use many progressions of a familiar exercise to get very different results! That is the point of functional training, make your body perform as good as it looks!

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Jessica shows some great pulling examples especially practical for the many home workouts that are going on that can still build great real-world strength.

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When people struggle doing pull-ups we immediately just default to banded pull-ups. While that may help some, bands actually have a different strength curve than pull-ups themselves (gives less assistance when the exercise is getting harder). So, while some may benefit from banded pull-ups there are plenty of strategies that can actually help make one achieve pull-ups faster through making connections that people may miss. . Chair pull-ups are one of my favorite as there are so many levels we can use manipulating body and hand positions. Using the @perform_better Infinity Straps I’m able to use a neutral, supinate, pronates, or mixed grip for this series. Having my legs on the ground allows progression from using the feet and heels to create stability and integrate with #corestrength to slowly removing that assistance. Most importantly one learns to do #pullups without the cheating of shrugging or rounding of the shoulders that happens when people perform pull-ups. . Half kneeling we can work on building pulling strength while integrating the core and #glutes . Since there is a direct link to lats, core, and glutes, this can be a great exercise to build those specific connections to help greater performance. Going single arm and using a #kettlebell to create #corestability actually can help those that also attack pull-ups but find they have shoulder issues from compensating. . Body saws with @valslide , bands, and Ultimate #Sandbag is not only a great #coreworkout but if we place the right intent we teach the rigid body and whole body tension we want in the pull-up. “Pulling apart” the Ultimate Sandbag connects the grip, shoulder, lats, and core. The band helps accentuate pulling with the lats while driving into the feet. . Half kneeling eccentric focused Ultimate Sandbag presses allows us to really build great pulling as well as pressing strength. The neutral grip while pressing helps keep the pattern of the lats in place to learn to stabilize the shoulder and the instability of the weight reinforces stability of the hips and trunk! . Coaches have way more options to make people successful than they typically realize👊🏻

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Instead of just beating your head against the wall or making people compensate because we don’t have the right progressions, understanding how to progress and build real-world strength is so key. 

The point of this post wasn’t to give you just more exercises. Rather, I wanted to point out how limited our view of strength really was and how our misunderstanding causes us to get “trapped” into very singular ways of training as well as being overwhelmed by all we can do. That is why for the past 15 years we have worked so hard to build systems, not just novel movements. When people ask we focus so hard on DVRT (Dynamic Variable Resistance Training) is because the system leads us to the RIGHT tool and the RIGHT exercise. In the end, giving us better results!

Find out how you can empower your training, our Ultimate Sandbags, DVRT Online Education (that has integrated tools and kettlebell certifications as well), along with our workout programs can give you so much more! Save 30% for a VERY limited time with code “laborday” HERE

upper body workouts