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How To Build Muscle Through Stability Training

sandbag training

Fitness, maybe more than most industries, gets marketing to hijack actual good concepts of training. The two downsides of this are that we throw out great ideas because we think they aren’t real, second, we end up doing the WRONG things because of what we are told that represents these concepts. I think along with core, functional, the other idea that people miss the boat on is stability training. Don’t worry, I did as well, but being an eternal student helps us learn how to do better!

stability training

Last year I put together as mini summit with Alwyn Cosgrove, nutritionist Leslie Schilling, and performance expert, Dr. Brandon Marcello. If you haven’t heard Brandon’s name you should! His resume is one of the most impressive in the industry from working with Olympians, being part of the team that is now EXOS, and working with the US military, he has done it all.

Well, Brandon’s topic was about stability training and what he shared was mind blowing (you can actually get his whole lecture and hands on HERE for 20% off with code “save20” along with our entire summit). It made so much sense, but I had never heard anyone break down what the science of stability training really is about. What is the goal of stability training? Well, it is NOT standing on unstable objects, it is not lifting objects that bounce, shake, whatever. As Brandon states…

core training

What does THAT mean? When our body moves there is a way that the nervous system optimally uses each muscle within a chain that needs to turn on the right time. Meaning that just strengthening a singular muscle doesn’t guarantee (usually doesn’t) that the muscle will turn on at the right time when moving. The fix is to focus on building better movement patterns (squat, hip hinge, lunge, push, pull, rotation, and locomotion).

That is why in DVRT we have a system of progressing stability training where most people get instability training all wrong. I recently made an example of where people miss stability training and building more single leg deadlifts in the post below.

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Not gonna lie, the last 18 months have sucked! About 2 years ago I saw my degenerative spinal disease progress into serious issues in my neck. Went in for a spinal fusion and they botched it badly leaving so many problems including basically a broken neck. Thankfully, I found a great surgeon and unfortunately had to have most of neck fused. However, yesterday was exciting because I was finally cleared to resume strength training. I can’t do anything crazy, but I can still train hard and smart which is what this post is all about. _________________ I think the single leg deadlift is one of the best movements we can do, but I also realize having coached people for 25 years, that it can be the most challenging to get people to do well. Over time I have used and seen some great strategies to progress people and those that MIGHT look good, but when you break down what is happening it doesn’t work so well. Let’s look at a few of those examples. _________________ In the first video series you see be pushing back back foot into a block (some people use a wall, doesn’t matter). It does give me more stability, but actually teaches the wrong action with both feet on the ground. Since as humans our most important and unique movement is locomotion, when both feet are on the ground, we want to push DOWN, not back. I know people will say it is to get stability, but as I learned from performance expert, Dr. Brandon Marcello, a lot of people use artificial stability which doesn’t teach the nervous system how to control the movement as we continue to progress. Using a @perform_better XL  mini band, I can cue to push down and have BOTH feet very active. _________________ In the second series, people will put a foot elevated like a split squat and try to do hip hinges. It is a good idea, but the issue is if you get too far out as I am, you can see me struggle to fully extend my hips. Using a step is often better because I can progress the height and you see me much closer which allows me to fully extend my hips. Then you see I can use a @valslide on a bench to create the proper hip extension/flexion needed for a single leg deadlift. _________________ Continued in comments…

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These concepts are foundational to our Progress Kettlebell Movement Certification (PKM is also 20% off HERE) and understanding what our body is suppose to do in movement helps us create better progressions. This also allows us to build muscle which most people don’t think is possible with stability training. When we use stability training correctly we actually use MORE muscles in the body so we build more muscle and burn more calories while making the body perform better, pretty sweet right? Below is another example of how we can build muscle and be true to stability training concepts in a familiar exercise like bent rows where people also make a very common mistake.

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Since people seemed to like my post discussing how we miss the boat on progressive instability training on deadlifts, I thought it would be good to highlight another misconception of a popular exercise. What you see on the left is how most people perform a kettlebell alternating row. First, why perform an alternating row? The movement of the weight back and forth creates a need to resist rotation of the trunk. In fact, it is a version of a Renegade Row where we can handle more weight so we can work on trying to create stability, but load the upper back muscles more. So, what’s the issue? ______________ Very similar to my discussion with the single leg deadlifts, taking a wide stance for an exercise that is suppose to challenge our stability doesn’t make a lot of sense. Using the wide stance we create “artificial” stability through the stance. In other words, whatever stability training we were trying to build gets lost in the stability we create in just creating a wide stance. ______________ A BETTER way to perform a drill like an alternating kettlebell row would be to change our body position to reflect the need to have proper core stability to resist the rotation the weight is trying to create. That is why I take more of a Sprinter Stance, going more narrow and splitting my feet, we really get to have the impact of the alternating weights to challenge our stability. _____________ Once we understand the true intent, we can use different tools to progress these ideas. The Ultimate Sandbag is a very valuable strength training tool because all the weight is away from the handles making the weight feel much heavier than a dumbbell, barbell, even a kettlebell. That combined with the instability and almost 10 different gripping options to use in an exercise like a bent row makes it valuable just from that perspective. When we add in the different planes of motion and building on how to resist rotation by using tension concepts (irradiation) to help people how to learn to properly resist rotation, we can build better ways in using a great exercise like the bent row not only to make our upper body strong, but stability through the rest of our body.

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Probably THE most common mistake (okay, second after all the balancing stuff) is that we perform an unstable exercise, but we use structure to create the stability. I showed why that is incorrect in the deadlifts and rows, but a very easy way to demonstrate this point is through the use of a great exercise like a Pallof Press. A wonderful way to teach how to resist unwanted movement (another big key in stability training) but most people when they perform the movement take a wide stance as you see me use below.

In that case, I am using my “structure” or positioning to artificially create stability and I lose the effectiveness of the Pallof Press. However, what you see is I give better options (from most challenging to least challenging as progressions for stability training are essential). Using the Ultimate Sandbag and being able to actively pull apart the weight helps me connect my lats/core to the rest of my body and giving me more natural stability training as you see my positions don’t let me cheat the movement at all!

Understanding the true intent of concepts like stability training and gain the benefits. As the great poet, Maya Angelou said, “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” That should be the philosophy we all have as learning keeps us growing whether training ourselves or trying to help others!

Don’t miss saving 20% on all our DVRT Online Education, Workouts, and Ultimate Sandbags with code “save20” HERE

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One of my favorite quotes comes from famed poet, Maya Angelou. She says, “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Sometimes we get so set in our ways we cut ourselves off from learning to do better and that could be the biggest mistake we make especially if our goal as professionals is to help others. A great example is how I learned from performance expert, Dr. Brandon Marcello smarter ways to create stability. ______________ We tend to think that instability training is about balancing on unstable surfaces or lifting weights that bounce and shake. The reality is that true stability training as Dr. Marcello says, “stability is about timing and sequential activation of muscles.” That means even good stability drills like the Pallof Press gets misunderstood and we have missed opportunities to make it better! _______________ Why do I show this Pallof Press as not ideal? First, the wide base I take is something that I shared in a previous post as using structure for stability (Dr. Marcello thank you for bringing that to my attention). Meaning, we use our wide base to substitute for our bodies need for stability. That is why these #DVRT progressions and positions represent how we want to use stability in smarter ways. ______________ Then the use of the Ultimate Sandbag I am sure will be controversial, but it is key. With just a band, only one side can create stability because of the connection of our grip to our core. So, both hands on the USB is a better start of engaging the core. Then, being able to “pull apart” the USB helps connect the lat/core which helps me learn how to create stability. People will ask “can I do this with other tools?” My best response is “can you do lateral band walks with other tools than a band?” The point being we need to understand how training tools help us achieve specific outcomes and train smarter!

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