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How Ultimate Sandbag Training Helped Rehab This Physical Therapist

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Dan Swinscoe, Physical Therapist, DVRT Master (Peak Sport & Spine)

If you haven’t learned this already, you should know that DVRT isn’t about the Ultimate Sandbag (USB).  It’s about learning how the body works and then training it that way with an intelligently designed program using the best tools available.  The Ultimate Sandbag isn’t always the best tool for the job.  That said, its an amazing tool, like a Swiss Army knife, it can be used for so many different things.   Strength, mobility, endurance, power, performance and rehab.  Check all those boxes. Learn to use the USB and it will do a lot for you.  

Fundamental to all movement related learning is the concept that limbs can’t move optimally without the body being a stable thing for them to attach to.  Meaning muscles in your midsection need to fire before the limb moves. It’s only a fraction of a second, but it’s important. Formally it’s stated as: “Proximal stability is required for distal mobility.” Or as I prefer to say, “You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.” In DVRT this fundamental principle is emphasized in some creative but easy to apply techniques. 

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You “core” has impact on the legs and the arms, not only impact but helps them “communicate”.

Recently, I have been able to use these concepts to my own benefit rehabbing a severe shoulder injury.  I’d like to share one exercise with the Ultimate Sandbag to explain my point.  The simple, yet highly challenging, lateral bag drag. 

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It was my powerlifting meet that caused me to actually tear my rotator cuff, but my rehab journey was quite different than the norm!

This exercise has helped me a lot.  It begins in a quadruped (hands and knees) position with the bag underneath you.  You then reach under and slide it to one side then the other.  Sounds simple.  I couldn’t do it at first even with my lightest bag.  Enter DVRT principles.   

When you tear your rotator cuff, as I did, your shoulder suddenly has a problem.  The angles and directions of force that were previously controlled by that part of the cuff now can’t be.  Thus, you have a stability problem.  This was demonstrated clearly to me by weakness and pain trying to slide a USB across the floor.  Solution?  I used the DVRT principle that cues the body uses for proximal stability come from the hands and feet.  So what did I do? I tried to grasp the ground and twist it, I pushed my toes down harder,  I squeezed the handle harder and  I put a band around my feet so I had to push harder to extend my leg.  The result?  I was able to slide the bag.  Not super comfortable at first but I was able to do it and over time it became completely comfortable.  Real world ways of using my arm became more comfortable too like being able to open and close my car door with my left arm.  That sure was nice!

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Sometimes shoulder rehab doesn’t look like shoulder rehab. Moving my arm sideways away from my body has been really hard for me since my injury. The #ultimatesandbag has been and will be a valuable tool in helping my shoulder work better and feel better. After a trauma some muscles become inhibited. They don’t want to work so there is less of a “connection” between the arm and the body. This drill does a great job of helping me reconnect posterior shoulder muscles to my posterior hip muscles via my core. Which is how it’s supposed to go. I’m very thankful to be able to close my car door with my left hand again thanks to this exercise. At first I couldn’t make the bag slide I would just tension the handle as much as I could. Eventually the bag started to move. Hurray for small victories #dvrtstrong #shoulderrehab #functionaltraining #functionalrehab #getppsc #movewithfms #performbetter #physicaltherapy

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You can have a band around the feet without moving the legs which gives good feedback to the lower body to create stability. The band around my feet like you see above actually challenges my stability. So, knowing what you are trying to give feedback to the body upon is crucial. 

Once I got to where I could slide the Ultimate Sandbag bag comfortably, it was time to progress.  First progression, do it without the external cue of the band around my feet.  You feel how much that helps once it’s gone. But I was able to get comfortable with that so had to progress again.  Next step, a heavier bag.  Not because it should be a goal to slide the heaviest bag possible, but because my first bag was very light, only 10#.   

The band went around my feet again and I looked and felt like I was lifting a ton but eventually this too got easy.  Time for a new challenge using another DVRT concept. 

I advanced myself from dragging the bag in a quadruped position with lots of ground contact to a pushup or high plank position with less ground contact.  Less contact with the ground means I am starting from a less stable position.  I have to make up for that internally.  My nervous system has to learn to make my muscles work better together and CREATE more stability. 

This was harder, of course, but I was still able to use my heavier bag if I had a band around my feet.  Without the band it hurt and I felt weak.   Even though in a plank position my legs aren’t moving, the band tries to pull my feet together while I have to resist that using muscles that pull them apart, AKA my glutes.  Because of common connective tissue attachments the glutes have a continuous relationship from the lateral leg of one side diagonally up to the shoulder on the opposite side.  So when both glutes contract you get a “tightening” of your core.  We’re back to that whole proximal stability thing again.  With this assist to tighten my core I was able to slide the bag comfortably and with way less effort.   

Next progression?  You guessed it.  Remove the band., which I was eventually able to do.  

I use these principles daily for myself and with my patients.  You can too.  Learn about DVRT and you learn how the body works and ways to make something painful and weak feel instantly stronger and more comfortable.  Im living proof of that. 

Dan’s hard work is proof that using a system of smart functional training can be very powerful in producing great results. Not because there is a special “secret” but he follows how the body is designed to function! You can see below how much Dan has been progressing in our system and if you want to find out more you can save 25% on ANY of our DVRT Online Educational Courses HERE with code “save25”