It is too easy to answer the question, ‘How do I make this exercise more challenging?’ with, ‘increasing the weight.’ Sometimes this is a pretty valid and logical answer. However, more times than not – especially if we’re keeping within the context of “functional training” – this is a pretty poor answer.
If your sport requires you to lift the most weight possible, then yes, please – increase the weight. But I get the feeling many of us out there, fitness professionals and enthusiasts alike, are not in the gyms and not strength training because we’re actively competing in power lifting or olympic weight lifting. So, we should be finding other ways to increase strength in more ways than increasing the weight on the barbell or dumbbells.
Life is pretty complex, shouldn’t our strength training be smarter?
It might seem like a funny idea to be “strength training” without increasing the weights, but it’s possible and it is science! World renown spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill has actually defined the difference of bodybuilding and functional training quite well..…”Isolating a muscle about a joint, and training it with progressive overload is purely a bodybuilding hypertrophy approach. Functional training incorporates the goal of enhancing strength throughout the body segment linkage. This means the strength be generated quickly, throughout complex motions and postures, and in an environment that preserves balance and joint stability, and avoids injury, risks, etc.”
Strength training isn’t just moving a weight, but how we move the weight with purpose, intent, and to match our natural movement.
It just isn’t the science, but real world that I can speak with confidence the way this creates superior results! I know it personally and I know it because what I see in the clients I serve at Fitness Lying Down. Strength isn’t necessarily muscular, its neural. Learning to teach your brain to use MORE muscles and to be more efficient is key in becoming strong in and outside of the gym. However, JUST going heavier doesn’t often lead to teaching our nervous system how to do that, otherwise we would all be lifting THOUSANDS of pounds by now!
I do my best to make us think if the way we see strength training is the best form?
BUT – when your answer to changing the level of intensity is going from using two arms to one arm or moving from feet shoulder-width into a sprinter stance or moving the Ultimate Sandbag from a front loaded position to being in a shoulder position – now the brain gets excited! But why?
Making these subtle changes and manipulating the training environment gives the brain a new challenge and activity to improve upon and helps our body continue to try to make that “linkage” that was described above. It starts to make the body figure out how it is going to produce strength while resisting forces that are acting upon the body, not surprising, it is EXACTLY what the body goes through when it performs in life!
These changes to the environment changes the plane of motion we’re using. Giving our brain the opportunity to better connect with the body to help fix any energy leaks – which translates to stronger stabilizers – which translates to stronger bodies – which translates to strength training!
For example: I love squats. I like to reach for an appropriate sized USB for my front loaded squats, but when I’m using the heaviest USB and I can’t go up in weight, what do I do? I will move the USB from the front loaded position to being on my fists. Seems like such a minimal progression, there can’t be much difference in the intensity of the squat, right? WRONG!
Just changing some of the holding positions with a heavier Ultimate Sandbag allows us to see that strength training isn’t ONLY what we can lift, but what we can resist as well!
Changing the holding position from being nestled into my body to now being unsteady of my fists has just created a lot more instability and is going to require more brain power to ensure those stabilizers stay strong to protect my body from injury. Brain becomes smarter, body becomes stronger. The difference in the core engagement by simply moving the USB cannot be expressed enough in writing – you really have to feel it for yourself! Just know it’s a big jump!
I don’t mean this to be a lesson in biomechanics, but there are three planes of motion: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. We love using these planes of motion as a way to increase (and decrease) the intensity of an exercise in the DVRT universe.
The sagittal plane is your comfort blanket. It’s the plane of motion you most like to work in because you feel strong and stable. And we start everyone here for that reason! We want people new to DVRT to understand how to be proficient at moving in a relatively stable environment. That’s why it’s important to teach hip hinges with our feet shoulder-width apart and both hands on the Ultimate Sandbag – the deadlift exercise. However, when we get really good at deadlifting, we can begin to explore other holding positions in the sagittal plane to increase the demands of the body & brain.
And we don’t stop there! After all the deadlifting, good morning, high pull, and power cleaning (all hip hinges) in the sagittal plane, we go after other planes of motion because let’s be honest here – life demands us to move in all three planes of motion and if our training doesn’t give us the strength to do so, then it isn’t functional!
Some powerful ways in DVRT we combine going heavier with good movement skill practice. Getting the best of both worlds!
As Pete McCall of the American Council on Exercise explains, “When it comes to anatomy and physiology, one important concept that we often overlook is the fact that the human body rarely performs the exact same movement the exact same way. In fact, the only place where human movement is consistently repetitive is in the gym. In most other settings, we frequently change positions to dissipate the physical stresses applied to our muscles.”
After becoming super duper strong in the sagittal plan both physically and neurally it’s time to discover the frontal plane. But we don’t immediately move in the frontal plane – so weird, right? We begin creating strength in the frontal plane by learning how to resist it in the sprinters stance. So, if I can use the deadlift exercise again, we simply slide one foot back so the toes of the back foot are lined up with the heel of the front foot and viola! This simple change to the body position allows us to hip hinge in the sagittal plane (still feeling somewhat secure), but now resisting forces from the frontal plane as a direct result of the instability generated from this change.
I’ve seen too many people think that just because they can do an exercise in the frontal plane they should. Unfortunately, those people forget, or never knew, about the intent of these frontal plane exercises end up hurting their backs and knees because they didn’t build the strength to actually move in the frontal plane efficiently.
Spending time training in the sprinters stance will give you the strength required to move in the frontal plane and reap the benefits.
The sprinter stance allows us to build progression and can be used to change even most the familiar exercises into something new!
We can produce and resist rotation. Teaching rotation requires us to teach the more complex foot action and stable trunk that this Lever Bell drill offers.
Same thing can be said of the transverse plane. Being able to build up strength to resist transverse forces will afford you the freedom to move in the transverse plane. It’s not uncommon to see our clients spending lots of time with the around the world drills, pallof press outs using the Core Straps, MAX lunges, and lateral plank drags to do just that – resist transverse forces.
The hardest push-up you have ever done makes you RESIST rotation!
Once the necessary strength has been achieved, then we can begin to look at rotational hip hinges, rows, presses, etc and those who honestly earn this strength in the gym have more success outside the gym living and moving pain free and full of confidence in their movement strength!
This is another reason I wanted to create the DVRT Dynamic Strength Training program! To offer access to go through the necessary steps and learn how to be strong in all three planes of motion through the various three levels of intensity each exercise has. Did I mention there are over 300 videos of exercises (gasp!) You won’t see Level 1 as a front loaded squat and Level 2 being a front loaded squat with a heavier USB and Level 3 using an even heavier USB, that’s not enough to create the real world strength you deserve!
Learn more about how we use DVRT strategies to build continual success no matter where you are starting. Check out Cory’s NEW Dynamic Strength Program where not only does he give phenomenal examples of great workout programs, but 3 levels of progressions to EVERY exercise! Get it HERE for 30% for a limited time with coupon code “dynamic”
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