By Jon-Erik Kawamoto, CSCS, CEP, DVRT 1 & 2
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” ~Marcus Aurelius
It’s easy in this industry to get caught up doing what you like. Many become very opinionated and think their way is the best way, but the fitness industry is far from being one-dimensional. As a fitness professional and fitness writer, I try to keep an open mind about different training methods or programming ideas. The “don’t bash it until you try it” is a motto I like to stick with because as we all know, there are different paths to success with health, fitness and in the athletic arena.
I was fortunate enough to participate in the DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training Level I and Level II certification course this past weekend in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I had little experience using an Ultimate SandbagTM (USBTM) and was eager to learn Josh’s DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training system. I knew this course was more than just about “a bag of sand” but didn’t expect to see so many concepts integrated together.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve been in the industry for almost eight years now and have noticed I’ve been caught up in sticking to only a few concepts and training methods (which work) in my own and my client’s programs. I had my mind blown a few times this past weekend and here’s a recap of my top 3 eye-openers from the DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training that are going to change my views on training.
1. The Principle of Progressive Overload is more than just about load
In order to continually stimulate positive adaptations with training, we all know we need to apply the principle of progress overload. This is the basis behind any periodized plan, whether it’s a linear or undulating model. Basically, this principle states that if we do not provide a new training stimulus to our bodies or our client’s bodies, we will cease to adapt and remain idle with our progress. So, what’s the most common method of enforcing this principle? We use more load. The stronger you get, the more load you can lift therefore, the fixation with always wanting to add weight to the bar.However, just because the word “load” is in the word “overload” doesn’t mean it’s the only method of progressing an exercise. What about changing the implement used? Or increasing the complexity of the exercise? How about adding a force vector in a different plane of motion? Depending on the exercise and loading position used in Ultimate Sandbag Training, the difficulty of the exercise can actually be enhanced with less load (unstable implement). Or another example is the lunge. A front loaded reverse lunge is performed in the sagittal plane and requires frontal plane stability. Now, take the rotational lunge: the movement is also performed in the sagittal plane but the movement of the Ultimate Sandbag around the forward leg increases the stability component and adds forces in the transverse plane, perfection of DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training. The load can be the same between these two exercises, but the effects are drastically different.
Bottom line: There are endless ways to progress an exercise and we have to remember, load isn’t the only variable worth changing.
2. The first exercise in each workout shouldn’t be first because it uses the most load.
This second point is an extension of the first. Commonly, we perform bilateral squats, conventional deadlifts and the barbell bench press first in our workouts. Why? Well, they are multi-joint exercises and they typically use the most load. If Olympic lifts or plyometrics are also performed, sometimes they are performed before these compound lifts and sometimes they can be performed after, but for the most part, the exercises that use the most load are commonly programmed first.
Anyway, my point is this: why program exercises with the most load first? Aren’t we supposed to program the exercise with the most complexity first? And we have to remember that complexity is a relative term. What is complex for someone might be too easy for someone else. Therefore, we have to modify the program based on the current abilities of the trainee (but I know you already knew that).
Bottom line: Put the most complex exercises at the beginning of a workout despite the load used. Load isn’t everything.
3. Unstable surface training is too drastic of a change in surface. Change the loading pattern to yield more effective results.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, it was popular to extend unstable surface training from the rehab setting to the gym and athletic setting. This type of training has been shown to be valuable post rehab but what effects was it going to have with healthy trainees? Basically, according to Behm et al. (2010)…
“When similar exercises are performed, core and limb muscle activation are to be higher under unstable conditions than under stable conditions. However, core muscle activation that is similar to or higher than that achieved in unstable conditions can also be achieved with ground-based free-weight exercises, such as Olympic lifts, squats, and dead lifts. Since the addition of unstable bases to resistance exercises can decrease force, power, velocity, and range of motion, they are not recommended as the primary training mode for athletic conditioning” (p. 109).Therefore, in order to build strength (and stability) we should stand on stable ground. So, you might ask, how do we improve stability if the surface is well, stable? Easy, you change the loading pattern of the implement or change the stability of the implement itself. A simple example is preventing a lateral hip shift (in the frontal plane) when a trainee performs a lunge or step up variation. If a load is held bilaterally and the hip shifts laterally, it’s unstable (yet the surface is stable). So in this situation, the load may be reduced, cueing would be provided to teach the proper hip position and specific muscle activation exercises may be warranted. However, if the hip doesn’t shift (is stable), the difficulty of the exercise can be increased by changing from a bilateral loading pattern to a uni-lateral loading pattern e.g. hip or shoulder position with the USB on the contralateral side. Therefore, the uni-lateral load is going to be unstable and further challenge the hip from shifting laterally. This is true unstable surface training.
The stability of the implement can also be adjusted to create a more unstable exercise. Take for example a full USBTM versus a half-filled USBTM. Since the contents (water or sand) are allowed to shift inside the USBTM during the performance of the exercise, the body will have to react to maintain balance and the correct body position. This form of instability training increases the difficult of the exercise and can serve as a form of progressive overload (connecting this point with my first).
Bottom line: Don’t change the surface to be less stable. Change the loading pattern or instability of the implement.
There are so many variables to consider when writing and progressing (or regressing) a fitness and/or athletic program. Commonly we get fixated with always increasing the load but there are other factors to consider changing before load such as exercise difficulty and the loading pattern and the instability of the implement. Keep an open mind in this industry because it’s not black and white.
Jon-Erik Kawamoto, CSCS, CEP, is a newly certified DVRT Level II Trainer and a Strength Coach and Fitness Writer out of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. He contributes regularly to many major health and fitness magazines and websites and is currently in the middle of a master’s in exercise physiology at Memorial University. Check out more of his work at www.JKConditioning.com and follow him on Twitter at @JKConditioning.
Behm, D.G., Drinkwater, E.J., Willardson, J.M., & Cowley, P.M. (2010). Canadian society for exercise physiology position stand: The use of instability to train the core in athletic and nonathletic conditioning. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 35, 109-112.