I just wrote to a friend, “you knew it had to be coming.” What is “it”? Seeing people trying to do our DVRT exercises with kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, all sorts of tools. Here is the thing though, I don’t blame these coaches, I do blame our industry. For as long as I can remember, even the best coaches in our industry fell into the trap that all strength training tools are the same. We had sayings like “a tool is just a tool” to support this idea that all our strength training tools behaved and functioned the same way.
Even I fell for the trap when I ran my gym and it was one of the BIGGEST and most expensive lessons that I learned over time. While you could easily write what I am about to say off as “Josh, just wants me to use Ultimate Sandbags” the truth is I do, but not for the reasons you may think!
I remember in the very early 2000’s when kettlebells were making their comeback they weren’t always welcomed with open arms. In fact, I remember feeling like the outsider as I saw the value of kettlebells, but many of my peers were writing them off as “overpriced dumbbells”. That harkened back to the idea that strength training tools were all just “weight”.
I was writing articles about using kettlebells for functional strength training programs for sites like bodybuilding.com back in 2002! That was a time where you were a radical for doing so.
Instead of writing this all about Ultimate Sandbags, I thought what if I addressed the uniqueness of many of the tools I would use to build any good gym today. Trust me, I am past the point of trying to be a “renegade”, “hardcore”, “bad ass”, whatever people think having a certain strength training tool means. I just want to go with what works! My time, my energy, my reputation is not built on how many different things I can do, but how I can deliver results in less time and give the best experience.
My gym back in the day was a pretty radical looking facility, but would be typical for nowadays.
So, let’s get into why I choose these strength training tools and what they do uniquely. As I always say, saws and hammers are both tools, but you use them in VERY different ways.
I started my career working in Strength & Conditioning facilities, seeing how athletes were trained to develop agility, strength, power, mobility, stability, coordination all made me wonder “why don’t we try to use these same methods for people that want to improve their fitness?” After all, isn’t developing these qualities the same things we hear people telling us that want to feel and perform their best?
Teaching people fundamentals of power like power cleans were important to my clients’ strength training programs, but being able to take them to another level gave me even more value to the kettlebell.
For me, kettlebells were the first tools that allowed me to introduce these concepts in a practical way, but also greatly expand on what I could teach people in regards to movement strength training. Kettlebells allowed me to teach the power and strength concepts that we worked in athletic populations in more progressive means, but also take those qualities to new levels because of the independent moving weights and the fact we could position the load in so many different ways.
The initial draw to kettlebells for me was how much a few pieces of equipment could offer. The methods behind kettlebells help inspire what would become our DVRT system and then expand what strength training could be for ANY population.
Typically bands are thought of as “cheap” ways to train. Well, they generally are, but that isn’t their only benefit. Most of our strength training tools function working in vertical motions due to gravity. However, bands allowed us to introduce different force vectors often in horizontal and diagonal planes. That doesn’t just give us MORE options in our strength training, but actually very important solutions to improving overall fitness. Having this ability allows us to train angles and positions that could have been difficult with just the free weights that most people are familiar with in their strength training programs.
Additionally, as fitness became more group based it became less and less practical to have cable units that cost several thousands of dollars in gyms. Now, bands and cables aren’t equal, cables have a more traditional strength curve, similar to that of most free weights. Bands because of their elastic nature offer different strength curves because they always get more difficult as you work through a range of motion. This can be advantage if used correctly if you understand how to apply them to your strength training.
Bands can be used in strength training programs in building value that most people tend to overlook.
Most notably when we talk about building strength and especially power, we actually have only a small amount of time that muscles are working at their highest levels. That is because our body has a built in protective system that in order to prevent us from hurting ourselves, we spend a good amount of time decelerating our joints. For example, your biceps are not only designed to flex your elbow, but decelerate the arm when you are doing a throwing motion as not to “snap” your elbow.
Being able to connect bands to our Ultimate Sandbags not only gives us more variety but a better ability to teach dynamic strength training as Fitness Lying Down shows!
I’m of course simplifying the science, so biomechanics experts calm down. Now where bands offer us an especially unique opportunity in our strength training is that because they increase their resistance as we move through a range of motion our muscles have to produce force for a longer period of time. That is what is known as accommodating resistance a form of strength training that powerlifters have adopted to their lifts to increase their strength. Knowing such differences allows us to really take advantage of such tools.
I decided to save the strength training that I truly believe has the widest application for last because I know you will feel like I have some bias. If bias means I believe in something because it works then you can accuse me of this all day!
As I have long written, I didn’t have a business plan to do what I am doing today. What we do with DVRT in teaching better strength training methods came about organically to solve issues that my clients had in their strength training programs. Trust me, I looked for a book on the system of “sandbag training”, but nothing existed except a few pages here and there.
I wanted to save others from the frustration I had in learning how to optimize what could be a powerful tool so we literally wrote the book on DVRT and what sandbag training COULD be with a great system. You can check it out HERE
The system you see for DVRT was years of working with clients and solving their strength training goals. So, what makes Ultimate Sandbags so unique? What I saw as a problem with the old method of using Army duffel bags, garbage bags, and duct tape (something I started with by the way) was that there wasn’t much purpose, progression, or standardization in place to develop better strength training programs.
While most people would say that “sandbags” (I use quotation marks because we know that not all sandbags are equal) is that they are unstable. What does that actually mean though and how does that apply to your strength training goals? Most assume that means the Ultimate Sandbags are moving in some drastic way in each repetition. That isn’t what that means at all in reality.
There are 4 forms of instability in how we approach strength training with the Ultimate Sandbag….
-Planes Of Motion
-Stability of Implement Itself
This is NOT how to use instability training, but how do we use it with purpose and progression to make a huge impact to our strength training?
I’ll probably write a blog on its own about each of these qualities, but these are things you really can’t achieve to the same level as you can with the Ultimate Sandbag. Let’s look at a couple of practical examples.
In order to understand these examples, we have to realize that there are some really unique physical attributes of the Ultimate Sandbag. For one, dimension of the Ultimate Sandbag changes which plays a big role in which size we use for which exercise and how that instability comes into play. For example, deadlifting a Core Ultimate Sandbag is possible, but not ideal. The reason we recommend starting with a Strength is because it places the arms in a better position to create the plank we want, the dimension starts us in a better pulling position, and the dimension allows for better loading to learn how to create full body tension for strength.
Using a Burly Ultimate Sandbag is a whole new ball game for strength training because the size makes it the most unstable when we consider for the weight to shift, but also the size itself plays a role in challenging our strength training. Think about in a Front Loaded squat when we use an Ultimate Sandbag the bigger size of the Burly forces us to have greater core strength and integrate with our lower body otherwise the weight will pull us forward.
Conversely, we wouldn’t want to use a Strength or Burly Ultimate Sandbag for our lifts/chops, dead bugs, drags, and many other movements. I’m sure some are going to say, “Josh, c’mon you are making this SOOOO complicated!” To that I would say achieving great results isn’t done by a lack of thought in any walk of life. This isn’t complicated, it is just being more thoughtful about how we create our strength training programs.
I’ll expand on some of these concepts in upcoming posts, but this was about stimulating the conversation that it isn’t about having a bunch of “stuff” to train with but using strength training tools that do things better than others in various ways. Having more of an understanding of our strength training tools doesn’t make things more complicated, it DOES make them more valuable!
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