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Why 3D Strength Training Is Essential to Performance & Fitness

ultimate sandbag

Dan Swinscoe, Physical Therapist, DVRT Master (Owner Peak Sports & Spine Physical Therapy) 

People love virtual reality games because they seem so real.  So different than “regular” TV, the real world is in 3D, TV screens only show two.  Once you’ve experienced high definition 3D, your realize regular TV screens are quite  lame by comparison. 

Same is true with exercises.  But for some reason when it comes to exercise, people don’t demand something more life like.  They seem OK with one dimensional isolation type exercises.  We lose track of the reality that we live in three dimensions, also called three planes.   Many people have an exercise program that’s like an old black and white TV with tin foil antennas.  Better than nothing but not very good. They just don’t know what they’re missing. 

Exercises like these are popular but train muscles in only one plane.  They came from the world of body building where the goal is to grow a muscle as big as you can then flex it for a judge.  These work well for that, but little else.  Nothing real world about training your legs in one plane of motion with your feet in the air. 

Because the real world is 3D the most effective way to train our muscles for the real world is also in 3D strength training.  Once you learn how to train this way those old exercises you used to do will feel as lame as standard definition TV.

This is especially true for our legs because we walk on them.  Gravity pulls towards the ground, there’s one leg unsupported swinging in the air in preparation for the next step, and the foot on the ground has a collapsible arch.  This adds up to having to control three planes of motion every time you stand on one leg.  Which is every step you take.  Do it while running or changing direction and it’s the same only with larger forces.  When we change direction the fact that muscles aren’t just responsible for creating movement but also for controlling it becomes evident. You need this in your training too.  Let gravity get the best of you and trouble is soon to follow.   To me, the Ultimate Sandbag is the best way to train your body for the real world and all the acceleration and deceleration forces it throws your way. 

This is a high school soccer player who kept getting hamstring strains for “no reason.”   I was asked by her athletic trainer to help get her back to playing.  I didn’t need to be told which side had the problem.  This is a classic example of someone playing sports in three planes of motion but only having control in  one of them. 

injury prevention

Was her hamstring the issue or the victim of not having better 3D strength training competency?

Her right hamstring was repeatedly injured because when she loaded her right leg she lacked control over her body in the Frontal and Transverse planes which are the side to side and rotational planes.  You can see her shin stays vertical but compared to the left side her right toes are turning out, the femur is angling in, the trunk is tilted and turning left.  She needs training in all three planes and so do you. 

Here are some exercises using the Ultimate Sandbag emphasizing the Frontal and Transverse Planes that build the 3D strength training that makes our movement and real world performance better.  Love barbells?  Prefer kettlebells?  That’s fine.  The Ultimate Sandbag doesn’t have to be your ONLY training implement they will just be your most valuable for real world carryover.  

The first example is a simple hip bridge.  This shows single leg bridge with a chop, lift and combined chop and lift.  Gravity wants the person to drop straight down. Because body weight is only supported on one side and the bag weight is moving side to side it also wants it to twist and bend to the side.  Thus, all three planes of motion are being challenged.  With good technique you’ll also be trying to tear the bag while you hold it to involve even more stabilizing muscles in your core and a perfect example of foundational 3D strength training.  

The second example is an arc press.  This is performed in a ½ kneeling position to make it easy to lose balance sideways.  Thus challenging the ability to stabilize and prevent that motion.  The challenge is accentuated by the bag moving to both sides.  With good technique you’ll also be trying to tear the bag to recruit even more stabilizing muscles.  

The third example is also in ½ kneeling with many of the same challenges but now the bag is moving diagonally.  This still challenges the side to side stability but also the rotational stability.  Again with best practice you’ll be trying to tear the bag apart while holding it.  

The fourth 3D strength training exercise has the person up and on his feet.  This makes it more challenging.  Even though he’s standing on two feet most of his weight is on one foot at a time.  Notice how he steps in three different ways.  Each way emphasizes one of the three planes.   Also notice he’s hinging at his hips.  His torso stays straight.  This type of hinge exercise is called a deadlift.  With best form you’ll also be trying to tear the handles apart from each other to increase the amount of stabilizing muscles you can recruit. 

Exercise number five is similar to the fourth but the weight is held higher up.  This change in height of the weight makes it a little harder.  Its still a hinge style exercise to emphasize muscles in the buttock region but the load is held up high instead of low.  The thought of tearing the bag now is performed via the forearms not the hands and handles.

Exercise example number six is a more dynamic version of the other two.  Its called a clean.  We are still hinging forward and we are doing it in all three planes but we are being more explosive on the return motion. It is unique in the speed of motion not the direction.  But as Ferris Bueller famously stated, “Life comes at you fast.”  We need some speed in our training to expect carryover to the real world.  

The last two exercises are version of the Max Lunge.  In the reverse lunge example you see the first two reps being performed slowly but this exercise can be made dynamic if you really plant the front foot hard and accelerate the bag forward such that it swings forward you then direct it to the other side.  It basically becomes a kettlebell swing but one leg at a time. This mimics the acceleration phase of running/sprinting remarkably well.  

The last example is with a forward stepping Max lunge.  In this exercise the greatest challenge is in decelerating the forces that are going forward and down, laterally and down and rotationally and down.  All at the same time. Its called the “Max” lunge for a reason.  There’s a lot going on.  But as you train your body to handle these forces when you go for a run, a hike or play sports it all feels a lot easier compared to before.  

Remember you are a wonderful 3D animal moving in a 3D world.  Train that way and you’ll dominate.

Dan Swinscoe, MPT, CSCS

Take advantage of the great 3D strength training information that Dan provided with our 30% fall sale. Save on our functional training tool and DVRT online education with code “fall” HERE