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Why Your Stability Training Isn’t Working

sandbag exercise equipment

Stability training is often seen as the vegetables at the workout dinner table. You know you should do more of them, you know it is really good for you, you know that it can help you in so many ways, but man, you just want to focus on those meat and potatoes! I get it, trust me. I’ve seen the pendulum swing in the fitness industry from 90% of our training time being devoted to stability training, all the way over to the idea that we don’t need to do stability training really at all. That is the fitness industry for you! What is the truth though? Unfortunately, the non-sexy and click bait answer is, somewhere in the middle.

Is stability training necessary? Absolutely! Can stability training be overdone (more like misunderstood) where it can derail from your training? Absolutely! How do we avoid such a pitfall while trying to maximize what stability training can offer us in terms of results? The answer lies in first understanding what stability is in the first place.

Right off the bat most misunderstand the difference between joint and whole body stability. We can individually look at the level of stability a joint has as many doctors and therapists will do in post-surgical cases. If you possibly tore your ACL in your knee a doctor can test the knee’s stability and get an idea if you did commit such an injury and to what extent. However, these isolated examinations of individual joint stability usually have very little relevance when it comes to training or more functional screens.

stability training

Why? Well, because we know that your feet can impact your upper body, your shoulder and opposite hip are connect through your core, your pecs can only create as much force as your core/pelvis can stabilize, in other words, because in the real world we aren’t able to isolate our parts so not only is looking at individual parts ineffective, it leads us down the wrong path for possible solutions.

stability training

That is why most of our focus should be on whole body stability. Yet, even then we have to clarify what is good versus less effective stability training. So, what is whole body stability? In order to help explain, I am going to refer to a great paper from the European Review of Aging and Physical Activity in an article named, “Biomechanical Aspects Of Dynamic Stability”, sounds like a fun read right?;)

This paper has great concepts in it and a few that I thought really helped us understand stability training more were some of the following…

“Balance refers to body posture dynamics that prevent falling. To maintain balance, the postural control system keeps the body’s center of mass (COM) over the base of support (BOS). The BOS is the minimum area enclosing the body’s contact with the ground. Therefore, while standing, the BOS is the area enclosing the soles of the feet (or shoes). A smaller BOS gives a smaller area for the alignment of the COM, and the body in such a position is considered less stable. This postural control process is referred to as dynamic stability. From a mechanical point of view, the goal is to regulate the relationship between the COM and the BOS.”

Understanding these concepts are really important because when I heard coaches say, “I’m working on balance/stability” we have to ask is it meeting such a criteria like that of above. It also helps us realize that when in DVRT we make small changes to your base of support (BOS) like using a military position, half kneeling, tall kneeling, sprinter stance, etc, we are able to integrate stability training into our strength training as well.

What Coach Ben Beeler shows in the series above is depending upon what aspect of stability training I want to focus upon, I use different DVRT drills to emphasize various aspects of pressing. The tall kneeling overhead press allows me to still load the upper body as I teach the stability of the shoulders with the core/pelvis, and even the feet. The marching press is more of a core drill forcing one’s body to resist lateral movement, emphasize a driving down of the foot to create the proper stability from the ground up. All these are stability training exercises with somewhat different goals and outcomes. 

I thought the following statement might be the MOST important for people to properly understand stability training.

“Situations requiring balance can be classified into three general conditions: maintenance of a stable position, postural adjustment to voluntary movements, and reactions to external predicted and unpredicted perturbations (slipping or tripping). In dynamic stability, both the BOS and the COM are in motion. Prevention of falls requires effective balance function under dynamic conditions because most falls are caused by sudden motion of the BOS or by sudden acceleration of the COM. Stability can be defined as the ability of a system to return to its original state, i.e., desired movement trajectory after a disturbance.”

Let’s look at practical examples of all 3 of these different types of really stability.

Maintenance of a Stable Position

This is probably what MOST people think about with stability training, the easiest example is that of a plank. When we often progress a plank we do so with the intent of trying to maintain our stable position and resisting forces that are trying to move from these positions. That is why in DVRT we so highly value having bird dog progressions in our training programs. The bird dog teaches how to create stability into the ground, how to control the pelvis, how to integrate the shoulders, core, hips, and feet, and we learn to resist both lateral and rotational forces.

Coach Robin Paget does a great job demonstrating how we can progress the plank side of these concepts of stability training. However, if you make the environment TOO unstable you can cause poor motor patterns to be developed and an inability to produce appropriate levels of force. In other words, it becomes a circus trick.

Postural Adjustment to Voluntary Movements

This is another common strategy we innately use in training, but don’t really think about how it differs from the first. A great example is the lunge, we are voluntarily stepping with the lunge and upon our step we have to make adjustments to our posture. That is why in DVRT we not only manipulate the direction of our lunges (which pose different adjustments of stability), but also how we load the body to create different environments in which the body must adjust to in our movement.

We can even use such strategies for exercises like Bulgarian Split Squats.

While lunges are an easy example, we can also do the same for other movement patterns like a hip hinge. Here DVRT Master, Cory Cripe demonstrates how we use different loading positions and vectors of force to have to create those postural adjustments to our a voluntary movement in the various hip hinges.

Reactions to External predicted and Unpredicted Perturbations

While I think DVRT does a great job in providing so many progressions and layers to the first two concepts of stability training, I think we are the MOST unique in this aspect of stability. That is because we are both using an unstable load that is always micro changing our movements on every repetition and we have a weight that actually moves in different directions as we move. One of the very best examples of this is our MAX Lunges.

As Impact Athletic Performance shows, the MAX lunge is constantly making us react to an unpredictable load. Yes, we know the load is coming but how it is moving and how it is going to impact our movement is different every time causing us to react in an instant and show higher level dynamic stability training.

Power training is a great way to teach this level of stability training because we don’t have time to adjust to the fast movements of power based exercise and have to really have react to the movement of our body and the weight. The great thing with the Ultimate Sandbag is having the ability to train in different planes of motion and stances as DVRT UK master, Greg Perlaki demonstrates in these unique power cleans that do a phenomenal job of building both power and stability training.

Hopefully by having a better understanding of what the goal of stability training is you can see how we use these concepts in very sophisticated ways in DVRT even though rather simple exercises sometimes. The first goal is to understand truly what you are trying to train and what movements best represent that type of training.

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