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What is Stability Training?

Today's guest post comes from Josh Henkin. After Dan Swinscoe's guest post earlier in the week, it seemed like a good follow-up to have Josh speak to the more general principles of stability training.

And, as a friendly reminder, you can get 10% off both sandbag products and educational resources folks at Ultimate Sandbag Training through tomorrow (Sunday) at midnight. Just head HERE and enter the coupon code cressey10.

Enjoy! - EC

Teaching is something that is my passion; it is in my blood, as almost everyone is my family has been a teacher of some sort. Having the wonderful fortune of being able to teach continuing education programs for over a decade, I’ve loved helping professionals find solutions to problems. How do I know what the problems are? Being a coach for 25 years, owning my own gym for a decade, and working with diverse populations has taught me that our true job as a strength coach, fitness professional, or clinician is to be a solution to problems.

Even though we may be looking at solutions to different issues, there tend to be concepts that are key for a wide variety of goals. In order to accomplish our goals in helping people,
we look at the what gives us the “biggest bang for the buck.” Stability training is something that can deliver on that front. In this article, I address stability training methods because they are sorely misunderstood and often lead us to performing exercises we THINK are based around acquiring better stability in a given situation, but we are often missing the goal.

What Is Stability Training?

We could have a LONG dissertation discussing stability training, but I want to focus on some key concepts, how they impact our programming, and the exercises we select. Stability can be something we look at in regard to isolated joints or the whole body. For the sake of this post, we are referencing more of whole body stability.

When you say the words “stability training,” most of us think of exercises that make us wobble or shake a lot. Sadly, that isn’t stability training. In order to address stability, we need a much better understanding of what we are trying to achieve.

Go on the internet and look up stability training or even most textbooks, and you’ll get a wide array of definitions. Probably the best and most simple can be thought of as “allowing wanted movement while resisting unwanted movement.” That seems really simple, but it has been said by some of the best coaches in the industry. If you find that too vague for your liking (don’t overlook simplicity in delivering great concepts), I tend to really like what performance expert, Dr. Brandon Marcello says: “Stability is about timing and sequential activation of muscles.” (1)

Hmm, what is Dr. Marcello referring to in such a statement? Motor control is probably the concept with which many professionals are least familiar. If we look at much of the research on causes of injuries, we tend to see a common theme of a muscle isn’t working at the right time. This flies in the face of the fact that we think if we just make a singular muscle strong it will fix all the problems in movement. Just looking back at all the focus we placed in training the Transverse Abdominis (TVA) is a great example.

While most thought the result of all the studies on the TVA meant we had to isolate and strengthen the TVA, they ignored the points the researchers were making. In a 2017 study by Selkow et. al, they concluded, “TrA activation and timing were altered following a four-week core stability program in people with and without LBP” (2). See the key word of timing, not strength?

What does this really mean for most creating fitness and strength training programs? Our energy in developing stability should be focused upon foundational movement patterns and how we progress them. Dr. Marcello’s makes the complex digestible by defining stability training around three important concepts…

-Feedforward (this is more reactive)
-Static
-Dynamic

With these three concepts there is also one more caveat: they should be multi-planar. Most people are unaware of these ideas when they are creating their stability drills, especially when it comes to being more multi-planar. While I would love to address these all in detail, I’d rather bring some of these concepts to life with a special emphasis on how we go from building a pattern to making it more multi-planar.

Movement Patterns and Planes of Motion

When I created our Dynamic Variable Resistance Training system (DVRT), it was thinking about how we address training movement and not so focused upon specific exercises or muscles. In order to do so, we have to offer concepts that get us all on the same page and speaking the same language. There are three ideas we need to better understand so we can have our training come to life!

Most roll their eyes when you say “functional training,” but it is an actual method that sadly has been hijacked by clever marketing. Spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill sums it up best, “functional training incorporates the goal of enhancing strength throughout the body segment linkage” (3).

That sounds great, but what is Dr. McGill referring to when he says “linkage?” If you have heard about fascial lines, I believe that is a great way to help us better understand that we have specific chains that coordinate the use of different muscles for ways to help us achieve stability so we can demonstrate strength.

If you aren’t familiar with fascial lines, how can we make these concepts meaningful and provide the “Cliff’s Notes” on these concepts? I like to sum it up with these ideas as the following;

1. Hands/Feet: Half of our bones are in our hands and feet, and that is very significant. The contact we have with our environment usually comes from our hands and feet, so coaching them has a huge impact in making these important connections in the body. Renowned physical therapist, Gray Cook says it best!

“If the feet are sloppy and the grip is off, not only will the person not activate the right muscles, but he or she is not even up taking the right sensory information. Let me say that again. If there are any mobility or stability compromises between the foot and the brain, it’s like standing on two garden hoses wondering where all the water is. The information pathway is broken two ways… up and down.”

How does it apply to our training? When I created the Ultimate Sandbag, it was in an effort to create a tool specifically made to address movement, not create a tool and then try to invent a purpose. Simple concepts make our training so much better and teach our clients how to move better instantly! Pretty cool if we can use load as a teaching tool and to provide feedback, not just stress the system.

Examples: Press Out Squats, Arc Press, and Bird Dog Drags

2. Lat/Core/Glutes: While the concepts of fascial lines can make for an entire post, I like to introduce complex subjects with easy to grasp ideas. One of the best examples is the connection of our lat/trunk/ and opposing gluteals to create what is known as the Posterior Oblique Sling (POS). We use this system all the time to create stability for the spine as we perform complex locomotive motion. If you look at an anatomy chart, you can see the fibers of the right lat go right into our thoracolumbar fascia, and travel into the opposing gluteals.

This is why before you do a deadlift, you should try to “break the bar.” With this concept, we have an improved understanding how to develop better exercises and re-think maybe familiar ones. Change is never easy, but appreciating the science should help. This is especially true when we think how the glutes help create stability in what is known as “force closure” of the SI joint.

“Force closure is the term used to describe the other forces acting across the joint to create stability. This force is generated by structures with a fibre direction perpendicular to the sacroiliac joint and is adjustable according to the loading situation. Muscles, ligaments and the thoracolumbar facia all contribute to force closure. Force closure is particularly important during activities such as walking when unilateral loading of the legs creates shear forces.
Force closure creates greater friction and therefore increased form closure and what is called “self-bracing” or “self-locking” of the joint. According to Willard et al. force closure reduces the joint’s ‘neutral zone’ thereby facilitating stabilization.”

Examples: Lift/Chop Hip March, Front Loaded Good Mornings, Deadlift Matrix

3. Progressing Planes of Motion: While we know planes of motion are relevant to what we do in any exercise or real life/sporting movement, we don’t have good systems of actually progressing these concepts. The sagittal plane is not a “bad guy;” it is the most stable plane (why so many like lifting in it) and should be our foundation to teach foundational movement patterns. However, where do we go from there?

In DVRT, we move to focusing on moving through the sagittal plane while resisting the frontal and transverse plane. Then, moving into the frontal plane, and eventually the transverse plane. There are many steps in between, but the highest level in our system is moving one segment of the body in one plane of motion while resisting at another segment. This concept can be applied to any of our seven movment patterns (squat, hip hinge, push, pull, lunge, rotate, and gait) in what we call our MAX (multiple axis) drills. The overall point is that we should think about planes of motion as a training variable with the same value and need of progression as load, volume, etc.

Examples: MAX Lunge, MAX Front Loaded Rear Step Good Morning, Front Loaded Rotations

This is probably a lot of information and a very different way for people to think. Even though questioning what we are doing is difficult, I think of the famous Maya Angelou quote, “Do the best you can, until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Our profession is a rather young one, especially in regard to strength and conditioning and fitness. Evolving and growing only allows us to create better solutions for the people that come to us for help. We have to be open to growing if we are going to make the impact we all desire and that is at the heart of all our goals!

Note from EC: Don’t forget about the great discount in place on sandbags and the associated educational resources at Ultimate Sandbag Training through Sunday at midnight. You can get 10% off by heading HERE and enter the coupon code cressey10.

About the Author

Josh Henkin, CSCS has been in the fitness and performance industry for 25 years. He has been highly sought after for his functional training concepts and DVRT system which has seen him teach in over 13 countries worldwide. Josh has also served as a consultant for the U.S. Marines HITT program, U.S. Army Special Forces Recruiting Battalion, as well as numerous Fire & Police Departments as well as Division 1 programs and Rehabilitation Clinics around the country. You can follow him on Instagram at @UltimateSandbag.

References:

1. The Why’s, What’s, How’s and When’s of Stability Training, “Power & Resiliency Summit”, October 19, 2019, Results Fitness, Newhall, CA.
2. Selkow, Noelle M et al. “Transversus abdominis Activatioin And Timing Improves Following Core Stability Training: A Randomized Trial. “International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. Volume 12, 7 (2017): 1048-1056.
3. McGill, Stuart, Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance. Waterloo, ON: Wabuno Publishers; 2004 ISBN 0-9735018-0-4. 329p., illustrated Can
4. https://www.otpbooks.com/gray-cook-expanding-on-the-joint-by-joint-approach-part-2-of-3/
5. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Sacroiliac_Joint_Force_and_Form_Closure

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Sandbag Training for Baseball Players

Today's guest post comes from Seattle-based physical therapist Dan Swinscoe. He's been a great resource (and friend) to me over the years, and this post will show you yet another reason why that's the case.

When I found out Dan was writing up this article, I asked the good folks at Ultimate Sandbag Training if they'd be up for doing a sale for my readers - and they kindly obliged. From now through next Sunday at midnight, you can get 10% off on both sandbag products and their educational resources. Just head HERE and enter the coupon code cressey10.

Enjoy! - EC

Power: it's one of the most highly coveted qualities in all of athletics. Be powerful and you can be dominant. In baseball, it’s fastball velocity for pitchers or exit velocity and HRs for the hitters. The powerful guys are the most feared and usually the highest paid.

How do you get powerful? First, you have to be strong. Strength is a prerequisite to power. You can be strong without being powerful, but cannot be powerful without being strong. So, if we’re talking rotational strength we need to strengthen our ability to move or resist movement in a rotational manner. But what tool do you use for developing these qualities? Dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, body weight and cables/bands are all viable options. However, a lesser known option that is often superior to the others is what I want to talk about today. It’s The Ultimate Sandbag (USB).

Keep in mind the actual weight of the sandbags you’ll see in these exercises is relatively low when compared to using iron. However, the WORK you have to do to move and control them is sky high. Even when working with college and pro guys, I haven’t needed more than a 60-pound bag to challenge them effectively. I’ve blended this tool in with all the others and I encourage you to do the same. Keep reading and you’ll appreciate why that’s the case.

Here are three of my favorite ways to use the USB for rotational strength. In all three videos, the athlete would be cued to “crush” the handles to irradiate tension higher in the chain (see Sherrington’s law) and to try and “tear the bag.” By trying to tear the handles apart you create tension in the lats, thus better connecting them into the glutes. (see serape effect)

Chop and Lift: The chop and lift patterns have been around for decades. Coming from the rehab world, it’s a movement where you diagonally pull down or lift up. This movement pattern takes advantage of the natural anatomic alignment of our tissues referred to as the serape effect.

In the first video, we begin on the ground in a single leg bridge position, challenging rotational strength by preventing the rotation that gravity is trying to impart. It is especially difficult when chopping down towards the unsupported side. Notice both elbows stay straight the whole time. Once the elbows bend, you lose the lat and start using triceps. We want the lat connection.

It can also be advanced to an upright posture. The next video advances the exercise into ½ kneeling and a static split stance referred to as “hover.” This can be modified further by the width of the stance. Need more challenge? Stand on a line. Remember to breathe.

MAX Lunge: The name refers to using multiple axes. It used to be called a rotational lunge. You can see why. The challenge from this drill is that the player has to lunge and maintain posture and lower extremity alignment in all three planes despite the momentum of the bag trying to knock him over. I also love the strong eccentric nature of this exercise. The biggest challenge is to decelerate with control. This mimics the challenge a pitcher has coming down the mound; an unstable front leg is bad news for a pitcher. This is an outstanding way to train that need for front leg stability with additional challenge to the core more proximally. The first example uses the “suitcase” handle, while the second one uses the standard “clean” handles. Finally, the third example increases the challenge by elevating the center of gravity using a “front load” position of the USB. When in front loaded position, the “tear the bag apart” cue is executed with the forearms. They all feel different.

Hinging with Rotation: Deadlifts and good mornings are staples in many strength training programs, and rightfully so: the hinge is a motion that must be trained. But in sports and life, we typically move one leg at a time and in all three planes of motion. It’s tough to do that with a barbell. To me, the USB is the best way to make single leg rotational hinges feel challenging in a way that is also safe for the athlete. Athletes need to be able to train hard without feeling like they’re doing a circus trick.

In the rotational deadlift example below, the player should crush the handles and think of tearing the bag apart before even moving. He crosses the back leg behind the front leg to feel tension in the lateral hip rotators, then becomes stable before moving. The next move is performed by pushing forcefully into the ground and mimicking a step. He’ll then reset the start position and repeat. No one has to ask what muscles are being used; you feel it right away. But, more importantly, you are doing it in a way that you can expect to carryover to the field of play.

The second example is a good morning. It’s the same single-leg rotational hinge movement, but with the USB in a front load position. The movement is the same, but the challenge is different because of the elevated position of the USB. Again, tearing the bag apart is performed with forearms.

Now that we’ve got some ways to get rotational strength, let’s layer on the rotational power. Power refers to your ability to rapidly express the strength that you have. In baseball, medicine ball work is probably the most popular training stimulus to develop rotational power, and it’s awesome (and Eric’s YouTube and Instagram pages have plenty of options to review on this front). In my opinion, the USB is right there with it as a great tool to create this sport-specific skill.

Below are some of my favorite rotational power drills for baseball players.

Clean from Half-Kneeling: It emphasizes the concentric portion of lower body power transferring the load from the side of the body to the middle. As you can see, it can be progressed to single leg for additional stability challenge. The beginning position of the bag with the cue to tear it apart provides a strong connection between the glute of one side and the lat of the other…just like with running, hitting and throwing.

Inside-Out Clean: the bag starts “inside” the base of support and centered on the body; the athlete then creates rotational power so the catch happens on the side of the body. This skill – which is almost all concentric – is mastered before the “outside in” clean, where there is also a strong eccentric component. In other words, you work on creating power and then controlling power.

The MAX Lunge Static to Dynamic:  I described the MAX lunge using a forward step earlier in our rotational strength section. However, if you step backward, speed it up, and try to ballistically drive your foot into the ground as the bag goes from side to side, you have an absolutely intense challenge to create and control power in all three planes. I think of this as having all the benefits of a kettlebell swing, but with less risk of injury and more carryover to baseball because it’s one leg at a time and incorporates all three planes of motion. The player who has apprehension towards the KB swing will appreciate this alternative. And, the more you do it, the more it will grow on you. The reps are low because the demand is high, so I usually have players do 3-5 per side. If the reps go up, the effort goes down, which means we aren’t training power effectively.

These are a few of the many ways you can utilize The Ultimate Sandbag in your training for strength and power. It’s been a lot of fun for me to learn about them and use them with my clients/patients and in my own training. I hope you enjoy learning how to use them, too; the results will speak for themselves.

Note from EC: Don't forget about the great discount in place on sandbags and the associated educational resources at Ultimate Sandbag Training through next Sunday at midnight. You can get 10% off by heading HERE and enter the coupon code cressey10.

About the Author

Dan Swinscoe, MPT, CSCS is a physical therapist in Issaquah, WA. He owns Peak Sports and Spine Physical Therapy and teaches his own class, Kettlebells for Clinicians. You can follow him on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram (@danswinscoe) or email him at baseballrehab@gmail.com. 

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