The strength and conditioning world can become a bit polarized sometimes.
Okay, not sometimes. Often.
It’s easy to fall down the education pigeon hole that can make a lifter or coach write off any method that isn’t a conventional strength training protocol using barbells or dumbbells as the implement.
It’s one of the biggest mistakes that he can make to hinder his gains, and can negatively affect variety, conditioning, and hitting muscles from different angles or using different force curves.
When you walk into many gyms, often times there are certain apparatuses that collect dust while barbells and dumbbells are being crowded by trainers working with their clients.
First Things First
In reading the above, don’t get me wrong. I’m as much of a stickler for the big, primal movement patterns done with barbells as a good coach should be.
With that said, I do recognize that other methods of training won’t hurt as a supplement to the foundation.
Whether your goal is strength, conditioning, hypertrophy, or a little bit of everything, one of these underused tools may find a worthy place in your programming for a phase.
1. Medicine Balls
The truth is, not too many people use these anymore. They have their fancy multi-level shelf at every gym and they often stay there. They can be a great training tool under the right circumstances. Here are three:
1. Med ball Slams: It’s not at every gym we see tires and sledgehammers ready to get pummeled. With that said, the medicine ball slam is a great alternative that provides basically all the same benefits.
Put all your force into the ground, and if you’re afraid of bounce back, absorb the impact by placing a mat (or three) on the floor beneath you.
2. Med ball wall throws: Throwing a medicine ball against a wall from side angles, and even from straight on can stimulate trunk anti-rotation and flexion capacities that sit ups, hanging leg raises, and oblique twists just can’t hit as aggressively.
3. Med ball Push Ups: Using one or two medicine balls, performing push-ups with the feet planted but hands elevated onto the ball can be a great finisher once the chest muscles are already tired from a tough hypertrophy workout.
This will ask a bit more of your shoulder stability and make the chest work hard through fatigue while hitting the abs as a by-product thanks to the unstable plank position. Perfect choice for a burnout set.
2. Olympic Rings
I’ll admit it - the rings (or TRX suspension training methods) are a bit more popular these days due to CrossFit and their implementation there. With that said, they’re still generally neglected by lifters and trainers.
Despite the fact that many movements involving suspension are reserved for the intermediate or advanced crowd, there are definite movements like inverted rows, curls, and elevated push-ups that suspension training can provide.
Where core training is concerned, using suspension systems can be beneficial, especially for anti-extension movements such as:
TRX Body Saws:
On that note, using the suspension system to attack general conditioning, athleticism, and mobility can be accomplished, by one of my favorite exercises, the TRX single leg burpee. This movement combines anti-rotational core activation and posterior chain activation, with flexibility and mobility at and surrounding the hip joint.
The constant up-down nature of the lift also jacks the heart rate up and gives the conditioning a real kick.
To progress this movement, add a push up at the bottom of each rep, or hold light dumbbells.
In truth, a total body workout involving basically every primal movement pattern can be achieved quite effectively using kettlebells, and most people are too afraid to try it. Kettlebells take a bit of a learning curve to properly use, but the benefits in calories burned and muscles trained speak for themselves.
Moreover, there are movements that don’t require quite as much technical cueing as a kettlebell clean or snatch do. To get familiar with them, the Turkish Getup may be a good conditioning movement to consider mastering first.
The complexity of the lift may seem daunting, but remember these coaching cues when learning the movement, and you should be able to execute it just fine:
Step 1: Start on your back, with the arm fully extended, kettlebell in hand and against the outside of the forearm. The knuckles should face the ceiling (in fact, they never shouldn’t). Keep a bent knee on the same side as the working arm, and plant that foot on the floor.
Step 2: Use your body to get up. Drive the opposing elbow into the ground, and brace the abs to sit up. Once you’re there, push again so you can sit tall with a straight arm supporting you.
Step 3: Raise the hips high. Squeeze the glutes, drive your foot and hand into the ground, and push the hips up to create as much space as you can between your butt and the ground.
Step 4: Get the free (straight) leg through the open space, and plant the knee down under the body. Your planted foot shouldn’t move.
Step 5: Straighten up into a half-kneeling position by getting tall, and removing your hand from the ground. Keep looking at the kettlebell and stand right up.
Step 6: To get back down, reverse the steps. First, plant the knee to the floor. Then plant the free hand to the floor beside you. Bring the kneeling foot through the space and straight out in front of you, and plant the butt to the ground. Then descend to the elbow and finally the back.
Sound confusing? This video should clear everything up beautifully.
If that’s still too overwhelming, break things down even further into segments. These can be used as tools to progress to the full TGU, or on their own to hit the core a little bit more directly.
Once you’ve become one with the kettlebell, give yourself the opportunity to learn the swing, snatch, clean, goblet squat, and other great exercises the bells can provide. You’ll be glad you did.
1000 words later, and I’ve only been able to promote 3 supplements to barbell training – but in truth, there are several more.
We don’t have to confine ourselves to one method, especially since we’re in an industry based on inference, where there’s no “best” method at all.
Get strong, then stay strong. That doesn’t mean pushing PR’s every week. It means maintaining current levels of good strength, and making room for other areas of your fitness to get their fair chance to be trained too.
Your body will thank you.