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Courtesy of Artful Magpie on Flirk

Courtesy of Artful Magpie on Flickr

Everywhere you turn, you find someone touting the next new exercise craze – sandbags, logs, blades, suspension trainers, vibrating plates, balance boards, yoga on surfboards.  Patting your head and rubbing your belly – you name it, and chances are someone has patented and/or copyrighted it.

Why?  What is it about the concept of movement that leads people to believe that complicated equals better?

Don’t misunderstand me – all of these things have their uses.  There’s room for virtually every tool in most people’s toolbox.  Suspension trainers, for example, are great for unloading a squat or lunge and allowing people to work through a greater range of motion.  They are helpful when space and equipment are at a minimum.  But if your trainer has you doing foot supported push-ups when you can’t do at least 10 full push-ups on the floor –  it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself some questions: 

Have I mastered the simpler version of this movement?

Using the push-up as an example, there is a clear progression from doing a push-up at an angle (picture a wall push-up), to full push-ups and beyond (using handles, decline, plyometric, piked, one armed).  Utilizing a tool that adds instability as a factor under the guise of targeting the “core” before you’ve mastered the full range of motion push-up is counter-intuitive.  You’re better served by continuing to work on achieving the full push-up for reps before moving on to something that literally pulls the rug from under your feet.

What is this new stimulus designed to achieve?

Let’s move from the push-up to the squat, and swap out the suspension trainer for a balance board. Balance boards are used just as their names describe – they’re intended to help you work on balance. But is that purpose served for most people by having them squat while standing on one? A full range of motion squat (meaning the hip crease is below the kneecap with the back extended and tight) is difficult enough to achieve with two feet solidly on the ground. Keep working on that, add weight and leave your balance work for single leg movements.

Does the benefit of this added stimulus outweigh the risk?

Bags filled with sand or water are great tools for the advanced trainee. They are difficult to hold on to, and the weight that fills them shifts (by design). But for someone who has any sort of instability or shoulder/low back/knee pain they add an element of potential danger for further injury. Even if you’re pain free, unless you’re already quite strong you’re better off progressing to more difficult barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell movements before making use of sandbags.

Remember that complicated does not equal better. Stick to the building blocks before you move on to the legos, lincoln logs and erector sets.  Human movement is a beautifully designed pattern that few of us truly master to the fullest. Concentrate your efforts on this, adding load where appropriate and I promise that you’ll reap the benefits, no crazy toys needed.

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