How to integrate balls, bags and more into your workout...
The term integrated training has becoming increasingly prominent in our industry. Yet, the term integrated is loosely defined and poorly understood by many. What is beyond doubt is the importance of fitness professionals having the ability to integrate the right exercises at the right time for the right client into a workout. Gym floors, exercise studios and functional training zones have become a playground for exercise design. Achieving the training goal will come down to selecting the best piece of kit and knowing which movement to do with it and at what intensity.
Before examining specific equipment and movements, why the move towards integration? And what does integration mean? This stems from the observation that the human body functions as a unit – the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts – which has manifested itself within the fitness industry as training ‘movement not muscles’. Certainly at opposing ends of the athletic ability/fitness spectrum, there is a very strong argument that movement ability will be more important to achieving the most common training goals, rather than aesthetics (surely the elite athlete would sacrifice muscle for improved movement ability in almost all sports and the frail, de-conditioned client would want to move well, pain free, more than they would want isolated muscular hypertrophy?). But this slightly misses the point – perhaps muscles actually ‘want’ an integrated approach. Clearly the human body was not designed to only operate in one plane of motion with the contraction of just one muscle acting upon one joint at constant velocity. The application of the principle of specificity quickly highlights the pitfalls of an isolative approach: if the goal is to improve movement capability (picture somebody walking, running, lifting, pushing, pulling, playing), it is abundantly clear that functional fitness training has huge value. With the obvious exception of bodybuilding and physique events, it has been suggested that the priority should be movement rather than muscular development, with many suggesting that an integrated, ‘movement’ approach would indeed be beneficial even for those focusing on muscular development. We should be aware that this shift has been fuelled by sports analysis and the improvement of activities of daily living which could be considered biased towards the ends of the spectrum, but what about those that fall in the middle – far from elite athletes and equally far from de-conditioned/hypokinetic? This is where the debate gets interesting as the prioritisation of movement over muscles often becomes less prominent, non-existent, or even reversed. Of course the solution is to tailor the workout to the individual and to their specific training goal. Modifying a functional fitness training approach to accommodate the desire for hypertrophy, for example, would be one way to add the benefits of integrated training into an existing workout.
In order to actually make a workout functional, the key is to identify the training goal. As far as integrating equipment and exercises is concerned, we need to consider the most effective way of including tri-planar movement, whole body integration, acceleration and deceleration, power, core activation, force dissipation, compound movements and eccentric loading through a multi-faceted approach. Understanding that the inclusion of these components is key will allow you to then utilise the vast array of fitness equipment now available to achieve functional training. Designing a workout that utilises medicine balls, kettlebells, weighted bags, suspension training, battle ropes, Swiss balls, wobble boards, slam balls, S.A.Q. ladders, tyres, boxing gloves, plyometric boxes and Bulgarian bags can be a great way to work all of the components of a functional training programme.
It may be that you load the core and integrate the whole body with a great compound lift such as the Turkish Get Up. You may then include rotational weighted bag partner throws to target tri-planar power development with acceleration and deceleration.
Also consider bringing a functional training element to existing exercises. For example, a client who is very competent at lunges could progress to tri-planer lunges with a power element plus force dissipation that is more demanding on the core.
The simple formula of adding fitness equipment to sound knowledge of functional training principles will equal an infinite number of functional training exercises that can be integrated into the workouts that you deliver.
We should also be constantly asking ourselves the question: Could the workout be improved by integrating new exercises, new equipment or new training approaches?
Ironically, of course it is impossible to train ‘movement not muscles’! But the principle is sound.
Of course it is worth noting that aesthetics and function are not mutually exclusive, indeed the most successful personal trainer may be the one that effectively selects the exercises that simultaneously achieve both.