Co-authored by Diane Vives
Over the last several years, the use of water-filled implements such as kegs, logs, bars and even dumbbells has become a popular training modality in many strength and conditioning facilities. These training apparatus provide a form of resistance referred to as “active resistance” or “dynamic resistance” because the water inside the implement is constantly moving while the exercise or drill is being performed. Thus, as an individual performs a complete exercise movement, the water inside the device continues to shift. As position and velocity change throughout the exercise movement, a destabilizing effect is created by the small and large perturbations caused by the water striking the inside of the implement. These perturbations increase the stability demands placed on the muscles of the trunk and the surrounding joints.
These training devices provide a very sport specific method of training for athletes that must control, redirect or overcome dynamic resistance such as an opponent. Furthermore, they may also be beneficial for general population training as individuals frequently encounter various forms of active resistance in their daily lives, such as when playing with a pet or child, engaging in recreational activities or when unforeseeable emergencies arise. Training with water-filled implements also enhances the need for joint and core stability, thereby reducing the risk of many types of injuries.
While the utilization of water-filled implements is gaining popularity among many strength and conditioning professionals and fitness enthusiasts, the use of these devices may be problematic in a health club setting due to a variety of safety concerns and the availability of such equipment. Consequently, we have found the use of water-filled Swiss balls to be a safe and effective alternative to traditional water-filled training devices.
In order to create an H2O Ball, you must first inflate the Swiss ball to the desired size then press the end of a common garden hose firmly against the ball’s inflation site (see Figure 1). Once in place, simply turn the hose on, add approximately five to 20 pounds of water, then use the plug provided by the manufacturer to seal the ball. Remember, depending on the exercises selected, a large amount of resistance is not necessarily required for this method of training to be effective.
The following are examples of several exercises from the four pillars of human movement that can be used by the strength and conditioning professional to challenge athletes/clients at a variety of levels.
Pillar 1: Standing and Locomotion
Pillar one is the foundation of human function and involves moving the body from one place to another. The following exercises are examples of pillar one drills that can be incorporated as a dynamic warm up prior to activity or as stand alone exercises as well.
Farmer’s Walk (see Figure 2 below) - Begin by setting up two cones approximately 10 feet apart. While holding an H2O Ball under each arm, walk down and back between each cone for 60 feet.
Lateral Shuffles (see Figure 3 below) - Begin by assuming an athletic stance (on the balls of the feet with the knees and hips slightly flexed, chest up and shoulders back) and while extending the arms, hold the H2O Ball at chest level and shuffle laterally between two cones set six to eight feet apart.
Pillar 2: Level Changes
When raising or lowering our center of mass, such as in lunging, squatting or reaching, we are working in pillar two. Pillar two requires a reduction of force (gravity), which loads the body in preparation to produce force. The primary focus of these exercises is enhancing total body dynamic stability, strength and power and providing a solid foundation for more efficient and complex movement patterns.
Overhead Squats (see Figure 4 below) - Begin with the feet approximately hip width apart and the toes facing forward. While holding the H2O Ball overhead, with shoulders flexed fully upward and arms fully extended, lower the center of mass vertically until the top of the femur is approximately parallel to the ground or there is any indication of pain or discomfort in knees. The torso should remain upright during the descent, and both shoulder and arm position should be maintain.
Speed Squats (see Figure 5 below) - Holding an H2O Ball against the chest, perform 10 to 15 squats as quickly as possible while maintaining proper squat technique and form.
Pillar 3: Pushing and Pulling
Pillar three movements involve pushing and pulling. Pillar three exercises primarily focus on upper body movements but also combine very naturally with pillar one and two exercises to train the entire kinetic chain.
Squat with Overhead Press (see Figure 6 below) - Begin by performing a squat and add an overhead press on the ascent to incorporate both pillar two and three and create a great total body combination exercise.
Pullovers (see Figures 7a and 7b below) - While holding an H2O Ball, position the upper back across a bench or on a Swiss ball, so that the torso is parallel to the floor. Extend the arms, so that the ball is positioned directly over the chest. While keeping the arms straight, lower the ball overhead toward the ground and in one motion pull the ball back to the starting position.
Pillar 4: Rotation
Rotation is one of the most important actions of the human body. Thus, in order to develop a comprehensive training program, rotational stability, strength and power must be addressed in the exercise prescription.
Diagonal Chops (see Figures 8a and 8b below) - While standing in an athletic position and holding the ball with the arms extended overhead, pivot the back foot to drive the hips into rotation releasing the trail foot and then rapidly chop the ball downward toward the outside portion of the ankle.
Russian Twists (see Figure 9 below) - Start with feet shoulder width apart, holding the ball in front of the torso with the arms bent and an upright posture. Rotate the upper body by using the torso. Pivot the back foot to drive the hips into rotation, which assists the torso and also releases the trail foot. Once this is mastered, hold the ball with the arms fully extended to increase the intensity.
The goal of any periodized plan is to overload the body for optimal returns in adaptations of stability, strength and power. The emphasis is placed on creating a systematic progression of phases in the hopes of reaching optimal training without reaching the point of injury or overtraining. Take a look at the following charts to compare the strategies with the familiar periodization strategies.
When looking at how the strategies are used to focus on specific training goals, we can follow a program planning method most of us agree delivers results. You can see how the strategies apply cleverly, yet flexibly with familiar periodization schemes. For example, hypertrophy can be gained by using the target set as well as the strength to stability set. Take a look at the intensity and volume ranges as well as work/rest ratios if working with groups that are in the presented in Chart 1.
Using Active Resistance for Transitions
The creative use of active resistance for transitions is a great strategy to keep the overall intensity of the workload high, while also allowing for some recovery. This strategy can be seen when using a lower body strength movement such as dumbbell lunge, followed by a stability movement such as active resistance for pillar four (rotation) for active recovery.
The main function of transitions is to keep “all systems going” without further taxing the prime movers of the focus exercise. This is also known as active recovery. For transitions, we must remember that these exercises are targeting active recovery, so we will choose an exercise and resistance that will be of low to moderate intensity. This will allow the system to not get overtaxed and hinder the success of the following exercise.
For volume, we choose within the range of 10 to 20 repetitions. If you are using a timed circuit, stay with the same work to rest ratio for that circuit. Always encourage an even and controlled pace of movement.
Training with water-filled implements has many benefits, not the least of which is increased variety to your clients' workouts, which often is all it takes to continue to see results and avoid hitting a plateau.
- Hedrick, A. (2008) “Implement Training” in Chandler, T. J., & Brown, L. E. .Conditioning for strength and human performance. Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p.436-440
- Vives, D. (2005) SMARTsets Companion Guide, Vives Training Systems LLC.