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Stability Ball Training - Part 5

Anytime a new, revolutionary methodology is developed, there is always resistance from traditionalists. This is true in most industries, and the fitness industry is no different. Therefore, the 3 Tier Integration System (3TIS) was developed as a method of introducing "non-traditional" functional training into existing and more "conventional" training models.

Why did we develop the 3TIS? The main reason for the 3TIS is that "no one training methodology does everything." An integrated model of training will always provide the most effective training stimuli. One of the populations Stability Ball (SB) training has had some opposition from is the power athlete/coach. The primary argument is that large loads cannot be handled using SBs. Large loads accompanied with large training volumes are needed to create the hormonal and mechanical stress conducive for hypertrophy and absolute strength gains. These two qualities are the barometer by which many athletes are gauged and on which many contracts hinge. Therefore, the reluctance to embrace SB training by conditioning professionals who work with this population of athletes is understandable. A model was needed to allow functional training modalities (e.g., SB training) to be integrated into traditional strength and hypertrophy training models.

One of the reasons SB training has become so popular is that it compliments traditional training methodology so well. Many of the injuries we see within aggressive training models are due primarily to 1) over training and 2) lack of joint stabilization. Both of these issues are automatically addressed when using the stabilization limited training methodology inherent to the SB. The 3TIS just offers a way to get the best of both training approaches. You can have your cake and eat it too!

The 3TIS provides three levels of integration: a warm up or cool down, a build up to work intensity and a method of unloading. This integration model allows the main objectives of conventional training approaches to be realized (e.g., hypertrophy and absolute strength development) while deriving the benefits of SB training. This is certainly an example of how "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Now, let's go over the three levels of integration.

Warm up/Cool down

The easiest way to introduce SB training is in the warm up. Most trainees are more willing to experiment with new training approaches and new exercises a few minutes before their "workout." This is a great way to introduce this method of training into a traditional program without taking away the program emphasis. Using this level of integration, the conditioning professional can implement a stretching routine or exercises geared to warm the body in a couple of ways. The intensity and difficulty of this warm up session can be tailored to specific populations. We have often challenged our clients during this warm session, in a manner where they have voluntarily elected to increase the stabilization and balance component of their workouts.

Stretching protocols on the Stability Ball offer several advantages over traditional stretching routines. Due to the unstable nature of the ball, stretching on it carries a high balance component. By simultaneously training balance and flexibility, it makes this application very time efficient. The SB also allows extreme position to be supported during the flexibility application. Without the gentle support of the SB, stretches such as the supine abdominal/chest stretch, adductor stretch and the lunge hip flexor stretch would not be possible for many individuals lacking the supportive strength. This type of flexibility training eventually develops the supportive strength needed to hold these stretches without the aid of the ball.

Another way to use the SB in the warm up is by developing total body warm up protocols. We call these compound warm ups. By designing a sequence of specific movements, the needs of the individual (e.g., neural re-education, weakness, imbalance or lack of flexibility) or the demands of the upcoming training session can be addressed. The moves are choreographed in such a way where the trainee flows from one exercise to the other with very little or no rest. The length of the compound and difficulty of the exercises can be tailored to match the training capacity of any individual. Here is an example of a compound warm up.

Finally, SB training can also be used as a warm up to a specific body part. This is accomplished by performing an equivalent or similar exercise on the SB to warm up the body part to be worked. Using the bench press as an example, the trainee can perform a few sets using DBs on the stability ball and then go straight to the target intensity on the bench press. The warm up intensity on the ball should be kept light enough to perform multiple sets at the rep range described by the periodization phase of current training the cycle (e.g., eight to 12 for hypertrophy, three to six for strength, etc.). Here is an example of a specific warm up.

Although this may seem like a small amount of work, neurophysiology research by Wolpaw, Aosaki and others as well as our observations demonstrate that the process of neural engramming (i.e., skill acquisition) can start within minutes of the introduction of a novel skill. Therefore, a 10 to 15 minute session can yield remarkable results in as little as a couple of weeks.

Build Up

The second level of integration is the build up. Using the build up method is by far the best way to "transfer" the absolute strength developed with more traditional exercises to a more functional application. Thus, the build up is a very effective method of reducing the deficit between absolute and functional strength.

This approach is very similar to the "body part warm up" method previously discussed. However, the main difference between the two methods is intensity. In the build up method, a traditional resistance training exercise (e.g., DB Bench Press) is started on the SB. The load of each set in increased (i.e., the build up) until you cannot perform the desired number of reps with good form. At this point, a few more "supported sets" can be performed on a stable environment (e.g., bench or machine) to work on absolute strength and hypertrophy. The main purpose of this strategy is to reduce the difference between the weight used in the unstable environment and the stable environment (i.e., deficit). In essence, develop more usable strength. Here is an example of a build up.


The final level of integration within the 3TIS model is the unloading application. The main concept behind this method of implementation is to allow the prime movers to be targeted for heavy traditional strength/hypertrophy training on one day of the week and unload with functional training on lighter days. This unloading principle is typical of most training models where "sub-threshold intensities" are used on alternating sessions to allow fatigued muscle to recover. Here is an example of the unloading method of integration.

Using SB training to unload muscles groups previously fatigued during past training sessions provides several advantages. First, it provides the active recovery research has indicated facilitates faster restoration after training. Second, it provides stabilization work needed to support high volume and high intensity training. Third, it still provides additional training volume associated with muscle hypertrophy. And finally, although unloading day may not provide the prime movers with traditional heavy work, the neurological demand of SB exercises still maintain a high level of intensity.

The 3TIS of training offers a solution to the never-ending conflict between tradition and innovation. More importantly, it provides a model of integration between training modalities that are not mutually exclusive, rather inter-related and complimentary to each other.


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