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Loaded Movement Training: A Missing Link in Today's Training Protocols

Peering into the Future, By Respecting the Past

On a recent visit to China, I had the good fortune in visiting the Great Wall to film a video for ViPR. I got to thinking about how the Wall was built, and the physical demands imposed on the bodies of the workers building it.

The workers building the Wall - which is thousands of miles long and took hundreds of years to complete - needed to pick up stones and lift tools and then move themselves around with this load to build this most magnificent structure.

In fact, when we think about it, most work outside the gym requires us to move with a mass, around it, as well as lift the mass up and down. In the past, this was called manual labor, which we do very little of in our modern world.

But our biology is actually set up to adapt well to these most basic tasks - moving with load. With the view that biology necessitates particular kinds of physical work, it is critical that we take a closer look at certain training concepts so that we can be more inclusive rather than more exclusive in our training philosophies.

This article will briefly discuss various forms of training concepts that most people know, then discuss what has been a missing link in typical training protocols: the concept known as Loaded Movement Training.

Training Concepts We Know

To scrutinize the concept of Loaded Movement Training, it is important to examine familiar concepts to training and conditioning, which also have efficacy.

Anyone stepping into a gym in recent years would certainly be familiar with the following concepts underlying popular training tools. Observe the table below. Each of the products listed on the right have an authentic anchor into a broader concept, listed on the left. These concepts has been studied, validated, and popularized, which makes them more clear to the user as to why and when to use these tools.

Once the why and when have been answered, tools can be used more authentically and correctly. We can move away from arguments that one tool is better than another, and begin to adopt the perspective that all tools are useful, when used for the right reasons.

Concept Training Style/Tool
Core Training Stability Ball
Speed / Agility / Quickness Training Speed Ladder / Cones, etc.
Resistance / Strength Training Barbell / Dumbbell / Kettlebell, etc.
Functional Training Dual Adjust Cable / 3D Free Weights
MyoFascial Release Foam Rollers
Functional Flexibility Training Stretch Cages
Pilates Reformer
Barefoot Training “Minimal” Shoe

In the end, what makes training tools relevant for the health and fitness professional is a clear awareness of a concept that is sound, justifiable, and defensible.

Loaded Movement Training, Defined

Loaded Movement Training is defined as follows:

We all know what classic resistance training is, and why it is an important part of our training routines. Let’s look a little closer at why we should add certain types of movement to our resistance training, as a part of a well-balanced training protocol.

Biology Reveals the Secret...

The study of biology reveals key adaptive processes inherent to our function. External loads received by human tissue, and transitioning postures (movement) are critical to our health and survival.

In societies where citizens live incredibly long and healthy lives, epidemiological studies have revealed that engaging in intermittent movement throughout the day, every day, is of utmost importance. It is this regular movement (and not just specific diets / environments) that is the common link amongst populations that enjoy great longevity.

In our modern industrialized societies however, we sit in our work environments, at home and during our commutes. We have lost the consistent movement elements present in traditional societies, and not coincidentally, we are experiencing more disease and decay of our bodies than ever before.

Moving with external load - Loaded Movement Training - gives the requisite motion biology requires, while conditioning our bodies along various “lines of stress” which triggers the process of tissue remolding.

This is how particular tissues (muscle, fascia, bone, skin) self-assemble. The organic stimulus of different lines of stress present in loaded movement offers the right amount of motor and mechanical variability to build strong and stable bodies that are both mobile and resilient enough to function optimally (see below - Figures 1 & 2).

Moreover, training in this manner will help to create bodies that have stability and strength in a multitude of positions. For these reasons (and others which we will detail), Loaded Movement Training is an essential part of a well-balanced training and conditioning program.

Transitional Movement

When engaging in Loaded Movement Training, the type of movement we want to incorporate may be described as “transitional movement.”

Transitional movement is simply defined as task-oriented, full body movement patterning. This means that the individual is using his/her entire body to move from one point to another. An individual working around the garden, moving their bodies in sport or activity, or performing any full body task for that matter, would be engaging in forms of transitional movement.

Transitional movement involves motions, in varying degrees, of all joints in the kinetic chain, as they organize and harmonize motion. Moving the body as a whole reinforces the fundamental principles of chain reaction biomechanics and function. Integrating multiple joint motions is the biomechanical way to mitigate stress away from localized areas in the body and introduce stress to the whole system, as it shares the load.

The following images depict transitional movements in training and conditioning:

Transitional Movements

External Loading

Resistance training is often, and correctly, thought of as the external mass we introduce to the human form. The desire, however, is to question the many ways in which this external mass can be manipulated, and what adaptations result. Most of the time in training, external mass is moved in linear (i.e., planar) patterns. This has tremendous benefit, however, it is incomplete in its stimulus.

Consider the variable lines of stress that are introduced to a body baling hay verses a repetitious set of bicep curls. This is extremely important and has significant relevance to adaptations and performance measures (See Figures 1 & 2).

Figure 1 Figure 1 Figure 1 Figure 2

Loaded Movement Training, the Missing Link

Loaded Movement Training is being prescribed more frequently in fitness and training, based on the ideas just discussed and a plethora of research which supports the physical adaptations described above.

By studying the body and its adaptations, we recognize that Loaded Movement Training will challenge and condition muscle, fascia, the nervous system, skin and other systems of the body. Research shows evidence that moving with load improves balance, agility and dynamic strength, improving functionality in daily life and enhancing performance in sport. The science behind the benefits of Loaded Movement Training will be expounded upon in a subsequent article.

This style of training is necessary to include as part of a well-balanced health and fitness program. It is important to note that Loaded Movement Training is not intended to replace current training methods, rather it is intended to be added into a structured program.

4Q Training Figure 3
  1. The upper left quadrant, which is linear movement with external resistance or load, has been scrutinized for years and involves our classic resistance training. Some of the benefits and adaptations include the following:
    • Greater muscle hypertrophy
    • Time under tension
    • Increased hormonal release
    • Improvement in Stability / Strength / Power
    • Improved intra-muscular coordination
  2. The lower left quadrant, which is linear movement that is unloaded, is often used to re-educate the neuro-muscular activation patterns, to mobilize joints, to facilitate motor efficiency, etc., and has numerous benefits, which include (but not limited to):
    • Re-education of neuro-muscular system
    • Stability / Mobility training
    • Weak Link Activation
    • Targeted tissue improvement (i.e., muscle)
    • Improved intra-muscular coordination
  3. The lower right quadrant is transitional or 3-D movement which is unloaded. These bodyweight drills may or may not include equipment (e.g., speed ladders, cones, etc.) and produce three-dimensional body motions. Some of the benefits and adaptation include the following:
    • Rapid NS activation
    • Dynamic stability training
    • Improved motor learning
    • Speed, agility, quickness improvements
    • Increased functional reaction capabilities
  4. The upper right quadrant, often conspicuously absent from training, involves transitional or 3-D movement with external load. This is where we find Loaded Movement Training. While we seldom see individuals transitioning their bodies with mass in the gym setting, this is an important part of the training spectrum. Loaded Movement Training offers the following benefits, among many others:
    • Greater adaptations in muscle, nerve, skin, fascia (because of the pre-load qualities which transitional movements provide).
    • Less compressive forces (due to tension loads rather than compressive ones).
    • Increase hormonal release (due to the intensity and metabolic demand of loading transitional movements).
    • Improvement in multi-directional stability / strength / power (due in part to pre-position loading).
    • Improved inter-muscular coordination (as a result of summating forces which require synergistic muscular actions).

Beginning Your Loaded Movement Training

I am often asked: “What is the simplest way to incorporate Loaded Movement Training into a fitness program?”

  1. Begin where you are. Begin adding Loaded Movement Training into your current protocols; it’s not necessary to stop anything you are currently doing. Think of this as ‘body day’ as opposed to “chest day” or “arms day.”
  2. Work incrementally. As with any new training element, fitness professional should take a systematic approach to appropriately manage stressors and demands on the body. With Loaded Movement Training, begin with lighter loads, simpler movement patterns and smaller ranges of motion before progressing. As always, exercise stressors should be managed along with all of the other daily stressors that a client/athlete will encounter.
  3. Take breaks. It is important to remember that during the session, one may experience more neural fatigue as the complexity of movement may be novel and require more rest between sets.
  4. Use frequently. Because Loaded Movement Training is integrated, force and mechanical trauma will be mitigated and not localized. For this reason, more frequency in a given week can be ultimately tolerated.

As a General Rule


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