Stability Training? I know, you are probably picturing some anorexic contortionist kid who works for Cirque du Sole` jumping and balancing on exercise balls. Before you send this article to the trash, hear me out. I completely understand that to lift big weights, at some point you have to train with big weights. As a kid, this was my mantra. Hitting a set of 10 reps of anything was like running a marathon and if I saw a guy training biceps, he forever was a pansy in my eyes. Over the years, however, my body has seen some mileage. High school wrestling gave me a reconstructed knee and a wrecked hamstring, Powerlifting, a loose shoulder capsule and a back that acts up periodically, and Sport Judo, a torn ACL in my “good” knee. So, what’s point of all of this? Well, in the last few years I have learned that if you take care of your body, stay out of the emergency room, and train smart, you will most likely see better long-term gains in addition to staying injury free.
As part of a General Preparation Phase (GPP), which I frequently skipped in my high school and college years, I have been spending 3-4 weeks at the beginning of every macro-cycle working on structural deficiencies and technique. Believe me, this is extremely difficult for a guy that loves to train heavy. In doing this, however, I have discovered that I am able to strengthen some of the small weak links, such as the rotator cuff, that will otherwise bite me in the ass later in my cycle. During this GPP, I have been not only deconstructing my technique in basic lifts such as the bench, squat, deadlift, snatch, clean, etc…, I have also been working on joint stability, abdominal strength, postural imbalances. Heavy weight will come in later phases. The purpose of this phase is to get rid of any weak links.
This phase consists of lots of ab and trunk work, such as planks, side planks, hip bridges, overhead kettlebell swings, and hanging leg raises. I will also perform light plyometrics such as box jumps with 5 second bent-knee pauses at the top and bottom of each rep. For the lifting part of each training session, I will slow everything down and work in exercises on unstable surfaces. I will use exercises such as the one-stays-up dumbbell press for the shoulders and chest on a stability ball, multi-directional lunges for legs, and kettlebell snatches into back lunges for total-body work. Reps are high at 15-20, with a set or 2 for each exercise. I try not to train much over an hour, as my goal is not to add mass, but to work on stabilizing musculature and neuromuscular stabilization. I know, this sounds like an advertisement for one of those companies that sells the cheap, crappy, imported equipment and tells you it’s what all the big guys use. Anyway, I didn’t buy into it either, until an injury forced me into it.
So, what do you get out of all of this other than the gym nickname of “Powder-puff” and a pink skirt stuffed in your locker? How about stronger, more stable joints, better control in the bottom of your lifts, reduced incidence of injury, and bigger, overall gains. Remember, this is only for a month or less, 2-4 times a year, depending upon the length of your regular training cycles. It will better prepare your connective tissue for the next hypertrophy or strength phase in your training program. You are still lifting for strength and power, and certainly most of your time should be spent in this part of the training spectrum, but adding Stability Training to your GPP phase will pay huge dividends later in your cycle.