Another method of unconventional training is tire flipping (12,15). For this application, tires weighing 200–900 lb can be used, depending on the athlete being trained. Although these amounts of weight may sound menacing, it takes only a fraction of the tire weight to actually flip the tire. For example, it takes approximately 275-lb dead lift to start tilting a 900-lb tire. Tires can be flipped for distance, repetitions, or time. Partner drills can also be used for reactive training (Figure 9). Flipping tires is a total-body exercise that can be performed by anyone, assuming the tire size matches the person's strength levels. Although there are times when very heavy tires can be used, a tire size that an athlete can easily flip 5–7 times may be appropriate for most exercises. Keogh et al. (12) examined the physiology of the tire flip and found heart response to 232-kg tire flips (2 sets of 6) to be high (179 beats per minute), and this interval activity resulted in blood lactate levels of approximately 10.4 mmol/L.
Although the strongman aspect of this training uses very heavy equipment, such as tires, cars, and other heavy objects, small objects, such as sleds, medicine balls, sandbags, ropes, and many other pieces of unconventional equipment, have been slowly making their way into this training approach (1). Therefore, in a fitness setting, sled pulls may substitute for car pulls and heavy sandbags or medicine balls can substitute for tires. Sled pull exercises can be manipulated to recreate a variety of movements, including forward, backward, and sideways, and tethering the rope or cable to different parts of the body (16).
When using unconventional training methods, the personal trainer or coach can manipulate various biomechanical elements of movements to adjust the intensity of any exercise. The required skill level, range of motion (ROM), speed, base of support, and lever arm of the exercise are all elements that affect the difficulty of an exercise. Progressing skills from simple to complex, or from part to whole, are simple ways to advance any individual through proper progression. An example of this is to take a complex skill, such as a tire flip, and break it down into its components: picking up the tire, transitioning from dead lift to shoulder push and then finishing the shoulder push to flip the tire. When performing complexes with unfamiliar equipment, particular focus should be paid to technique and the correction of technical flaws (4).
Another way to start an individual at a lower progression is to attempt partial ROM exercises before full ROM exercises. For example, if an individual does not have enough functional flexibility to start the tire flip from the floor, the tire can be placed on a box to elevate it and reduce the ROM needed for the exercise. Gradually reducing the height of the box over time allows the individual to develop the specific hip flexibility needed to start the tire flip from the ground. Yet another example of manipulating an exercise is to adjust the speed parameter by using isometric positions before progressing to dynamic movements. Isometric holds with flexed elbows can be performed using kettlebells (e.g., kettlebell clinch holds and walks). This exercise develops basic strength in the entire postural aspect of the core and enhances the ability to hold carry positions for prolonged durations. Unconventional training methods can be specifically modified to modulate speed during various types of exercise. For instance, a wood chop progression can be used to teach a person the proper mechanics of a reverse scoop toss (i.e., backward overhead toss). Heavy medicine balls, sandbags, or weight plates can also be used to develop the base strength needed for overhead power tosses (23).
A larger base of support (e.g., standing on 2 legs or using a 4-point push-up position) offers more stability and is recommended as a prerequisite to attempting exercises with a smaller base of support (e.g., standing on 1 leg or using a 3-point push-up position). This type of training often uses the transfer of high forces, which requires maximum contact with the ground and a stiff core (22). Therefore, balance equipment is not recommended when trying to transfer high forces from one limb to another (e.g., from legs to arms). When body weight exercises are used, 2-leg exercises and 4-point push-ups should be mastered before single-leg exercises and 3-point push-ups are attempted.
The lever arm of an exercise also affects the difficulty of an exercise. Smaller lever arms offer a beginning level of difficulty that can be progressed to larger lever arms. The push-up is a perfect example of how the lever arm influences an exercise. Push-ups on the floor are harder to perform than are push-ups with the upper body elevated on a bench or bar. A person beginning an exercise program or rehabilitating an injury can perform elevated push-ups before gradually lowering the upper-body base as strength improves.
In addition to the biomechanical aspects of exercise design, the look and feel of unconventional training exercises can be adjusted to match the profile of the athlete that the personal trainer or coach is working with. Athletes who do not have a long history of heavy lifting and training may also experience some anxiety about lifting heavy barbells, rocks, and tires. In these cases, the unconventional training exercises can be performed with what some may consider less-intimidating equipment, such as kettlebells, sandbags, and heavy medicine balls. For example, the traditional dumbbell farmer's carry, which uses a suitcase carry position, can be performed with kettlebells in a shoulder carry position or a sandbag in the front carry position.
Programming unconventional training is much less complicated than using the periodization of traditional strength training. Most of the movements used in this type of training, such as standing press and push-ups, are complex movements that use multiple muscle systems in a coordinated fashion (13,14,21,22). Personal trainers and coaches may benefit from exploring this training approach and then integrating it into their own style with care and proper progression. However, care and consideration should be given to all factors of training and to the stress that training produces, so that proper measures can be taken to avoid possible overtraining (2).
Unconventional training can be incorporated into any cycle used in traditional periodization schemes, whether the periodization is linear or nonlinear. During the conditioning phase of periodized training, individual exercises can be loaded appropriately to allow athletes to complete 2–3 sets of 10–15 repetitions for 4–7 exercises. As movement skills and conditioning improve, each exercise can be performed as part of a circuit. Keeping the exercise sequence, loading parameters, and equipment proximity constant throughout the training allows the personal trainer or coach to use the total circuit time as a measurement of conditioning.
The same programming approach can be taken during the strength and power phases of periodized training; however, the repetition scheme, loading parameters, and speed of movements are manipulated to accommodate the appropriate loads and speeds of each training cycle. When focusing on strength development of unconventional training exercises, 2–3 sets of 3–6 repetitions for 3–5 exercises can be used. A similar approach is done when attempting to develop power in unconventional training exercises; however, loads are reduced and speed of movement is maximized.
The loading parameters in unconventional training exercises are subjective when using equipment such as tires, sandbags, cars, and so on. Going to failure is not necessary for developing the desired physical quality. When training for conditioning and strength, use a load that is heavy enough to get good work out of the exercise, but stop a few repetitions short of absolute failure. When training for power, use a load similar to that used in the target activity, or perhaps slightly heavier (10%–20% more than the target activity requires), and work on maximum velocity of movement. When working on power endurance and metabolic conditioning, try to approximate the loads of the target activity and create circuits of similar durations and biomechanical characteristics of the target activity. Table 1 illustrates a circuit designed for MMA used with an elite fighter undergoing unconventional training. This 4- to 5-minute circuit is designed to develop fatigue resistance in the pushing action often used in MMA, especially during the clinch fighting seen when a shorter fighter fights a taller fighter. Other skill-specific circuits were also included in the training program to support the specific skill set of MMA.
Unconventional training can be an effective way to train combat sports athletes. This method of training, or parts of it, can be incorporated into traditional strength training programs to add variety and a different functionality to the training. In cases where the inexpensive equipment needed for unconventional training is the only equipment available, the personal trainer and strength coach can apply a little creativity and easily periodize the program over a longer span of time. In whatever way unconventional training is used, with its progressive and safe application, personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches may consider it a viable method of strength and conditioning for combat sports.
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Keywords:© 2011 National Strength and Conditioning Association
combat sports; martial arts; unconventional training