Training in unstable environments. What is it really doing? How do our clients benefit from it? 

One of the most valuable benefits to training with reactive tools or in unstable environments is the opportunity to challenge and develop efficiently in the neuro-muscular loop.

So what is that and why is it important?

Imagine your body is an airport with your brain being the control tower. For the airport to run smoothly not only within itself but in conjunction with other airports, the control tower has a number of areas it collects information from. Communication is constantly happening between the tower and the pilots, gate agents, runway personal, weather services and other control towers. All of this information is collected and, based on what is in front of them at that moment, the best decisions are made to keep the airport running smoothly. These decisions are communicated back to the pilots and other personal in the form of instructions. This loop is never ending and constantly changing. With each passing minute, circumstances are evolving and as new information is sent to the tower, course of action is dictated and instructions sent out.

This is exactly how the body works; our “sensors” (hands, feet, eyes, ears, etc.) take in information about our environment, send it to the brain where decisions are made, and actions send back out to the body in a never-ending cycle.

A massive part of quality movement is the ability of the body to take in information regarding environment and make informed decisions on optimal joint positions and actions based on that info. The stronger this communication is, and the quicker it happens, the more we are able to thrive in a number of different situations 

So how do you develop and or improve this imperative ability in your clients? This is where the overload principle comes in. We can use unstable tools and surfaces to flood the brain with information. This puts us in a position where we are forced to focus on what is vial, ignore what is not, and make decisions on the most stable positions in an ever changing environment.

Unstable surfaces are a great way to do this but they are really only half the battle. They teach us how to take in info and stabilize the lower half of our body, but what about up top? Using the hands and upper body as a point of sensory information is just as critical as the feet. In fact, we find ourselves in just as many (if not more) situations where we are planted on solid ground and dealing with an unstable or shifting load with our hands and arms. Holding a child, carrying a bag of groceries or playing basketball with friends are all similar in the fact that we’re dealing with a moving/shifting stimulus while planted on solid ground, which allows us to maximize stability of the trunk and create/handle large amounts of force.

Using water as the “load” for a strength training tool creates living and unpredictable resistance. This “top down instability” is the piece many of our clients are missing when trying to develop a reactive body that can not only handle but excel in any situation we throw at it.

This is what makes the concept of Hydro-Inertia® so valuable in training and group fitness spaces. The ever-changing resistance created by Hydro-Inertia® creates a feedback rich environment through top-down instability. It lets participants know when they are in control of the resistance and when the resistance is controlling them. By using equipment such as the Surge® for a Rack Squat and Deadlift, the weight and position of the water will help improve core stability through improved posture and activation, while the Hydro-Inertia® forces clients to control the movement and maintain symmetry to keep the water quiet and still.

An example of a more dynamic environment is using the Kamagon® Ball while performing a Chop and Ribbon.

The water is consistently and unpredictably moving within the Kamagon® Ball throughout the range of motion of the exercise. This creates perturbation, a stimulus attempting to disrupt a consistent movement pattern, which is a brilliant way to develop efficacy within the neuro-muscular loop. Every time the water shifts, the brain has to take in that new information and figure out how to maintain an uninterrupted and consistent movement pattern.

The goals of our clients have changed. Less and less are they concerned with six packs and big arms. The main motivator driving them to the gym is the ability to live fuller and more active lives through increased function. It’s time for our training, especially our resistance training, to take a leap forward and meet these growing and more complex needs. The Hydro-Inertia® provided by the Kamagon® Ball and Surge® can provide the dynamic and feedback rich resistance training our clients need to meet their goals. Water is the new steel! Do you want to be ahead of the curve or the last to adapt?


Casey Stutzman is the owner of The Performance Locker in Alpena, Michigan where he specializes in functional movement and performance training. He is a Master Trainer for Surge® and Kamagon®, teaching seminars and workshops to help trainers increase their knowledge and skill set.