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Training in Unstable Environments

unstable reactive training

Training in unstable environments. What is it really doing? How do 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.

Imagine the body is an airport with the brain being the control tower. For the airport to run smoothly, the control tower has a number of areas from which it collects information. All of the information is collected and decisions are made to keep the airport running smoothly. These decisions are communicated back to pilots and other personnel in the form of instructions. This loop is never ending. 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. Sensors such as hands, feet, eyes and ears take in information about the environment, send it to the brain where decisions are made, and actions are sent 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 the communication, and the quicker the actions, the more a person can thrive in daily activities, fitness and sport.

So how is this imperative ability developed in clients? This is where the overload principle comes in. Unstable and reactive tools and surfaces can be used to flood the brain with information.

Bottom up instability, such as standing on a balance dome, require lower body and core stabilization. Top down instability, using the hands and upper body as points of sensory information, is just as critical for total-body control and stabilization. There are many situations where top down stability is required: Holding a wiggling child, carrying two bags of groceries, or playing basketball with friends. These all require adaptation to shifting stimulus while moving on solid ground. Both bottom up and top down instability train the trunk to maximize stability in unpredictable environments and handle dynamic force.

Using water as the “load” for a strength training tool creates unpredictable resistance and the ability to generate “top down instability” that helps develop a reactive body. This is what makes the concept of training with water filled products so valuable, with the utilization of water to create an unstable resistance and moving mass within a mass.

By using this type of equipment for a Rack Squat, the weight and position of the water will help improve core stability through improved posture and activation, while the water moving inside forces clients to control movement and maintain symmetry to keep the water quiet and still. Every time the water shifts, the brain has to take in that new information and figure out how to maintain an uninterrupted movement pattern.

Training in unstable environments with reactive tools can help clients improve performance in athletics, fitness and activities of life.


Casey Stutzman is the owner of The Performance Locker in Alpena, Michigan where he specializes in functional movement, performance training and Hydro-Inertia® training. He is a Master Trainer for Surge® and the Kamagon® Ball, teaching seminars and workshops to help trainers increase their knowledge and skill set. For more information visit https://www.hedstromfitness.com/.


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