Hello February! 👋
In celebration of the ‘Month of Love’ (not too sure if it’s really called that, but let’s just go with it…), we are honoring something we totally love (and you should too!): strength training! We get it, fitness professionals drone on (and on!) about the importance of strength training, but it really is an essential part of any fitness routine. It not only helps build muscle, but also improves overall health - think, increased bone density, improved metabolism, and better posture! So, a warmest welcome to We Love Strength Training - a four part series of the various strength training implements available to help you achieve your fitness goals. Each week we will introduce you to several strength training implements and explore the benefits of each. Get ready to flex your muscles and achieve your fitness goals with the power of strength training! 💪
Obviously, you know what dumbbells are, but do you know what makes dumbbells different from traditional strength training machines - you know, the machines you find at your local gym? Are you aware of just how beneficial dumbbells can be as a strength training tool? Traditional machines only allow the athlete to follow a predetermined path, thus controlling the movement. That is not to say that machine training is not beneficial (we started with strength training on machines!), it is just a bit different. Dumbbells are a total body conditioning tool and can be used to perform almost any exercise imaginable – the possibilities are truly endless! Dumbbells allow for an increased range of motion and more freedom of movement, as you - the lifter - are dictating the movement path and are not restricted by cables. We would like to mention that this implement is beginner friendly, so if you are new to strength training, dumbbells can be a great way to start!
Training with Dumbbells in All Three Planes of Motion
We cannot stress enough how important it is to train in all three planes of motion! Just to refresh your memory, the following list describes the three planes of motion and provides a few examples of exercises that work in that plane of motion:
Sagittal Plane: Forward and backward movements (i.e., running and reverse lunges).
Frontal Plane: Side to side movements (i.e., side plank and lateral lunges).
Transverse Plane: Twisting or rotating movements (i.e., oblique twist and curtsey lunges).
An added benefit of training in all three planes of motion is improved efficiency, as well as “improve[d] balance, stability, and overall performance.”  Here’s a perfect example: when you are running, you are primarily working in the sagittal plane (forward and backward movements). However, your muscles are working in all planes of motion to keep you upright and moving forward. Your hip abductors primarily work in the frontal plane, contracting to help keep your legs moving forward and limiting side to side motion.  The rotational muscles in your pelvis primarily work in the transverse plane, contracting to limit rotational movement.  As you can see, muscles in all three planes of motion work together to increase your efficiency - yes, we love it! We don’t know about you, but we’re totally sold on training in three planes of motion!
Eliminating Strength Imbalances and Asymmetries with Dumbbells
Another benefit of training with dumbbells is that they help eliminate strength imbalances and asymmetries, thus decreasing your risk of injury. First, a definition… strength imbalances and asymmetries occur when a muscle or side of the body compensates for a weaker one. This means that opposing functional muscle groups (i.e., abdomen and back muscles) are out of balance (one group is too tight, one group is not tight enough). This imbalance can bring about changes in your strength, balance, and/or mobility.
Asymmetries can lead to over-recruitment (i.e., the utilization of more muscle fibers than necessary) of your dominant side, which can result in overworking or injuring muscles. We don’t know about you, but we certainly don’t want to do that! Adding dumbbell work into your strength training program can help correct potential strength imbalances and asymmetries. When you perform a dumbbell exercise, each hand is (usually) holding a dumbbell, thus each side must work independently of the other to perform the exercise. This eliminates your ability to compensate for a weaker side, or muscle in your body.
Increasing Stabilization with Dumbbells
Stabilizer muscles are found all throughout the body, with the main stabilizer complexes located in the shoulders, hips, and trunk. Dumbbells are an unstable implement and require you to use stabilizer muscles to perform exercises correctly. Let’s look at an example: when you want to perform a bicep curl, the major joint that moves is the elbow joint. Stabilizer muscles around the shoulder joint act to secure the shoulder from any excess movement. This allows the elbow joint to be the prime mover for the exercise and avoid any inefficient movement, which can lead to strength imbalances and injury. So, to summarize, when performing dumbbell exercises, you are also targeting your stabilizing muscles, totally a win-win!
Kettlebells are another total body conditioning tool and can be used to perform countless exercises - again, the possibilities are endless! Like dumbbells, kettlebells (1) allow for an increased range of motion, (2) enable athletes the ability to work in all three planes of motion, (3) help to eliminate strength imbalances and asymmetries, and (4) increase stabilization. Using kettlebells allows the athlete to control the movement, all while improving balance and stability – nothing like getting a bit more bang for your buck! Additionally, kettlebell training helps to develop explosive power and speed, specifically in the hip area. Increasing your hip strength is essential in helping ensure stability and preventing injuries. As a final note to introduce kettlebells, it is definitely worth mentioning that the movement patterns associated with the most common kettlebell exercises help to increase mobility and flexibility, two things we all want a bit more of, right!?!
Kettlebells and the Posterior Chain
Many traditional exercise programs and equipment do not always focus on the posterior chain. Here’s why you should! The posterior chain includes the lower back (erector spinae) gluteal muscles, hamstring complex (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus), and the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus). While you cannot actually see these muscles, their importance is paramount for good posture and overcoming muscle imbalances. Correcting muscle imbalances is crucial to a healthy fitness journey. Many times, athletes compensate for muscle imbalances or muscle weaknesses, by engaging incorrect muscles or adjusting form. Why is this bad, like really, really bad?
Engaging incorrect muscles or adjusting your form to compensate for a weakness leads to synergistic dominance - inhibiting the correct muscles and overdeveloping the wrong muscles. For example, when moving the leg backwards, the prime mover muscle is the gluteus maximus. When this muscle is underactive or in a weakened state, the hamstrings can take over for the muscle and complete the work for the underactive muscle. So, why is this important? Synergistic dominance can result in faulty movement patterns, a decrease in neuromuscular efficiency, and/or injuries. A decrease in neuromuscular efficiency can inhibit your ability to be able to recruit the muscles needed to produce force. If you cannot recruit the proper amount and type of muscle fibers, you simply cannot lift the weight. Kettlebell exercises, like the kettlebell swing (one of our favorites!), targets the posterior chain in ways that many other exercises cannot, helping to strengthen all those unseen, but highly important, muscles!
Kettlebells and Joint Health
Joints are made up of many structures (i.e., bones, cartilage, muscles, ligaments). Healthy joints allow your bones to glide over one another rather than rub against one another, so you can do all those things you love to do - walk, run, play sports! So, want to improve joint health? Kettlebells may be just what you need! Many kettlebell exercises require deliberate control while performing them, which builds joint strength and stability by increasing the strength of your stabilizer muscles.  Using light to medium weight kettlebells in your strength training program helps to (1) develop more elasticity in the tendons and ligaments in your joints, (2) become more resilient to injury, and (3) aids in reducing inflammation and swelling - all necessary for long term joint health.  This is attainable for those who include kettlebell work into their strength training programs.
Wow! Strength training is truly a powerful tool for anyone looking to improve their overall health and fitness. Not only does it help build muscle and increase strength (totally loving that!), but it has so many other benefits including improving bone density, reducing the risk of injury, and boosting metabolism. It is important to remember that strength training should be approached with caution and proper technique - the latter we cannot emphasize the importance of enough! It’s always a good idea to work with a certified personal trainer or coach who can guide you through the proper form and progression of exercises. Oh hey, we just so happen to be certified fitness professionals! 😉 So, don’t be afraid to incorporate strength training into your fitness routine. With the right mindset and approach, it can be a fun and rewarding way to improve your overall health and wellness!
If you are in the market for some new strength training equipment and are not sure where to start, reach out to us and we would be more than happy to discuss options with you!
Happy Sunday and all our love! ❤️ Kelly and Alayna
 Performance Health. (n.d.). The Importance of Multiplanar Training & Exercises. Performance Health. https://www.performancehealth.com/articles/the-importance-of-multiplanar-training--exercises
 Geil, K. (2022). How to Train in All Three Planes of Motion - and Why It Matters. Shape. https://www.shape.com/planes-of-motion-6754581
 Coleman, S. (2023). 18 Incredible Benefits of Kettlebells. Set For Set. https://www.setforset.com/blogs/news/18-benefits-of-kettlebells
[Image] Häggström, Mikael (2014). "Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN2002-4436. Public Domain.