Want to hear something weird?
I haven’t worked out with kettlebells for 5 weeks.
I haven’t touched a barbell in longer.
Bootycamp has been canceled. (at least until July)
I am leaner than I had been, my knee is not as pissed as it had been, and my shoulders feel great.
So what the shit am I doing? I have been training myself, and clients in the new studio I’m running: Fitwall.
I was introduced to Fitwall in March-and my first thought and response to it and some of the claims being made about it was: ”bullshit. another ridiculously silly fitness contraption. you could super set it with the shake weight and max effort thigh master sets.”
The claims were:
1. Significantly higher amounts of muscular activation throughout the body…which leads to better function, due to reestablishing connections/relationships between muscles.
2. That increased muscular activity leads to better balance of relative muscular effort in movements.
3. That increased muscular activity leads to higher oxygen consumption by the body, and in turn that means burn more calories. Both during and post workout.
4. That the workout itself is decompressive on the body.
5. And finally, efficiency-the workouts are 7-30 minutes in length. And that’s all that is needed.
Sounded pretty infomercially to me.
However, my friends Franz and Yoana of kettlebell glory and fame were super geeked out by it, and so I thought I’d give it a shot. (I also watched some of the movements being performed on it, and being that I like movement, I could see that the wall imposed some very unique demands on the body requiring the practitioner to display simultaneous stability and mobility. We’ve heard that before….hmmm)
So I played on the wall, got my ass kicked a little bit in some very unique ways, did more research on the system, grilled the inventor about some claims, and then became the head coach at the first studio of the new Fitwall brand.
Before I say more, check out the video I have below, and see one of the workouts that I recently did on the wall. The first 11 reps are the 11 essentials of Fitwall training-which when performed as a group in a row as I do, challenge each muscle in the body-and the idea is that between them all, we are helping to activate all of them and have them up and running for the rest of the workout.
So…how did I come around to being stoked enough on this wall thingy to pause my normal training? I put it through the movement book test.
It is a rich sensory environment. It requires simultaneous stability and mobility. The exercises themselves are all self limiting. They are all safe enough to be able to push hard, without risk of hurting one’s self. They require precision of movement, and are not just some isolated drills”
I saw it as this:
enhanced muscular activation claim = reflexive stability. When on the wall, you are basically in some sort of a crawl pattern, just vertical-which places a climbing demand on the body as well. The hands and toes are VERY engaged and the body recognizes that without up regulating muscular (and brain) resources, that it will fall off of the wall. So basically, it’s like DEFCON 5 where all systems are turned on, to be able to deal with this physical danger of falling off. In the video, notice my toes gripping, my hands and fingers gripping, and the active scapular/armpit muscles driving downward on the wall to keep me stable.
better balance claim = less compensation. In the idea that we may have movers trying to act as stabilizers, we may rob ourselves of movement potential. Well, when on the wall, those movers may have to provide stability for a long time, and they don’t do that very well (based on what I’ve seen) and the actual stabilizers get called up and help out (finally). throughout all the moves you have to have at least 3 points of contact, and each time from one hand to opposite or same side hip you very acutely FEEL every muscle along that muscular sling/relationship/line up and working together. Anterior oblique sling? yeah, super engaged – same for posterior.
higher caloric burn claim = This I actually didn’t have a comparison. However, Fitwall hired one of the smarty pants from Polar to run tests on the wall and give out average numbers for what people could expect in terms of caloric burn on each of the main 14 drills. The highest average was 16.4 cals/minute on the targeting (running up and down the wall). That is really damn high. And 5 other drills burn over 14/minute. It’s actually really impressive, even though I’m not the biggest fan of calories in vs calories out….I know that it matters. However, in the sessions we do everything interval based. So we are getting the interval based EPOC in addition to the high caloric demands during the workout. In fact, our researcher in NM is showing that the EPOC from Fitwall workouts is higher than similar interval training in other modalities.
decompressive claim = Better co-contraction around joints, and less compression. We are relying on muscular stabilization around joints vs structural loading and compression. In terms of exercising, it can be a relative term where you just aren’t axial loading onto the spine/hips/knees and instead are challenging the body predominately from muscular loading. In terms of general decompression-it’s very much similar to Pavel’s suggestions to “hang on a pull-up bar a few times after and during workouts”. The inventor also talks about creating extra space in the joints as they are not compressed and how that may improve blood flow to tissues which are not generally very flow-y. And while anecdotal evidence is not always the best-everyone who gets on, just feels “better” and “elongated”. I could punch myself for saying that, but I’m just repeating what I’ve heard hundreds of people say already.
efficiency claim = duh. We know workouts can be short and sweet as long as they are intense. The nice part is, the movements are very very safe without the risk of injury from form degrading as you push yourself hard. (unlike barbell lifts for reps and time, or dumbbell or kettlebell)
You can also perform really fun burpees.
But back to serious….when looking at the wall, what is it imposing?
1. Serious cooperation between shoulders and hips. AKA a wicked core challenge. My side abs are looking really sweet. But more seriously, I haven’t been specifically training the human flag, and each week I’ll try it a couple times…and it is getting close to happening foreals. Which in my flag tights is quite the awesomeness.
2. Upper body posterior chain pulling in a unique crawling/climbing fashion. Also, from a postural standpoint, I wonder if having to hold the body statically in a good position such as on the wall, is “better” than 3 sets of 10 Is, Ys, and Ts. I said I wonder, not that I know. I do know I am seeing some postures looking better, and people getting noticeably leaner and stronger in upper body pulling.
3. Safer plyometrics. I have had 10 seniors in a class jumping, and performing explosive one leg launches on a step and switching feet in mid air. Now, they aren’t getting Michael Jordan air….but they are certainly training more powerfully than they used to. How? Because they hold on to the wall which helps them decelerate on the landing, making the part they are scared of less scary. They get to work the concentric part they can do well, then gradually improve their ability to decelerate themselves.
4. Grip demands. We are all training crush grip with kb/bb/db…but the wall is pinch grip. And that is radical. Especially for elderly, but also especially for everyone else. Why is it radical? Because grip is soooo important for everything.
5. Movement awareness. When moving up and down on the wall, you have to navigate your limbs without banging them on the stainless steel. This is awesome. It helps create awareness in your movement. The itty-bitty steps help create precision of jumps, steps, and also the movement of hands does the same.
6. Midline crossing allover the damn place.
Then, we come off the wall. And from there you can be sure that we are doing sweet ass stuff. Rotation, anti rotation, unilateral, glute dom etc etc etc. I have had 4 clients so far tell me they were worried about trying exercise because it “looked intense” (due to the efforts being given) but that during the session they were shocked/happy to notice that we were having them do drills that their physical therapists had them doing. (single leg deadlift, glute bridges, side bridges, etc)
Oh, and strapping someone to resistance and making them crawl almost ensures correct crawling patterns by the way. It’s pretty sweet.
The craziest, and maybe the most interesting part, is what the wall does to your brain.
Basically, when on the wall, due to the short step and necessity of holding on with hands and feet to stay vertical, the body up regulates not just muscle activity but also brain activity. It’s akin to the fight or flight response, but only physically–meaning there isn’t the corresponding emotional freak out. This has been vindicated by Polar trying to disprove the claim, and in front of a group of people being very confused when in fact, brain activity does sharply increase. What does this mean? Well, we don’t really know. But you maybe will learn stuff more better (like my english), and what we are seeing is people learning movement skills better. For instance, while I was still just testing this stuff out-I would super set handstands with each Fitwall drill, and my handstands got sharply better within 5 sessions (about 10 days). I had been training handstands consistently for a long time with slow gradual improvement-and suddenly I was able to stick them, spread the legs, close the legs, walk….now I’m totally fine with saying maybe just maybe all my work over the past year finally clicked or something-but the timing was just very intriguing, and also it aligned with what the other people training with Fitwalls were noticing. That their sport/activity of choice seems to get easier/better with Fitwall training thrown into the mix.
The “What the Hell” Effect
We all love KB swings because of their what the hell effect. You do swings and you do pull-ups, deadlifts, run, jump, look, and feel better. What the hell?! Well, this is happening with the Fitwall as well. The body just sorta feels ‘more connected’, and it makes sense once you have tried it. On the wall you feel the connections needed to move correctly and efficiently. The what the hell effect is massive in training. Because sport specific training is sometimes a laughable situation, we know we want to impose general demands on athletes and people which yield results that improve what they do, without risking injury and/or interfering with their activity/sport. Well, this Fitwall apparatus is doing that…and it’s pretty neat.
Why the what the hell effect happens…
We in the industry are largely all geeking out on crawling and how it improves relationships and movements in the body. Some of the more progressive or fringe trainings are also seeing huge benefits from climbing (Dewey Nielson, Jason Brown, Brandon Hetzler, Charlie Weingroff, Gray Cook, MovNat) but the problem with climbing is that many just can’t climb (rocks, trees, monkey bars…) well enough to drive any type of response. They just fall. Well, the Fitwall allows a version of climbing where the feet are still connected and allows Grandma Betty to be able to do some sort of climbing. And it just happens to be a blend of climbing and crawling together…which is why I think it is giving this What The Hell effect.
I’ll be blogging even less (how is that possible!) as I enter in this exciting startup Fitwall company. So there is your full disclosure, I am running a Fitwall gym. I don’t own anything in Fitwall, but I did give up a lot to work their because of how intriguing the Fitwall is. Stay tuned for more as we continue to grow and see more awesome stuff.