An emerging trend known as Loaded Movement Training (LMT) is an effective way to help clients develop total-body strength and muscle definition by training all of the muscles together as one system. LMT is movement-based resistance training that combines full-body, task-oriented movement patterns with load.

The Loaded Movement Training originator found that, when his colleagues developed strength and fitness programs for hockey athletes, farm kids had distinct advantages. These young athletes were stronger on the puck, stronger in front of the net when battling their opponents, and stronger in odd body positions. As they worked with young hockey players, the strength differences between farm kids and city kids became so pronounced that they felt compelled to scrutinize what the farm kids were up to.

Farm kids did not have fitness training as they grew up. They had chores—throwing hay bales, hoeing weeds, herding livestock and so forth. And because chores must be done every day, these kids exemplified the bedrock principle of LMT. LMT is defined as consistently combining an external load with specific, task-oriented motions to strengthen the body in ways that do not
happen with standard weight training or body exercises.

Loaded movement training can be a missing link in rehab and conditioning. Our bodies evolved to move with loads. Perhaps we should include more loaded movements in our programming.

Conventional strength training exercises most often use weight machines with a cam or pulley to control the path-of-motion of the weight, or free weights such as barbells or dumbbells.  Weight machines are designed to place the greatest amount of resistance at the point where a specific muscle is capable of producing the highest magnitude of force during a concentric (shortening) muscle action. Traditional free-weight exercises feature curvilinear joint actions, which typically take place in a single plane of motion where muscles work to generate force directly against the downward pull of gravity.

This training with moderate-to-heavy loads for a limited number of repetitions has been the accepted method for improving muscle size and definition (hypertrophy). However, recent research indicates that using lighter loads while moving in a variety of directions at different velocities may be the most effective method for developing integrated strength throughout the
entire myofascial network.

Muscles control two different types of forces moving through the body: compressive forces, which create muscle shortening, and tensile or strain forces, which result in muscles lengthening (Myers, 2009). The balance between these two forces means that as muscle tissue on one side of a joint is shortening, the tissue on the opposing side experiences tension and strain as it is lengthened. While most traditional exercise machines focus on creating compressive forces within a muscle, it is actually the lengthening of the elastic fascia and connective tissue as a result of tensile forces that is responsible for producing the mechanical
energy necessary for movement (Myers, 2009; Verkoshansky and Siff, 2006).

The benefits of loaded movement training include (Dalcourt 2013):
* Integration of physiological systems: muscle, fascia and connective tissue, nerves and skin. (The largest organ in the body, skin is very elastic and multidirectional exercises can help improve its elasticity and appearance.)
* Lower compressive forces on the joints and skeletal structures of the body; traditional resistance training focuses on lifting heavy loads directly against gravity while loaded movement training focuses on movements through gravity, which increases tension on the
fascia rather than compressive loading of the joints.
* Using a variety of loads combined with different starting positions and movement patterns can improve multidirectional stability, mobility, strength and power. Instead of moving in straight planes, move in the diagonal plane.

Muscle Activation
The stimulus of different lines of stress in loaded movement offers the right amount of variability to build strong, stable bodies that are mobile and resilient. This type of training can be a key component of a well-balanced therapeutic protocol. Integrating multiple-joint motions moves stress away from specific areas in the body and introduces stress to the whole system as it shares the load. Task-oriented, full-body motion patterns happen when the entire body is used to move from one point to another: working around the garden, loading a dishwasher, taking a child out of a car seat, playing a sport or performing any full-body activity; in other
words, activities of daily living (ADLs).

Applications of External Loading
Moving with external loads subjects our bodies to various “lines of stress” that trigger the remolding of tissue. Most training moves external mass along linear patterns. While this has tremendous benefit, the stimulus is incomplete. Think of multiple, variable lines of stress introduced to a body throwing hay bales versus a repeated set of biceps curls. Both can be tremendously beneficial and lead to function and performance gains. But studies have found that LMT challenges and conditions muscle, fascia, the nervous system, skin and other systems of the body (Hinz 2013; Leonard 1998; Shanahan 2009; Siff 2003). The intention is not to replace current training methods with LMT, but rather to add LMT into a protocol.

Generic Land-Based Examples
The barbell squat requires an individual to set his or her feet in parallel and maintain spinal extension and a symmetrical alignment in the hips, while lowering and raising the barbell against gravity. Compare that to a woman spending the day working in her garden; as she’s digging in the dirt she will be performing a variety of different squats with her feet and hips in a variety of different positions. Doing perfectly symmetrical squats in the gym will help improve strength in a specific pattern with an emphasis on concentric muscle action, but it won’t adequately develop her ability to use her fascia to produce and mitigate forces across the entire network, which is what actually happens as she’s going about her chores.

In another example, consider how most parents pick up their kids off of the ground; they don’t take the time to set their feet in a neutral position, position their perfectly still child in a symmetrically position relative to his or her midline and then, after bracing, symmetrically load each arm as they pull the child to their chest. As most parents will tell you, there is no cognitive thought relative to their body position as they perform the movement of picking up their child.  They simply hold on to their child however they can and lift him/her to whatever position is manageable at the time.

Athletic Land-Based Application
This concept applies to athletes as well; the trend of the past number of years is to train athletes in “functional” movement patterns specific to the demands of their sport. Regardless of what sport an athlete is preparing for, the likelihood that they will perform exactly the same movements exactly the same way in every practice or competitive situation is extremely small.  During competition, athletes have to constantly adapt their body movements to the locations of both their teammates and opponents. Research indicates that high-performing athletes depend on constant movement variability to achieve success. Time-motion analysis studies indicate
that even at the highest levels of performance, many athletes do not perform successive movements exactly the same way. In fact, the highest-level performers actually demonstrate a wide variance in movement patterns when executing a play (Hamill, Palmer and Van Emmerik,  2012; Barlett, Wheat and Robins, 2007; Bartlett, 2008; Stergiou, Harbourne and Cavanaugh, 2006). Loaded movement training allows athletes to develop sport-specific strength by using variable, high-velocity movements corresponding to game-like situations. This helps them to have a greater carryover effect from the conditioning room to the competition arena (Mohammed et al., 2012; Timmons, 2010).

Aquatic Application
Loaded movement training can be used to apply constant variability by manipulating the direction, distance or speed of an exercise. How do we implement this concept in our sessions? After studying LMT research and articles, I believe LMT combines two techniques
we’re already familiar with: Proprioceptive Nueromuscular Facilitation (PNF) and Asymmetrical Loading. Add these techniques to change the outcome of your aquatic sessions.
* Include spiral and diagonal movement patterns, which are functional to daily life skills. PNF is the original and natural multiplanar exercise plan and LMT is all PNF patterns. To learn more about aquatic PNF and gain continuing education credits, complete the course, PNF in the Pool by Terri Mitchell, Julia Meno-Fettig and David Ogden, available at Fitness Learning Systems (
* Add Asymmetrical Loading (resistance, weighted or buoyancy). Use equipment on only one leg or one arm OR use different loads on each side.
* Progress by removing the load, change the beginning position of the exercise to the end position, stop partway through the movement, or change directions. Change depth of water, or change speed of movement.  Try these exercises (and while you’re trying them you’ll be able to think of more):
* Bilateral Upper Extremity (UE) PNF patterns with asymmetrical loads (resistance, weight or buoyancy) in a vertical or horizontal position.
* Unilateral Lower Extremity (LE) PNF as above.
* Bend hips and knees as you turn left with a UE PNF pattern, then straighten (extension) with spinal rotation.
* Squat using UE bilateral horizontal (transverse) adduction/abduction with both arms moving the same direction.
* Reach left with both arms while walking forward with the head turned R. Reverse.

Tennis Aquatic Example
Equipment: Buoyant cuff on the dominant forearm and ankle.
* Jog R diagonal (to the net)
* Hop straight back on R foot while L foot swings diagonally with dominant arm
* Crossing jog to L while reaching both arms across body (ready for backhand)
* Back hand swing (both arms) while moving forward and stopping and stabilizing on
dominant leg

Experiment with other applications – golf swings, baseball, tennis and soccer – that work for you and your clients and then have fun!

A complete reference listing and sources for additional reading are available upon request.
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Ruth Sova, founder and president of the Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute, is the founder
and past-president of AEA. Sova is an international speaker and author on aquatic rehab,
exercise and business. She is Gold Certified from ACE. She received awards from AHA,
IDEA, and AEA. Sova received the first Presidential Sports Award in Water Exercise by the
President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. You can contact her at