Movement-Based Strength

Tim Sunderland explores four key areas to ensure variety within your strength programs, so your clients can continue to produce the results they desire.

As you read through and learn, don’t feel you need to replace what you’re doing but instead, find ways to incorporate these new practices.

Having variability in training

The human body and its ability to adapt to various stressors is incredibly remarkable! So, as much as we need to stay consistent in an aspect of movement to adapt and progress, we need variability in the stimulus so we don’t over-specialise in one area, leaving us vulnerable to injury, boredom or plateaus in progress.



Even though we go into training with a specific goal/outcome we have to remember we have an entire body to look after. Only focusing on one to two different areas of strength will make you incredibly great at that, but this may be at the sacrifice of being able to complete daily living tasks.

We will get old one day, so account for that in your regular training.


Over-adaptation to a specific training style leaves us vulnerable to other movements not practiced. Our bodies have a ‘use it, or lose it’ regard to movement patterns, which opens us up to injury in day-to-day life, or while attempting different fitness modalities. A consistent consideration of training should be to build an unbreakable resilient body that leans towards the specific goal your client has.


A very common form of burnout is boredom!

Your brain loves learning new movements; it loves to rewrite and reprogram your brain. So, when you stop learning new movements and, instead, repeat the same old stuff it can get less and less excited about the training until, eventually, the effort becomes so low you feel like you need a break to find ‘motivation’ again.

Dead Strength

‘Dead strength’ is exactly what it sounds: moving around dead weight.

It’s the most common style of strength training for good reason. It’s usually very limited to the sagittal plane, which is our most used and typically most competent; however, in our modern lives, it is the other planes of motion that require more restoration and strengthening.


Dead strength allows clients to lift the most amount of weight, resulting in increased muscle mass, maximal strength, and strong tendons and bones. Because it is the most used plane of motion in daily life, you can use this opportunity to improve your clients’ coordination of those fundamental human movements.


The sagittal plane is our most competent plane of motion; as such, we often over-program these movements, again, either limiting our ability to move in other planes of motion, or building on a dysfunction later which can cause injury if we build dead strength on top of a not-so-great lifting technique. An injury in the sagittal plane will significantly affect the person in their day-to-day lives.

Conclusions :
Dead strength should always remain a high priority in training, but always ensure there is variety within either the warm-up or accessory movements later in the workout.

Odd-position Strength

Odd-position strength… because I’ve never seen a mother cross the street with kids and groceries using the technical lifting norms we teach in the gym. 


Teaching movements that involve odd and awkward positions allows the strength we’ve built to be dispersed into other areas of the body for other tasks. It allows us to be more resilient in our day-to-day activities and gives us an opportunity to teach and expose vulnerable joints to riskier positions within a safe environment.


Because of the exposure to weaker movements and joints, the risk of injury can be higher. This can frustrate athlete clients as it can take a while to learn the movement, or they may question having to use lighter weights. Careful coaching is required.

Conclusions :
Odd-position strength is paramount in training programs, so our clients can enjoy their daily and extracurricular activities. If odd-position strength training is not the main focus of the workout, it can be a great accessory to a dead-strength movement (e.g., deadlift and Turkish get-up superset).

Agile Strength

There are two excellent definitions of agile strength:

  1. ‘The ability to change directions quickly and powerfully
  2. ‘The ability to decelerate, control and generate muscle force in a multiplanar environment.’

Agile strength exercises are characterised by quick accelerations in speed, direction and velocity, or carrying heavyweights in multiple directions. They help your clients’ to move their body with ease and fluidity in any direction. This improves their coordination and balance, while helping to prevent injuries.


Agile strength training has a great crossover to daily or extra curricular activities, as well as other areas of strength and fitness training. There are a plethora of progressions for beginning athletes, all the way to advanced athletes; and it’s a great way to create a resilient body.


Can be challenging to teach at first, especially if dead strength was a primary stimulus. Due to the momentous omni-directional nature of agile training, injuries can be a higher risk factor. It can be challenging to have the athlete comply with using a lighter weight for speed over a heavier weight that may start to look more like odd-position strength training.

Conclusions :
Agile strength can be a great main focus for training with other areas as the accessory, or the other way around. Just be mindful of fatigue when pairing exercises. A superset example could be a single-leg deadlift for dead strength, with kettlebell rotation snatches for agile strength.

Relative Strength

Unfortunately getting strong under the barbell doesn’t really translate to being bodyweight strong. As you gain lean muscle mass you have to have some sort of bodyweight training to be able to use that muscle. Yes, we can gain enough muscle and strength that we can’t lift ourselves up anymore. So, the term ‘relative strength’ means how strong you are, relative to your body weight.


Regular bodyweight training maintains the use of our body as we gain muscle mass and as we age. It stimulates our muscles and joints differently, bodyweight training will have greater activity in the joint stabilisers, which will help when trying to lift heavier during dead or odd position strength and, lastly, bodyweight training gives us more confidence in ourselves doing outdoor or extra-curricular activities.


Bodyweight training can be hard on the ego, especially training middle-aged to older adults. They haven’t been on the ground moving in decades so it can be hard to deal with their expectations, or how easily they did it as a kid.

Conclusions :
If you are a human being, bodyweight training is a must!
Because of the low risk of injury, fast adaptations and the vast variety of movement variations, relative strength can be trained in many different situations. Just ensure the gap between your strength and how well you can move your body doesn’t ever get too large.


Tim Sunderland

Tim is a fitness professional and author at the Functional Training Institute, which offers a certification program in Swiss ball training.