You’ve probably heard and/or seen this phrase being thrown around the fitness world quite a bit lately.
So what the hell is unconventional training?
Unconventional Training, defined as "untraditional fitness methods involving kettlebells, steel maces, Indian clubs, sledgehammers, sandbags, battle rope and other “old school” equipment" is a big "movement" from the common bodybuilding equipment and techniques (conventional training) that have been popular for the last four decades or so. Unconventional training methods are quickly being implemented into the fitness routines of people across the globe. There are a number of reasons for this development in the fitness world - unconventional training methods emphasize functional fitness and strength, they are more efficient than endless hours of cardio and Low Intensity weightlifting, and they are more cost-effective than machines and big gym equipment.
Unconventional training isn’t necessarily the opposite of conventional training. In fact, unconventional training induces the main conventional benefits, like muscle growth, strength and endurance.
The only thing is, it does it in a different manner, plus it offers a lot more benefits that you wouldn’t get from most conventional training regimens.
Conventional methods still have a place in the unconventional training world.
That being said, unconventional training is about real world strength (we explain exactly what this means via the top 9 benefits further below). It’s about training to improve performance, health and well-being. The byproduct is looking good.
Unconventional training is about becoming a natural athlete, which is a primal trait in all of us. Unconventional fitness training doesn’t follow a repetitive plan day after day. It’s every day challenging yourself in a new way. Switching it up between time-tested routines and methods, and even testing new ones.
Conventional training uses barbells, dumbbells, and machines.
Note: when discussing conventional training, we are referring to traditional bodybuilding routines seen in commercial gyms.
Unconventional training uses kettlebells, steel maces, battle ropes, sand bags, tires, etc…and barbells and dumbbells aren’t excluded.
Pretty much - Functional sh*t.
As for machines though, you can throw those out of the equation entirely when it comes to unconventional training. Unless it’s a rowing machine or something of that nature. Any machine made for isolation exercises goes against the mindset of unconventional training.
Unconventional training is about compound movements, offset and unilateral training, and high intensity. Conventional training is about compound and isolated exercises, made to beautify.
One of the biggest aspects of unconventional training is HIIT (High Intensity Interval training), and conventional training is LIIT (Low-Intensity Interval Training). It’s has been proven that HIIT offers benefits that LIIT simply can’t compete with. Not only that, but it’s much more efficient.
Related: Unconventional Full Body Workout
Traditional bodybuilding routines build muscle, but they also often demobilize people too. They don’t address moving through various planes of motion with a full range of motion properly.
Conventional training involves the same types of exercises week in and week out. Tension, tension, tension. Isolation, Isolation, Isolation (add in a few compound movements). There's not much variety.
That being said…
We can’t deny that conventional training methods can be effective and beneficial to overall fitness and performance. Furthermore, they can surely turn bodies into a work of art if done properly. However, it’s not the only way to train and achieve that goal, and again, more often than not, conventional training lacks a lot of other aspects that are important for us as humans.
Conventional - Strength training vs bodybuilding?
There’s a big difference. Strength training, like powerlifting, forgoes a lot of the isolation nonsense we’ve mentioned. Strength training is great for power, explosion and building mass, but if you are looking for all-around performance, it’s still lacking some essentials.
Now, we by no means hate conventional training. Far from it. We appreciate the greats like Arnold as much as everyone. He is one of the biggest reasons fitness is so popular. But as with everything, fitness is evolving...for the better.
We believe a good mix of conventional and unconventional is a great way to go about fitness. Squats, deadlifts and bench press are traditional, conventional exercises, and we’d never say to give those up.
Don’t want to completely give up conventional training? Good, you shouldn’t. Just eliminate the BS and add in some good old unconventional training. We say old, because a lot of unconventional methods date back to ancient times, warrior stuff - training with awkward heavy shit.
Keep the compound movements, get rid of anything "isolation". Start training unconventionally a few times a week at different times or mix it into your current workout session. Instead of an isolation exercises, do some kettlebell swings. Instead of 20 minutes walking uphill on the treadmill, do a 10 minute HIIT workout at the end of your workout with a mace and battle ropes.
Or, maybe you can do 3 conventional days a week and two unconventional...or vice versa.
In any case, theres room for both.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, just remove the BS and add the unconventional mindset.
Unconventional, of course, every time.
The greatest benefits of conventional training are muscle growth and strength. Guess what? You can get the same thing from unconventional training, plus more. So, the answer is easy.
By now the unconventional mindset should be clear.
Unconventional training goals
Unconventional training is done to make you lean, strong, and explosive, with a whole lot of stamina. Put simply, athletic.
Looking good vs feeling good.
There’s no reason you can’t have both. Aim for feeling good and moving good, the result is looking better. If looking better and bigger comes with moving worse and feeling pain (sorry Ronnie), it’s not the way in our books. To each his own, though.
Unconventional training is about working out in a way that will benefit your performance as a human. It's about efficiency. It's not about making yourself a beautiful model - However, looking good happens naturally if a proper diet is in place. Just have a look at any serious unconventional fitness enthusiast for confirmation. Or...just look at pro athletes, they are the product of functional fitness, which is essentially unconventional training, and they look fantastic more often than not. Of course, genetics plays a role in body shape too.
Related: Top 7 Unconventional training tools
Unconventional training tools are AWKWARD. They mimic real world stuff. With unconventional fitness tools you are using equipment that doesn't place the center of gravity in the palm of your hand like a dumbbell, barbell or pressing machine. This awkwardness, or different weight distribution, feel and shape, makes it optimal for building functional, real world strength. It targets your larger muscle groups while also hitting your stabilizer muscles, which means power, strength AND more coordination and stability. Proprioception training is so often lacking in traditional training. Not with unconventional training, though.
There are benefits that directly affect our performance and our physique, and there are benefits that affect our mind. Let’s start with the former.
Unconventional training methods and exercises will move you through all three planes of motion - Sagittal, Frontal and Transverse. Each are equally important, and for real world strength, many times it’s the transverse plane that is the most important. The interesting thing about conventional training is that it’s almost completely lacking the transverse plane. You may see someone doing Russian Twists here and there, but if that’s the full extent of your transverse movements, it’s simply not nearly enough.
Balance & Coordination - Body Awareness
As mentioned above, unconventional training often uses tools that are awkward in shape and weight, which challenges our stabilizer muscles as we do lifts and swings. So, as we work on our strength and endurance, we are also training stability, which leads to improved balance, coordination, and body awareness.
Again, this goes back to real world strength. If you are in the real world picking up a heavy object, and, say, walking with it, it won’t have an even weight distribution, it will be awkward, and awkward feels heavier. It will trip you up. It will require a strong core to stabilize, power and strength to pick it up and keep it up, all while trying to remain balanced.
All in all, this leads to big time sports performance enhancement. Good balance and coordination isn’t just about being able to bounces around with agility, that’s only part of it. Many times sports involve impact from one side or another, which throws off our momentum. With that, you need to be able to remain upright. All of this gets worked and improved with unconventional training. Many athletes train anti-lateral movements, like split squats, to achieve this, but if you really want to take it up a notch, do it with unconventional training tools and do more transverse plane movements, like rotational and anti-rotational movements in a hinge position. Not just anti-lateral movements. Most sports require twisting and turning, and to do this, you need balance and coordination.
Moreover, you also need…
With training the transverse plane, your core gets stronger, and your rotational force and torque does too. This is extremely important if you want to be able to kick ass in life. Think about how often you twist, turn, and rotate. These types of movements become enhanced by using unconventional fitness tools. They require you to move in these patterns with weights, strengthening your rotational power and force tenfold. Allowing you to move better, and accelerate and decelerate at the drop of dime.
This is why so many athletes are using unconventional training methods. It incorporates essential methods for enhancing sports performance.
Related: Training in the transverse plane
Many exercises and unconventional tools force you to be explosive. Training explosive power is crucial for improving performance, in all aspects of life.
It’s hard to be explosive when you are using machines, but with kettlebells, battle ropes and banded plyo jumps, you can really take explosiveness to the next level.
Unconventional training is full-body, high intensity, so your metabolic conditioning will skyrocket. The movements are compound, the work time goes far beyond a simple 10 rep set, and you are moving through various planes of motion, this is the ultimate metabolic conditioning.
Related: Tire Slam Benefits
Unconventional training will work parts of your body that many conventional fitness plans don’t even consider. For example, grip strength. If you are using awkward tools to train, it puts more work on your grip, which increases its strength, which then improves your performance in all areas of your upper body, as everything involves grip. It's so often that grip fails before the muscles being worked do, thus you can see the importance.
Related: Benefits of Grip Strength
Another crucial aspect of training that most bodybuilders don’t consider are stabilizer muscles. This is super important for all around performance. Stability is key.
All of this is REAL WORLD STRENGTH. If you thought that phrase was BS or gimmicky before, we hope you see how real it is and what it entails more specifically now.
Every day is something different in the unconventional world, things don’t get boring. The tools are fun, the methods are challenging, and so, things never get stale.
Unconventional training is about NOT becoming accustomed to a routine, it’s about switching things up and challenging yourself in different ways, which allows you to build muscle and strength at a higher rate.
Most unconventional training tools are portable. Ya, some might be a bit heavy, but they can easily go in the car or truck for a park workout.
Moreover, it’s much more affordable and space-effective to fill your garage with an unconventional gym than a conventional one. People who like to workout at home will no doubt gravitate towards unconventional training. It just makes sense.
The movements implemented into unconventional training offers trainees the most bang for their time. Effective and efficient.
Related: Steel Mace and Kettlebell Workout
Unconventional training is so much more than it sounds, it’s a mix of so many training aspects all geared towards improving performance. It challenges you in ways that most conventional training programs simply do not.
Thanks to advances in technology, it's easy to gain access to quality information. This awareness and greater understanding of fitness has had a profound impact on people.
Unconventional training, which is essentially functional training, is the training method for athletes from all types of sports - We are talking martial arts, baseball, football, soccer, basketball, and so on.
Athletes and trainers utilize unconventional training tools and techniques as they offer numerous benefits for sports performance. It's also easier on the joints, causing less wear and tear and decreasing the chance of injury.
You know if pro athletes are doing it, it’s for good reason, and thanks to the internet and social media, people can see these methods and results first hand. So, naturally it’s catching on. Quickly.
Having access to the methods of professionals and informed people from all walks of life allows ideas to spread like wildfire.
As long as you can sift through the nonsense, you will find gold. If it sounds clickbaity, it probably is.
Finding gold in the fitness industry is easy. When there’s a community so passionate and so adamant on something, it shows merit. You can easily see this with unconventional fitness. Then you have professionals at the highest levels also proving its worth. Boom, it becomes super popular.
What's more, when ACE and NASM are pushing the unconventional movement, you already know the change is set. This isn't a trend. It's the now and the future of fitness.
Conventional methods will remain relevant. However, more and more people are combining unconventional training with conventional. The understanding of a well-rounded fitness regimen is undeniable. You don’t want just strength and big muscles, you want balance, core strength, stability, coordination, mobility, endurance, and strong healthy joints.
People who train conventionally, and move to unconventional training, will remember what it was like when they first started fitness. It’s different, and again, it challenges you in so many new ways. Compare 20 heavy kettlebell swings with a set of DB shoulder presses, you'll see what we mean. The best part is, the innovative methods and exercises of unconventional training become addicting.
Some will go completely unconventional, others will keep the mix. Some may never change. No matter what, knowledge continues to grow and we are all going to become better humans because of it. When you think back to the past, the vast majority of people didn't even exercise - Just look at the cast of Spartacus from the 1960s. The point is, we are continually improving as a species. Don't be resistant to a change that is so obviously needed. And don't be left behind.
Remember: Unconventional training methods are intense, difficult, and they will test you both mentally and physically, furthermore, there's a learning curve. So stick it out and reap the benefits.
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