Reactive Power Trainer (RPT): A Review and Analysis
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
I’m always thrilled and honored when companies send me new training equipment to demo. Even if it doesn’t seem like a piece that will be worth promoting or investing in, I’m always happy to experiment and tinker around just in case it exceeds expectations. Sometimes I see the merit in the equipment and other times….. well let's just say in those instances where I don’t see the value I simply don’t post a review or promote it.
Recently I had the pleasure of demoing a very unique training tool called the Reactive Power Trainer also known as the RPT or Base RPT. The closest thing I can equate this to is an incredibly advanced and versatile BOSU ball or a BOSU ball on steroids. Now before I go any further I want to quickly point out that I am actually an advocate of unstable training devices such as the BOSU ball. However, the key is understanding how to incorporate them and use them effectively. In addition, it should not make up the bulk of one’s training. When I use these devices with my athletes it makes up 5-10% of their training at most. It simply acts as an accessory tool to enhance their major movements not as the mainstay of their routine. In fact 80% or more of a solid training program should be centered around the fundamentals and basics.
With that said, when used properly and under the correct circumstances, unstable training devices can provide numerous benefits in terms of motor control, stability, core strength, spinal rigidity, proprioception, kinesthetic awareness, balance, full body tightness, and foot/ankle mechanics. This is something I’ve witnessed firsthand with my clients and athletes for years and regardless of what the research says, I can tell you it works. But again, it comes down to knowing how to use it properly, not just mindlessly throwing it into a program.
In fact, when used improperly and under the wrong scenarios unstable training devices are not only ineffective but they can actually be counterproductive. I’m not going to go into detail about what constitutes as proper and improper use of these devices as this is something I’ll be writing on for a very large and extensive article in the future. For right now just understand that each training tool including unstable surfaces/devices do hold merit and simply represent another tool in the toolbox that can be incorporated into one’s training routine. With that said, here’s a synopsis of this latest unstable training device to hit the fitness industry – the RPT device.
The Reactive Power Training - RPT Device
I’m always a bit leery of any new training instrument that comes onto the strength and conditioning scene as most of them tend to fall short. In addition, when it comes to unstable training devices I’ve used several dozen over the years and most of them are fairly similar to each other. If you’ve seen one you’ve essentially seen them all. Fortunately, the RPT training device represents an exception to that rule as it stands out as one of the most unique, versatile, and effective unstable training devices I’ve ever used. In fact, it’s one of my new favorite training toys as the endless options, challenges, and benefits it provides are quite extensive to say the least. With that said, lets dive into the various benefits and options of this awesome piece of equipment and show you how much fun/torture you, your clients, and your athletes can have with it.
As previously mentioned if I had to sum it up the RPT is similar to a BOSU ball on steroids. You can think of this as a portable and versatile seesaw that can be used for a number of exercises to challenge body awareness, proprioception, stability, core strength, and more. In fact, at first glance it seems relatively simple as it’s simply an unstable platform with a very precise balance point directly in the center. However, after thorough analysis and assessment I can tell you this is an incredibly precise and meticulously crafted piece of equipment. There are almost an infinite number of settings, difficulty options, parameters, and protocols that can be easily adjusted to fit any fitness level, movement pattern, or performance goal. The quality control and level of precision is something developer and CEO Robert Burton should be extremely proud of as creating a piece like this from scratch would be nearly impossible.
The level of difficulty can be adjusted and set to numerous levels depending on the specific exercise, population, or level of challenge desired. Without making any adjustments and in its most raw state (the most advanced and unstable setting) the RPT device is the single most challenging unstable training device I’ve ever used. In fact, most individuals with the exception of gymnasts, free-stylers, parkour athletes, and figure skaters will find this setting nearly impossible to stabilize for most exercise variations. However, it does provide a unique goal and challenge for many athletes looking to improve their motor control and stability. In addition, this device provides immediate feedback in terms of symmetrical loading. In fact the most advanced setting is sensitive to the nearest few ounces of tension on either side. In essence placing even the slightest additional ounce of pressure to one side of the body will be made immediately evident as the RPT exposes even the most minor asymmetry, misalignment, and imbalance. Fortunately, the device comes with various springs that can be attached to the ends of the platform to help stabilize it. This allows for a number of adjustments all of which provide more manageable options.
In addition, the device can be offset by placing more springs/tension to one side, essentially turning various movements into unilateral or single-side dominant exercises. The user can also shift their stance to one side of the device to create a similar offset effect for unilateral or single-side dominant drills. Although the possibilities are endless for the RPT here are some of the various exercises I’ve used on myself and my athletes.
Lower Body Exercises
Performing lower body drills on the RPT looks somewhat simple and easy from a visual perspective. However, every athlete and client I’ve had try it has been pleasantly surprised if not semi- frustrated by how intense and difficult even the most basic drill can be. Simply holding an athletic position while maintaining balance will provide an exceptional challenge for most athletes particularly when attempted without springs to aid in stability. I currently work with a variety of collegiate and professional athletes as well as advanced clientele and not a single individual can hold this for longer than 10 seconds without one side of the device touching the floor.
Squats and hinge variations are also very effective yet incredibly challenging even with the addition of the stability springs. A handful of controlled repetitions on something as simple as a bodyweight squat produces significant activation, fatigue, and intramuscular tension as well as an incredible burn in every lower body muscle from the feet and ankles up to the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. In addition, the smaller stabilizers that are typically neglected also receive adequate stimulation. In fact, when it comes to training the feet and ankles, which happens to be one of the most neglected body parts, this is one of the most effective tools I’ve used.
As previously stated if you have an athlete or client who tends to favor one side of their body and load one leg more than the other or shift to one side, this compensation pattern and imbalance will be immediately exposed. However, attempting to stabilize the RPT while performing basic lower body movements helps to remedy these issues within minutes as it’s impossible to stabilize the device without near-perfect symmetry.
The RPT device is also very conducive for performing glute bridges and hip thrusts. Similar to the squats, not only is the lifter forced to use smooth form and eliminate excessive momentum (a common issue with glute isolation exercises), but any asymmetrical loading will be immediately evident. The level of glute and hamstring activation from one set of bodyweight bridges produces an incredible muscle-mind connection throughout the posterior chain. You can also shift over to one side or the other of the RPT device. This forces the lifter to place a majority of weight on only one side (in order to stabilize the platform) making the bridge feel like a brutal single-leg glute and hamstring drill.
The lunge is also a highly effective exercise for performing on the RPT. To perform these simply set one side with several springs. Performing lunges and split squats while maintaining balance will force the lifter to place a majority of weight on the front leg and deload the back leg – the proper method for performing lunges. Not only does this pulverize the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, as well as the smaller lower body stabilizers but it helps reinforce proper lunge mechanics as it instills optimal weight distribution, forward lean, and hip hinge mechanics. These are all components of proper lunge form that I’ve discussed extensively in various articles. Fortunately the lifter has no choice but to perform lunges properly when performed on the RPT.
Upper Body and Core Exercises
The RPT device is just as versatile for training the upper body and core as it is for the lower body. In fact, the device itself comes with detachable handles that can be adjusted in a number of ways to perform planks, pushups, and other upper body drills.
Similar to lower body exercises, these can give you immediate feedback about symmetry and alignment for the upper body, lower body, and core. By placing your feet on the device it can also provide immediate feedback about hip and lower body loading during core and anti-extension exercises which is highly valuable as most individuals tend to favor one side due to strength imbalances and compensation patterns.
In addition many of the plank and pushup variations provide some of the most challenging drills I’ve ever attempted for training the core and upper body.
Performing pushups in an off-set position by either loading springs to one side or simply shifting over to one side of the platform feels incredibly similar to a single arm pushup and nearly as brutal. Similarly, renegade rows, single arm planks, single leg planks, partner perturbation drills, ab walkouts, and ab rollouts allow for endless options for crushing the core and upper body. The stimulus to the chest, shoulders, triceps, lats, abs and entire core with these is extremely intense yet very effective. In addition, these drills do wonders for improving shoulder health and joint stability as well as proprioception and body awareness.
The RPT trainer is an incredibly unique, versatile, and effective training tool that any strength coach, therapist, personal trainer, and athlete would benefit from. It also provides some of the most physically demanding and difficult exercise variations I’ve ever attempted. If you’re looking to improve stability, motor control, symmetry, balance, body awareness, proprioception, joint health, muscle activation, and overall movement mechanics, this piece will provide significant value that can be incorporated into any training routine. In addition, I guarantee that your athletes and clients will both love and hate this device not only because of how intense and difficult the various exercises are but also because of the value and merit it provides.
Do yourself a favor and check out the RPT at https://baserpt.com and use the promo code “Seedman” to get $20 off your purchase.