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Real Core Training Part Four

Anti-Rotation

Like everything in the fitness world, core training has evolved.  When I bought my first bodybuilding magazine in the late 90s, the word “core” wasn’t even used.  Instead, you would find ab workouts, oblique workouts, and sometime, low back workouts.  Like pretty much everything in the 90s, muscles were trained in isolation with little concern for how the musculoskeletal system was designed to function as a unit.  We have come a long way in our understanding of physiology, biomechanics, and injury prevention/reduction.

The core used to be trained and often still is through movement: flexion (anterior), lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.  Sit ups, crunches, side bends, and Russian twists aim to strengthen the muscles concentrically and eccentrically.  These build mass and thickness to the core musculature.  The second way we train the core is to recognize it as a stabilizer of the low back and hips.  This involves training this musculature to resist movement.  When it comes to increasing strength, power, speed, and reducing injury, this training is more important than dynamically training the core.  This style of training is referred to as “anti-core training” because we are resisting flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation.  The other benefit of anti-core training is that it involves isometric contractions which are much less likely to create muscle hypertrophy, which individuals typically don’t want in their waist.  I typically recommend that 70-90% of your core training consist of anti-core work depending on your health/injury history and goals.

The key to good core training is understanding what you are trying to accomplish, as well as how to progress or regress the movement.  Here are the some of our favorites that we use at Fenton Fitness for each of the four anti-core categories.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Anti-Rotation

Tall Kneeling Pallof Press: Grab some elastic tubing or a cable (anchored to something sturdy) and assume a tall kneeling position.  Hold with both hands and press outward away from body.  Do not allow your body to twist or rotate.  Increase load or stretch on tubing to increase difficulty.  Work up to 12 reps per side.

Half Kneeling Pallof Press: Set up in a half kneeling position.  Use the same execution as the tall kneeling version.  Make sure that you don’t allow your legs/hips to lean or twist.  Work up to 12 reps per side.

Standing Pallof Press: Assume an athletic stance with your feet just outside of shoulder width, slight bend in the knees, and slightly flexed at the hips.  Execute the same movement as you would for the tall or half kneeling Pallof press. Work up to 12 reps per side.

One Leg Pallof Press: Stand on one leg with the other leg flexed at 90 degrees at the foot, knee, and hip.  Execute the Pallof press the same way as the standing Pallof press. This is a much more a balance and overall body stability drill.  Tension/resistance will need to be reduced.  Be slow and gradual with your increases in load, volume, or frequency to allow your knee time to adapt.  Work up to 12 reps per side.

PUPP with alternating arm raise:  Assume a push up position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width.  Raise one arm out in front of your body while maintaining spine and pelvic positions.  A wider feet position makes the movement more stable and easier, while a narrower foot position increases difficulty.  You can also slow the movement to increase difficulty.  Remember, top priority is no hip/spine movement before trying to increase difficulty.  Work up to 10 per side.

Landmine Anti-Rotations:  Place a barbell in a landmine and assume an athletic position.  Press the landmine away from your body and slowly make a rainbow arching pattern moving the barbell from one hip to the other.  Make sure that only your shoulder/elbow joints move, everything else stays stiff.  Work up to 10 reps per side.

Crawl: Get on your hands and knees with your toes dug into the ground.  Lift your knees slightly off the ground.  Keeping your back flat and stable, move your opposite hand and foot to crawl forward or backward.  Work up to 50 yards.

For video demonstration of these exercises, click here

Real Core Training Part Three

Anti-Extension

Like everything in the fitness world, core training has evolved.  When I bought my first bodybuilding magazine in the late 90s, the word “core” wasn’t even used.  Instead, you would find ab workouts, oblique workouts, and sometime, low back workouts.  Like pretty much everything in the 90s, muscles were trained in isolation with little concern for how the musculoskeletal system was designed to function as a unit.  We have come a long way in our understanding of physiology, biomechanics, and injury prevention/reduction.

The core used to be trained and often still is through movement: flexion (anterior), lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.  Sit ups, crunches, side bends, and Russian twists aim to strengthen the muscles concentrically and eccentrically.  These build mass and thickness to the core musculature.  The second way we train the core is to recognize it as a stabilizer of the low back and hips.  This involves training this musculature to resist movement.  When it comes to increasing strength, power, speed, and reducing injury, this training is more important than dynamically training the core.  This style of training is referred to as “anti-core training” because we are resisting flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation.  The other benefit of anti-core training is that it involves isometric contractions which are much less likely to create muscle hypertrophy, which individuals typically don’t want in their waist.  I typically recommend that 70-90% of your core training consist of anti-core work depending on your health/injury history and goals.

The key to good core training is understanding what you are trying to accomplish, as well as how to progress or regress the movement.  Here are the some of our favorites that we use at Fenton Fitness for each of the four anti-core categories.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Anti-Exension

Supine Bent Knee March

Lay on your back and lift your legs off the ground with your knees and hips at 90 degree angles.  Posteriorly tilt your hips so that your low back is pressed firmly into the ground.  Slowly lower one heel to the ground keeping your knee at 90 degrees and not allowing your low back to lift off the floor.  Bring this leg back up and repeat on the other side.  Work up to 10 reps per side.

Bent Leg Dead Bug

Assume the same position as the previous exercise.  Reach your arms straight up to the ceiling.  Keep your low back pressed into the floor and straighten one leg, getting the heel as close to the ground as possible without touching.  Simultaneously reach the opposite arm overhead without quite touching the ground.

Straight Leg Dead Bug

Lay on your back with your legs and arms all reaching up toward the ceiling.  Keep your leg straight. and slowly lower it toward the ground while simultaneously reaching overhead with the opposite arm.  Don’t allow your foot or arm to rest on the ground, and keep your low back pressed into the floor.

Hollow Body Hold

Lay on your back and press your low back into the floor.  Lift your feet, shoulders, and arms off the floor, keeping your low back pressed into the floor.  Keep your feet and arms as close to the ground as possible while also keeping your low back on the ground.  Hold for up to 60 seconds.

Plank

Lay on your stomach and place your elbows under your shoulders.  Put your feet together and lift your hips off the ground.  Maintain neutral lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine positions. Contract your glutes, pull your ribs down with a forceful exhalation, and try to pull your elbows toward your toes (they won’t actually move) to engage your lats.  Try to create maximum full body tension.  Hold for up to 30 seconds.

Long Lever Plank

Use the same set up and execution as the plank, except that the elbows will be farther out in front of the shoulders.  The farther forward the elbows, the harder this will be.  Work up to 30 seconds.

Body Saw

Use the set up the same as the plank only with carpet sliders under your toes.  Use your shoulders to slide yourself into the long lever position and then slide back.  Make sure you maintain spinal and pelvis positioning during the whole movement.  Work up to 12 reps.

Physioball Rollouts

Start in a tall kneeling position with a Physioball at arm’s length in front of you.  Pull your ribs down and engage your glutes.  Allow your body to fall forward by letting your hands and forearms roll up onto the ball.  Once you feel you are going to break lumbopelvic positioning, reverse the movement to get you back to your starting position.  Work up to 10 reps.

TRX Fallouts

Use the same set up as with the physioball, but use a suspension trainer instead.  Set up with straps at mid-thigh height.  Execute in the same manner.  Lower the strap starting position to increase difficulty.  Work up to 10 reps.

Ab Wheel/Dolly Rollouts

Set up on your knees with your hands on an ab wheel or dolly and place your hands directly under your shoulders.  Begin to fall forward by flexing the shoulder (overhead) and extending the hips.  Go forward as far as possible without losing spinal positioning and then reverse movement back to the start.  Make sure shoulder and hip joints extend/flex at the same speed.

For video demonstration of these exercises, click here

Real Core Training Part Two

Anti-Lateral Flexion

Like everything in the fitness world, core training has evolved.  When I bought my first bodybuilding magazine in the late 90s, the word “core” wasn’t even used.  Instead, you would find ab workouts, oblique workouts, and sometime, low back workouts.  Like pretty much everything in the 90s, muscles were trained in isolation with little concern for how the musculoskeletal system was designed to function as a unit.  We have come a long way in our understanding of physiology, biomechanics, and injury prevention/reduction.

The core used to be trained and often still is through movement: flexion (anterior), lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.  Sit ups, crunches, side bends, and Russian twists aim to strengthen the muscles concentrically and eccentrically.  These build mass and thickness to the core musculature.  The second way we train the core is to recognize it as a stabilizer of the low back and hips.  This involves training this musculature to resist movement.  When it comes to increasing strength, power, speed, and reducing injury, this training is more important than dynamically training the core.  This style of training is referred to as “anti-core training” because we are resisting flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation.  The other benefit of anti-core training is that it involves isometric contractions which are much less likely to create muscle hypertrophy, which individuals typically don’t want in their waist.  I typically recommend that 70-90% of your core training consist of anti-core work depending on your health/injury history and goals.

The key to good core training is understanding what you are trying to accomplish, as well as how to progress or regress the movement.  Here are the some of our favorites that we use at Fenton Fitness for each of the four anti-core categories.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Anti-Lateral Flexion

Bent Knee Side Plank

Lay on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder and line your knees up below your hips.  Lift your hips off the ground and hold.  Work up to 45 seconds.

Side Plank

Lay on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder and straighten your legs out.  Stack your legs on top of each other and lift your hips off the ground.  Hold for up to 60 seconds.

Side Plank with Top Leg Elevated

Position yourself in the same set up as the side plank.  Once your hips are lifted off the ground, you will move your top leg away from the bottom leg.  Make sure that you don’t flex either hip when raising the top leg.  Work up to 30 seconds.

Side Plank with Top Leg on Bench

Lay on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder.  Place your top leg on top of a bench.  Lift your hips off the ground.  The bottom leg can squeeze the bottom of the bench or dangle in the air.

Suitcase Hold

Grab a KB/DB in one hand, stand tall, and maintain a neutral lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine position. Make sure your shoulder blades stay down and back.  If possible, watch yourself in the mirror to ensure you aren’t leaning.  Hold for up to 60 seconds.

Suitcase Carry

Assume the same set up as the suitcase hold.  Start walking with a normal gait.  Make sure to not lean excessively.  Start with 20 yards per side and work up to 100 yards.

For video demonstration of these exercises, click here

Lumbar Spine Fitness Guidelines

Janet injured her lower back while exercising in her local gym.  She was taking a trip through her favorite “ab ciruit” when she felt a snap in her lumbar spine.  The next day she was unable to stand up straight.  Two weeks later, we met her in physical therapy for her initial evaluation.  She was ready to return to her fitness program three weeks later.  Janet was very concerned she may suffer another exercise induced back injury and requested some advice.  These are the simple guidelines I give to physical therapy low back patients returning to exercise.

Mobilize the Thoracic Spine and Hips

Movement is supposed to happen at the thoracic spine and hips.  Unfortunately, prolonged sitting, deconditioning, and poor training choices tends to restrict mobility in these areas.  If you are unable to rotate and extend at the hips and thoracic spine, your brain will use other joints to make up for the deficit.  Pushing extra rotation and extension forces into your lumbar spine is never a good thing.  Dedicate some training time to improving thoracic spine rotation and hip extension / internal rotation range of motion.  If you sit for a living, work on your mobility everyday.

Make the Lumbar Spine Stable

Most fitness clients believe that more lumbar spine movement is a good thing.  They perform toe touches, back twists, and the many breeds of up and down dogs.  Unfortunately, greater lumbar spine range of motion is positively correlated with a higher incidence of lower back pain.  The incidence of low back pain escalates even further when we move those hypermobile lumbar spine segments against a resistance.  What does keep lumbar spines healthy is high level of lumbar spine strength endurance.  Can you hold the lumbar spine stable and prevent movement from occurring at the pelvis and five lumbar vertebrae.  Your lumbar spine stays happy and healthy when you focus training efforts on planks, roll outs, crawls, carries, and Pallof press exercises.  Avoid the sit ups, crunches, sidebends, toes to bar, and other assorted “ab” exercises that create lots lumbar spine motion.

Avoid Muscle Isolation Exercise Activities

The muscles that support the lumbar spine work together as part of a neurally connected team.  Training activities that support better communication between the team members will create optimal performance.  The neuroanatomy saying is “What fires together, wires together”.  Ditch the “upper abs”, “lower abs” baloney and sprint away from anyone who trys to strap you into a machine in an effort to “isolate your obliques”.

On her discharge from therapy, Janet was unable to perform a single roll out and fatigue fairly quickly with a twelve pound suitcase carry.  For the last three months, she has followed the guidelines and her progress has been excellent.   Janet is currently performing a suitcase carry with fifty pounds and has worked up to ten full reps on an ab wheel roll out.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

In the April 2018 issue, Mike O’Hara discusses the benefits of the farmer’s walk exercise. Jeff Tirrell tells you how to reduce injury to your ligaments and tendons, and tips are given for getting back out into the garden.

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Spring Trap

Preventing Gardener’s Trauma

After a long, snowy Michigan winter, the first warm and sunny day, we charge outside and clean up the yard.  The months snow bound in the house have made the gardeners eager to start the spring clean up and prepare for the summer to come.  Most of us will spend the winter in a fairly sedentary physical state and with no physical preparation to launch into hours of challenging outdoor work activity.  Every year at our clinics, we treat patients with gardening and yard work induced injuries that could have been prevented with some modifications of activity and preventative exercise.  These are my four hints to help safeguard my gardener friends from an unintended trip to the doctor’s office.

#1: Set a Time Limit.

Most of the patients we see with gardener trauma report that they worked “all afternoon” in the yard.  It is not uncommon to hear patients report they were bending, pushing, or pulling for five or six hours.  Use some caution and limit the duration of your weeding, raking, and shoveling.  Set a time limit of two hours and then stop–the garden will be their tomorrow and you will be less likely to have to undergo a springtime MRI.

#2: Use Proper Ergonomics.

Many gardening tasks place your body in challenging positions.  Ergonomic experts go to great lengths to eliminate forward trunk flexion and sustained knee flexion from industrial work settings.  Pulling weeds and cleaning out flowerbeds combines both of these positions and can create mechanical back and knee pain.  Avoid being in the “hands and knees” position for extended periods of time by changing positions frequently.  Use knee pads to reduce compressive forces on the knee joints and purchase gardening tools with extended handles so that you need not bend as far or as often.

#3: Avoid Lifting Heavy Objects.

After a sedentary winter spent indoors watching television and knitting, the last thing you should attempt is to hoist the 40 lb. bag of fertilizer into the back of the wheelbarrow. Lifting injuries increase dramatically with loads greater than 25 pounds.  Lifting any object from the floor to standing is risky, and carrying unstable loads that can shift around increases stress on the body.  Divide heavy loads into smaller portions and avoid lifting directly off the floor.  Get a bigger, stronger, and fitter neighbor or family member to help with heavy lifting tasks.

#4: Prepare For Battle.

Gardening and yard work are challenging tasks that should be met with a degree of preparation.  If you want to work for five hours in the garden and remain pain free, you must train your body for that level of activity.  I have selected three simple exercises you can do to get yourself ready for action in the yard.  Simple modification of ergonomics, limitations on work duration, and preparatory exercise can prevent a summer of pain.

Getting Ready To Toil In The Soil.

These three exercises can help you avoid injury and make your spring gardening safer and more productive.  Ideally you will perform these drills three times a week for two or three weeks before getting outside and working.

Hip Flexor Stretches

This stretch elongates the large muscle that runs across the front of the hip and attaches to the spine.  This region tends to tighten with prolonged sitting and can restrict hip and spinal motion.  Place one knee up on a cushioned chair and the other foot slightly forward on the floor.  Keep the spine tall and bend the front knee to stretch the hip flexor muscles.  Hold for five to ten seconds and repeat five times.  Perform the stretch on the other side.

Four Point Fold Ups

If you are going to spend time on all fours, it is a good idea to train your body for this task.  Assume a four-point position, knees under the hips and hands under the shoulders.  Keep the hands stationary and drop the hips back toward the heels.  Go back to the point you feel a stretch and hold–do not stretch into pain.  You may feel this in your hips, shoulders, lower back, or upper back.  Hold for five to ten seconds and repeat five times.

Bodyweight Squats

Gardening and yard work involves a lot of squatting.  Being able to safely squat allows you to lift with better body mechanics.  Simple bodyweight squats will strengthen the legs and trunk in preparation for these tasks.  Place your feet at least shoulder width apart.  Check the foot width with a full length mirror– most people squat with the feet too close together.   Keep the heels flat on the floor and squat down by pushing the hips back.  Work on maintaining balance and control during the motion.  Practicing this movement pattern will also improve your flexibility.  Perform a series of ten repetitions and then rest and perform another set of ten.

Michael O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

In the February issue of our newsletter, Mike O’Hara discusses ways to improve hip mobility and strength.  Read Jeff Tirrell’s article on why dairy products may actually be good for you.  Having back pain doesn’t mean you can’t have a fitness program.

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Finding Fitness With Lower Back Pain

The number of USA emergency room visits, pain medication orders, injections, imaging studies, and surgical interventions directed at lower back pain continue to rise.  I frequently meet people who report their fitness efforts have been hampered by low back pain.  I have five recommendations that can help fitness clients with lower back pain have more success in the gym.

#1 Do not exercise first thing in the morning:  Ergonomic experts have found that many more industrial lower back injuries happen in the morning.  The theory is that the discs in the lower back imbibe or gain fluid overnight and are more likely to deform with a physical challenge.  Give your lower back one or two hours of walking around time before starting an exercise session.

#2 Isometric strengthening of the spinal stabilizers:  The function of your “core” muscles is to limit movement of the lumbar spine and pelvis.  Stop all crunches, toes to bar, sidebends, sit ups, seated twisting, and learn how to perform bird dogs, side hovers, Pallof press, planks, and carries.  Compliance with this single hint would reduce USA expenditures on lower back pain dramatically.

#3 Enhance the function of your hip flexors and gluteal muscles: Please cease all the forward spine flexion, toe touching, spine twisting activities.  Greater lumbar spine range of motion is associated with more–not less, lower back pain problems.  Learn how to foam roll and mobilize the hip flexors and gluteal muscles.  Prolonged sitting and most popular “cardio training” deadens these muscles.  Properly functioning hip flexors and gluteal muscles keep the pelvis stable and take stress off the lower back.  Reawakening dormant gluteals and hip flexors is the magic that resolves long term lower back pain.

#4 Focus on single leg strength training:  Ditch the front loaded hip hinges–deadlifts, cleans, snatch, and drop the loaded squats.  Swear off the lower lumbar deranging leg press.  Reduce spinal compression and train the legs, one at a time.  Single leg training reveals the right / left side movement asymmetries that drive lower back pain.  Resolving these asymmetries and sparing the spine goes a long way to abolishing back pain.  You will need some guidance on exercise selection and execution- this brings me to #5.

#5 Get some help:  Exercise is the most powerful medication on the planet.  Nothing else comes close.  Take the proper dose of appropriate training and the results will be amazing.  Take the wrong dose of an inappropriate activity and the results can be devastating.  This is especially true for people with a history of lower back pain.  Find a qualified physical therapist to guide you through your fitness journey.  One way or the other, you are going to spend time and money on your health.  Proactive spending is always cheaper and more beneficial than reactive spending.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

 

In the January 2018 issue, Mike O’Hara focuses on strengthening your hamstrings.  Exercises to make your hamstrings stronger, not longer are given along with video demonstration.  Jeff Tirrell tells us how to make incremental changes in our diets to see positive changes, and the spotlight is on Fenton Fitness member, Robin Forstat–a nationally ranked power lifter.
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Learn how to keep your spinal stabilizers strong by performing side planks.  Mike O’Hara explains this in his article, “Learning to Lean”, and includes video demonstration and explanation of the importance keeping your stabilizers strong to stand up to the demands of daily life. It’s time for another Fenton Fitness Love Your Jeans Challenge–see page 3 for more information. In his article, “The Periodization of Nutrition”, Jeff Tirrell gives tips on optimizing dietary intake.

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