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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

Happy Brain Exercises

Daily Neurodevelopmental Brain Boosters

Exercise improves brain neurochemistry, neural connections, and even the number of brain neurons.  I have two suggestions on the best exercise activities to improve brain health.  They both have roots in human neurodevelopment and can be employed by nearly everyone.  Build better brain health with a walk and a crawl.

Walking 101

Morning walks work magic.  Many top leaders talk about how much better they think and analyze when they start the day with exercise.  If you are the decision maker for your family or company, please take a morning walk.

Cadence Counts.  If you are moving at 60 steps a minute, you are not walking, you are strolling.  A compilation of many studies has found that 100 steps per minute as the sweet spot for walkers under the age of sixty.  The data for older walkers has yet to be fully evaluated, but it appears the cadence should not slow much below 100.

Tune in.  Ditch the earbuds.  Tame the dopamine damage of “connectivity” and leave the phone at home.  Be alone with your thoughts for the duration of your walk.  Gandhi, St. Augustine, Thomas Jefferson tell us that difficult problems are resolved with contemplative walks.

Get off the pavement.  The human species evolved walking through undeveloped environments.  Take your walk to a quitter and more tranquil setting.  More trees, less noise, and serene surroundings provide a calmer event.  I personally believe that uneven and inclined pathways do a better job at stimulating neurodevelopmental pathways.

Get comfortable with a long walk.  Thirty minutes a day is great, but once a week go for a sixty-minute walk.  Stretch out the distance you can travel.  Load up a backpack with water and try a two hour ruck walk.  There is no greater brain regenerating activity than a long October nature walk in Michigan.

“Walking is the best possible exercise.  Habituate yourself to walk very far.”

-Thomas Jefferson

All Crawl

It does not matter if you are an Ashtanga Yoga devotee, hard style kettlebell lifter, Crossfit firebreather, PureBarre, or Pilates disciple, there is one exercise that everyone in the fitness world has performed.  For many months we all diligently worked on becoming better at this exercise and it rewarded us with crucial neural connections.  The bad news is that most of us have stopped using this exercise.  The good news is that we can still use the crawl pattern and reboot the brain connections that allowed us to stand and walk.

More of your brain is devoted to movement than any other activity.  Despite what you have read, muscles never work in isolation.  Our muscles are arranged in an interconnected, spiral, and diagonal fashion.  The “core muscles” are neurologically wired to connect your left hip with the right shoulder and the right hip with the left shoulder.  They are designed to stabilize your middle so you can transfer force from the hips to the shoulders.  Crawling is all about that critical, spiral-diagonal connection.

Try adding two crawl training sessions a week to your fitness program.  Crawls are one of those exercises that produce the “What the heck?” effect.  Other activities of daily living suddenly become easier.  Joints move better, posture improves, and long standing soreness resolves.  Just ask any baby.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

PDFIn this issue, Mike O’Hara, PT gives ten reasons to love lunges.  Video of lunge exercises/progressions are included.  In Going Grizzly, Mike presents the exercise combination of Crawls and Sandbag Carries; a combination that helps you train more efficiently and move better.  Watch the video for instruction on these exercises.

Download Here

Crawl and Bearhug Sandbag Carry

When designing programs for rehabilitation patients and fitness clients, I often pair up exercises.  This practice is commonly called super-setting and it has multiple benefits:
Train efficiently—You get much more work done during your training time.  
Abolish performance deficits—Most physical therapy and fitness clients need to work on glaring right vs. left movement asymmetries, postural restrictions, and stability limitations.  
Lose weight—Fat loss is a primary goal of most fitness clients.  Pairing exercises ramps up exercise intensity and creates the hormonal response that improves body composition.  
Move better—Training neurologically related movement patterns improves motor control.   

Crawl and Bearhug Sandbag Carry

A finisher is a short but intense, high metabolic cost, training event performed at the end of an exercise session.  The best finishers create carry over to real life activities and can be made more challenging as you become more fit.  When linked to proper diet, finishers produce the “metabolic hit” that stimulates fat loss.  As the name implies, you always perform finishers at the end of your workout because, afterwards, you will not want to do anything else.

Crawl
Crawling is all about the spiral, diagonal force connection that happens through the middle of the body.  Crawling is the primal exercise that enabled us to stand and walk.  The “core muscles” neurologically connect the left hip with the right shoulder and the right hip with the left shoulder.  They stabilize the pelvis and spine so you can transfer force from the hips to the shoulders.  Crawling keeps that connection healthy and strong.

Bear Hug Sandbag Carry

sandbagThe bear hug sandbag carry is the cure for the epidemic of device disability syndrome (DDS).  This exercise reverses all of the weakness that is created by endless hours planted in a chair, staring into a screen.  Sandbag carries are functional core stability work.  The abdominal muscles interact with the muscles in the legs and shoulder girdle to hold a stable upright position.  Walking with a sandbag kicks starts your postural reflexes, the neural feedback mechanism that holds us up against gravity.  Do not go too heavy on the sandbag.  You should be able to stay tall and not stagger or lean forward.

The routine is simple:  Crawl for twenty yards—ten yards down and ten yards back.  Try to keep the knees close to the floor and the back flat.  Immediately after finishing the crawl, pick up the sandbag with a bear hug hold- no hands linked- and carry it for twenty yards.  Rest as needed and repeat.  Start out with three circuits and increase to five.  Try to keep the rest periods under thirty seconds.  Once you get up to five circuits, add a weight vest and then a heavier sandbag.  Modify the distance, load, and cycles to suit your needs.  Give the crawl/bear hug carry combo finisher a try and let me know how it goes.

View video of Mike performing sandbag carries here: https://youtu.be/Ygg2vbf-Uoo

-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

 

Most fitness folks go to the gym to reduce body fat levels and improve strength. They have busy lives and limited time available to spend on exercise. Many of them have prior orthopedic problems and movement limitations that require modification of training activities. They want the most benefit for the time they invest at the gym. These people do well with regular performance of what I call functional finishers.

A “finisher” is performed at the end of the workout. They deliver the hormonal responses that metabolize fat and improve work capacity. Functional finishers are designed to be joint friendly, scalable to any fitness level, and time efficient. Functional finishers carry over to better performance outside of the gym. You are stronger, more durable, and move better with consistent performance of functional finishers. Unlike the traditional 30 minutes of cardio they replace, functional finishers take less than twelve minutes to perform. They require effort and a willingness to push through a degree of discomfort.

SANDBAG CARRY / CRAWL

I got this one from strength coach Dan John. I have used this set up successfully with many fitness clients. Pick a sandbag that you can carry on the front of your body, not over your shoulder, for twenty yards. Be reasonable and choose a load that enables you to walk with a steady, upright, and tall gait. Walk twenty yards with the sandbag and then put the sandbag down and immediately crawl forward for ten yards. Rest for thirty seconds and repeat the crawl/carry combo. Perform three to five sets. When five sets starts getting easier increase the carry distance to thirty yards and the crawl to fifteen yards.044

GOBLET SQUAT / SLED PUSH

Find a kettlebell you can goblet squat for fifteen repetitions. Load up a sled with 50% to 100% of your body weight. Perform ten goblet squats and then immediately push the sled for twenty yards. Your sled push should be a smooth and steady cadence—not a sprint and not a plow horse pace. Rest for no more than thirty seconds and repeat. I figure the weight of the kettlebell into the load on the sled and place it on the sled so it travels with me and is ready for the next set. Perform three or four sets.

180 YARD SHUTTLE RUN / OVERHEAD MED BALL THROWS

You need some open space, a medicine ball, and a wall. Run down thirty yards and then back thirty yards three times for a total of 180 yards. Immediately afterward perform ten overhead medicine ball throws off the wall—use a four or six pound ball. Keep the feet planted and parallel to the wall. Throw with the entire body and not just the arms. Let the ball bounce of the floor. Rest for forty-five seconds and then repeat. Perform two or three circuits.

If your goal is fat loss, what you eat remains the most important aspect of your fitness program. Functional finishers are an effective method of ramping up your results. Give them a try.

-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Go, Baby

The Tiger Crawl Brings It All Together

We all owned this move at one time.  We all could crawl, and we did it very well.  Infants can motor along at a full speed crawl, but many adults are unable to even get in the crawl position.  Getting back to performing some four point crawling helps restore mobility, coordination, and balance, and it makes you a better runner.

Rebooting Your Neural Software
The crawling we did as a child helped develop the neural connections that enable us to walk.  All of us have established neural pathways for crawling.  They are just cluttered up and inhibited by prior injuries, poor posture, bad training habits, and a sedentary lifestyle.  Performing some crawls brings these pathways back to life.

Reciprocal Gait Pattern
We move in an opposite arm, opposite leg pattern.  Walking, jogging, and sprinting all involve this cross body connection that efficiently propels our body.   Most fitness activities have minimal or no activation of the reciprocal pattern of walking and running.  You activate this reciprocal pattern of motion with the crawl.

Better Hip Mobility, Core Stability, and Posture
We are a nation of sitters.  Prolonged sitting is not a normal activity.  It promotes tight and weak hips and shoulders, inhibits the function of the core stabilizers, and destroys your posture.  We need some training that moves us out of the sitting position, activates our core, takes the hips through their normal range of motion, and drives the postural muscles.

Cross Body Core Stability
Our muscles are arranged in an interconnected, spiral, and diagonal fashion.  They are wired to connect your left hip with the right shoulder and the right hip with the left shoulder.  The “core muscles” are designed to stabilize your middle so you can produce a better shoulder to hip connection.  Crawling creates the anti-rotation and anti-extension force these muscles must control.

Tiger Crawl
I like to perform all crawl activities on a turf surface or carpet.  Grass fields hide rocks, broken glass, and other objects to avoid.  Get down on all fours.  Lift the knees off the floor and bring the right knee up to the right elbow.  The left arm is extended forward and the left leg back.  Pull the left leg up to the left elbow and move forward with the right arm as you extend the right leg.  Your pelvis must stay stable as you move the hips into alternate flexion and extension.  Try to keep the butt down and maintain a consistent and even reach with the limbs.   Strive for full extension and flexion at the hips.  Three sets of fifteen to twenty yards is a good start.

Tiger Crawl Progressions
Weight Vest Tiger Crawl
Put on your weight vest and go.  This progression is an upper body intensive activity.  I find my shoulders and upper back are the weak link in the chain.  Many collegiate wrestling, football, and rugby programs use this drill.

Sled Tiger Crawl
Load up a sled and use a belt or shoulder harness and crawl.  This variation helps develop better hip mobility and hip adductor strength.  Keep the weights conservative and maintain proper spinal posture and full hip drive.

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

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