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flexion

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

Real Core Training Part One

Anti-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-Flexion

Kettlebell/Dumbbell (KB/DB) Throat Holds

Grab a KB/DB and hold it in the goblet position directly under your chin.  Stand tall and maintain a neutral lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine position.  Don’t allow the weight to rest on your chest.  Hold this position for up to 60 seconds.

KB/DB Throat Carry

Once you’ve mastered Throat Holds, you are ready to walk.  Position yourself in the same set up, but now you are going to walk while maintaining the same upper body posture and a normal gait.  Start with 20 yards and work your way up to 100.

Hyperextension Bench ISO Lumbar Extensions

Set yourself up on the hyperextension bench with the thigh pad below your hips and above your knees.  Assume a neutral lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine position. Hold this position for up to 45 seconds before adding weight.

Glute Ham Bench ISO Lumbar Extensions

Position yourself in the same setup as with the hyperextension bench but use the glute ham developer bench. Work up to 30 second holds before adding weight.

For video demonstration of these exercises, click here

Three Gifts I Would Give And Three I Would Take Away

Santa Gives You Gluteal Activation
You need a responsive and strong set of butt muscles to function at optimal levels. Many gym goers have gluteal muscles that are neurologically disconnected.  The term physical therapists and strength coaches use is “gluteal amnesia.”  Our sedentary lifestyle involves very little of the glute recruiting sprinting, deep squatting, and climbing that activates the butt muscles.  We mistreat our gluteal muscles with hours of compressive sitting and little in the way of full range hip movement.  Most fitness clients are in need of some intensive gluteal training.  The hip lift is a simple exercise activity that produces a superior response.  See the attached video for a demonstration.

Scrooge the Lumbar Spine Flexion
Drop the sit ups, stop doing crunches, ditch the glute ham developer sit ups, and forgo the toes to bar competitions.  Father time, gravity, and the stress of prolonged sitting are already bending our lumbar spines forward all day long.  The last thing you need to do is accelerate degenerative breakdown of the lumbar segments with more repetitions of spine flexion.  Please forget about isolating abdominal muscles.  Instead learn how to control the team of muscles that hold the lumbar spine stable.  It is a neural event that is worthy of all your efforts.

Santa Gives You Medicine Ball Throws
medballLife is an up tempo game.  What you do in the gym is reflected in how well you can move during activities of daily living.  If you continually exercise at slow tempos you will get better at moving slowly.  The capacity to decelerate a fall requires fast reactions.  Gracefully traveling up the stairs and getting out of the car are only improved with exercise that enhances power and speed of movement.  Medicine ball throws are the easiest way to improve power.  Medicine ball throws can be scaled to all fitness levels and are safe as long as you use a properly sized and weighted ball.  The large, soft Dynamax balls are a good choice for beginners.  They rebound well off of the block walls in the gym and are easy to catch.  Do not overload your medicine ball throws, a two to eight pound ball is best for most gym goers.  Get with one of the trainers for instruction on adding medicine ball throws to your training program.

Scrooge Sitting Down in the Gym
Movement happens in an upright, standing position.  “Seated exercise” is an oxymoron.  If you want to improve how your body functions, you must stand up and defy gravity. Every athletic endeavor is performed in a standing position. Seated exercise reinforces poor postural habits and diminishes your capacity to move.  I call it the “illusion of exercise” and it will always be highly visible in commercial gyms because it is easy to sell.

Santa Gives You Four-Point Training
Crawling is the neurological training tool an infant uses to develop the capacity to stand and walk.  It is the pathway to better motor control and less pain.  Nearly every physical therapy patient and most fitness clients benefit from a healthy dose of four-point position exercise.  In your fitness program, reinforce the patterns of spinal stability and reboot the postural reflexes with some horse stance horizontal, crawling, and Jacobs Ladder training.   Four-point training can be scaled to any fitness level.  Watch the attached video for some examples.

Scrooge Elliptical Training
I know you love the elliptical.  It is the no impact, cardio darling of the gym but it should be used as a fitness dessert and not a main course.  Elliptical training has multiple drawbacks.  Ergonomically, it is a one size for everyone apparatus that does not work well for taller or shorter people.  When you walk or run, you improve the important skill of stabilizing your body over one leg.  An elliptical keeps both feet stapled to the machine and deadens any neural enhancement of balance or single leg stability.  Hip extension keeps our back healthy and our body athletic.  Maintaining or improving hip extension should be part of every training session.  There is no hip extension produced when you train on an elliptical.  Many people maintain a flexed spine when they use an elliptical.  Sitting produces the flexed forward spine we all need to work against in our fitness programs.  The repetitive use of the shoulder girdle is a frequent generator of referrals to physical therapy for head and neck pain.  Metabolic adaptation to elliptical training happens fairly quickly.  In January, a 30 minute session burns 330 calories, but by June, your body becomes more efficient and that same routine creates only a 240 calorie deficit.  The low impact, reduced weight bearing nature of an elliptical makes it a poor choice in your fight against osteoporosis.

I am happy when people are more active.  Patients and fitness clients love the elliptical and they believe it helps.  Use that belief to keep you motivated and training.  I just want everyone to manage the drawbacks of this type of training.  Injured people always say “Why didn’t someone tell me?”  Before you jump on the elliptical, take ten minutes and improve your core stability and hip function with some four-point exercises and hip lifts.  Learn how to throw a medicine ball and stay standing through the rest of your training program.  Next Christmas you will thank me.

Merry Christmas and a Humbug to you.

See video of Mike in the gym demonstrating these exercises here: https://youtu.be/H0my94BPHNQ

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Nothing slows down your progress toward greater fitness and better performance than an injury. Bad combinations of exercises during a training session can set you up for a big crash. Poor exercise programming produces the joint overload or connective tissue stress that produces pain. Lumbar flexion activities combined with an exercise that compresses the lumbar spine is one of the more Hernaited_Disccommon killer combinations.

Here are some examples of lumbar flexion activities combined with exercise that increase lumbar intervertebral pressure. I am seeing these killer combos more frequently during my visits to the gym.

-Ten GHD sit ups followed by fifteen American Swings.

-Twenty medicine ball rotational crunches followed by a sixty yard farmers carry.

-Rowing machine for 500 meters followed by barbell on back walking lunges.

-Five toes to bar and then five barbell cleans.

-Five minutes of super slumped power texting followed by three heavy deadlifts.

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