Real Core Training Part Two
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
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.
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.
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.
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
How To Start Working Out
*How to Start Working Out, is a great article by Anahad O’Connor. Most media articles on developing the fitness habit are fairly flawed, but Mr. O’Connor has done well. I am encouraged because he discusses two of the more important aspects of fitness success: process goals and strength training.
Developing and maintaining the fitness habit is a motivational mind game. Having a goal provides the emotional reinforcement necessary to be successful. Most fitness clients set outcome goals—they want to lose twenty pounds, get stronger, or run a 5 kilometer race in record time. Outcome goals are achieved through proper nutrition and consistent training. Outcome goals are achieved through the development of a better life process. I try to steer clients toward process goals—eat more protein, sleep better, daily mobility sessions, etc… Process goals are the building blocks of fitness success and focus on your life outside of the gym. Setting and achieving process goals creates the environment for achieving nearly everyone’s outcome goals. Stronger, leaner, pain free, and faster will all follow when you have better life processes working in your favor.
Every expert on habit development recommends a paper and pen. Writing it down is part of the commitment to fitness. Record your process goals in an exercise log book or a nutrition diary. Process goals that have worked well for fitness clients are listed below.
-Perform a daily five minute foam roll / mobility session for the next forty days.
-Weigh every serving of food you consume for the next two weeks.
-Take a thirty-minute walk for forty consecutive days.
-Get an extra hour of sleep every night for the next two months.
-Drop all sweetened drinks (juice, soda, sports drinks) for three months.
-Learn how to prepare a new healthy meal every week for six months.
Older, deconditioned, and metabolically challenged fitness clients will develop the fitness habit more readily with a dedication to process goals. Build on the habits created by achieving ever more challenging process goals and you will reach all of your outcome goals.
When you get stronger, the magic happens. It is really that simple. If you want to be leaner—get stronger. If you want to chase away the pain—get stronger. If you want to improve your performance—get stronger. If you want to prevent injuries—get stronger. If you want to be active and vital into old age—get stronger. The problem is that many barriers exist to the strength solution.
For best results, we need to start early. An adequate strength level keeps you functioning well for a lifetime. If in your early years, you were fairly sedentary, you need to get busy and strength train. As we age, we lose a portion of our lean tissue, and if you have less muscle and bone “in the bank” you will reach your fifties and sixties in a weak and frail body. Age related sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) is one of the primary drivers of metabolic problems such as diabetese, hyperlipidemia, and chronic inflammation. Today’s children are growing up with fewer episodes of bone and muscle building lifting and carrying activities. I see teens nearly every day with lower back, knee, and hip pain all related to glaring strength deficits.
A lack of proper coaching and progressive programming are barriers to your strength training success. Strength training is like medicine; given the proper prescription and dose, the results are consistently good. Many of the people that have tried strength training and had bad results have taken the wrong medicine at the wrong dose. They utilize advice from magazines, celebrity trainers, and the internet. They confuse pharmaceutically assisted bodybuilding programs as appropriate strength training for a forty year old. The best results are achieved when you work closely with a qualified coach who can monitor your results and teach you how to get stronger.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS< CSCS
*New York Times, Health Section, Anahad O’Connor, How to Start Working Out. View here.
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
Fitness Success Secrets
WSJ and My Fitness Success Suggestions
A member at the gym brought in this *article from the May 20, 2017 issue of the Wall Street Journal. The article had some good tips on exercise compliance but fell short in other areas. Take the time to read my suggestions. These habits have been time tested, proven winners in multiple studies on real world people who were successful in making fitness a lifelong habit.
Get Some Help.
Numerous studies have shown that individuals that seek the assistance of a personal trainer or fitness coach are more successful in long term exercises compliance. The guidance from a fitness expert improves motivation, goal attainment and is more time efficient. Scientific understanding of fitness and the best training practices have changed dramatically in the last fifteen years, and your knowledge is probably behind the times. A good coach will temper your “beginner’s enthusiasm” and make it less likely you will over train and/or injure yourself. A professional helps you reach goals despite physical limitations or prior fitness challenges.
Personal Performance Evaluations.
In school, you have tests to see if you are gaining knowledge and ready to advance in a specific subject. The same should be true of your training program. The minimal requirement is a Functional Movement Screen. This simple test can prevent 90% of the fitness related injuries we see in the physical therapy clinic. Keep a record of relevant performance evaluations—a good trainer can help you with this. Your initial successes with exercise will come in the form of better strength, mobility, and work capacity. An ongoing record of “fitness victories” strongly reinforces the exercise habit.
Have Reasonable Goals.
The infomercials for fitness products promise big changes in extremely short periods of time. Television shows document massive fat loss in a single month. The healthiest changes in body composition occur slowly and steadily. Make those body composition goals, but also make performance goals such as being able to perform a pullup, twenty lunges, or a full pain free squat. I can think of no better goals than being able to eliminate blood pressure medication, normalize blood sugar levels, or decrease the use of anti-inflammatory medications.
Place Your Exercise Session At the Beginning Of the Day.
The University of Michigan department of psychology found that individuals that are successful with long-term exercise compliance train in the morning before other aspects of life have a chance to interfere. Consistency is King–an exercise plan will never work if you are not able to maintain a schedule. The most consistent attendance happens when gym members train in the mornings.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
*Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2017, Rachel Bachman, Five Secrets for Steadier Workouts
Treadmills are found in virtually every gym. Read the six treadmill facts you need to know. Meet a Fenton Fitness member who learned how to manage her back pain, and read about the seven best TRX exercises. Do you have limited time to exercise? Be more efficient with HIIT.
Health and Ergonomic Assist Gift That Get Used
I have some fitness and health promoting ergonomic gift recommendations for the 2016 holiday season. I have used all of these products and have been happy with the results. Most can be purchased on line and this allows you to devote more time to a fitness program. In the tradition of all great holiday shoppers, I like to get one for me and another to give.
Giving a healthy holiday gift is easy at Fenton Fitness and Athletic Center. Our Christmas gift certificates can be used for any of the training programs at the club. Team training classes and personal training packages make great gifts. Numerous studies have shown that individuals who utilize professional guidance are more successful in reaching fitness goals. No one performs exercises correctly after only one training session. You need ongoing evaluation and progression on proper exercise performance. Older and physically limited individuals need the assistance of a trainer more than any other group. Our team of trainers and physical therapists can help everyone reach their fitness goals.
Jungle Gym XT Suspension Trainer
The creation of user-friendly suspension trainers set off a mini revolution in fitness. If you go into a fitness center and they do not have multiple suspension trainers readily available, you need to find a new gym. The Lifeline Jungle Gym XT is an elegantly simple and extremely versatile device that should be a part of every home gym. Suspension trainer exercises can be scaled to any level of fitness and are a valuable weapon in our fight against age, injury, and occupational stress. At $90.00, the Jungle Gym XT wins the price war and, in my experience, it has worked well in both commercial and clinical conditions.
Aerocart by Worx
Gardening and landscaping activities are responsible for many of the referrals to physical therapy. The afflicted gardener has tweaked a lower back or strained a knee after hoisting a heavy object or spending too much time slumped over the flowerbeds. A single ergonomic tool can help remedy both of those problems. The Aerocart from Worx is a gardener’s Swiss Army Knife. It functions as a lightweight wheelbarrow, handcart, rock lifter, snow plow, pull wagon, and gardening stool. The Aerocart costs $140 and you can get a snow plow- my favorite- and the wagon attachments for another $100. I have used this tool to push snow, haul firewood, rearrange rocks, and move soil. The fact that the bucket does not hold mega volume prevents a user from overloading his spine. This device will extend the gardening career of the avid weed puller on your Christmas list.
All Purpose Bands From Perform Better
One of the best strength training devices is a set of the All Purpose Bands. These bands are sturdy dipped latex products made by Lifeline. They have two handles on one end and a loop system that makes them easy to anchor in either a closed door or around a stable upright device. All Purpose Bands can be used in a home gym set up, but my suggestion is that you anchor a set in a door at work and fight off the debilitating stress of all day sitting with some daily rowing, hip hinging, and scapula retraction exercises. A set of All Purpose Bands costs $25.00, and as your strength improves, you can purchase the next level of resistance in the series (light—purple, pink, orange, yellow, blue, black—strong) from performbetter.com.
Varidesk Conversion Desk
Human physiology was designed to function under the physical demands of standing and walking. Much of the now rampant obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome can be linked to our species’ sudden fall into sustained sitting. The health statistics on the damaging effects of sustained sitting are distressing.
I can think of no better health-promoting gift for a loved one than a sit to stand conversion desk. The product I have the most experience with is the Varidesk. It comes pre-assembled and has functioned flawlessly. It allows the user to sit for some portion of the day and gradually transition to greater time in the standing position. The Varidesk comes in a variety of sizes / set ups and costs $375 to $550.
My First Stand Up from Jaswig
The New York Times recently reprinted an article by Jane Brody, “Posture Affects Standing, and Not Just the Physical Kind.” In the article, Ms. Brody talks about how poor posture creates problems across multiple areas of physical and mental well-being. The respiratory, digestive, emotional, and neurological systems are all impacted by postural restrictions. You are even more likely to be a victim of crime if you have a slumped over posture. So how do you develop better posture?
My suggestion is to start with early intervention in the form of a standing workstation. The Belgian company Jaswig, has produced a standing desk for children. As the child grows, this adjustable wood desk travels with him. In our physical therapy clinics, we are seeing younger people with head, neck, and upper back pain problems related to poor posture. Mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and all the other “devices” are being used at earlier ages leading to the postural breakdown that usually occurs in later years of life. The My First Stand Up workstation from Jaswig (cost $379) is the early intervention answer.
PowerBlock Adjustable Dumbbell Set
Dumbbell training is one of the most effective forms of exercise. The big limitation of dumbbell training is the cost of buying a series of varying dumbbell weights and the space required to store 10 – 15 sets. The PowerBlock company has solved this problem. A set of PowerBlocks occupies less than three square feet of your home and, depending on the size you purchase, replaces 10 – 25 pairs of traditional dumbbells. I have put some heavy use on a set of PowerBlocks that I purchased in 1992. They have functioned flawlessly and show minimal wear. A beginner set of PowerBlocks (5-40 pounds) costs from $300 – $330 and you can add expansion sets as you get stronger. My thirteen-year old self would have loved to get a set of PowerBlocks for Christmas.
Most people have busy lives and limited time to devote to fitness. They want to get stronger, improve mobility, and maintain some degree of conditioning with minimal time commitment. For those people, I have a suggestion: Buy a Hyper Vest Pro and get to work.
I have used the Hyper Vest Pro for many years and can vouch for its durability. The comfort and overall function of the Hyper Vest Pro is impressive. The side lacing system makes the fit superior to other weight vest products. The individual weights are small and spread evenly over the front and back of the vest. Ten pounds of small steel plates are standard with the Hyper Vest Pro. I have found fitness clients do well with vest loads between five and twelve pounds. At $160, the Hyper Vest Pro is more expensive than other products, but the first rate fit and comfort make it worth the money. It is a great holiday present for the fitness fanatic on your shopping list.
If you consistently exercise, one of the best things you can do to enhance recovery between sessions is perform foam rolling soft tissue work. Combining foam roll work with mobility drills is the secret fitness ingredient that makes chronically tight individuals more flexible. The older you are, the harder you work, and the more frequently you train, the more you will benefit from the foam roll. I like the roller made by Trigger-Point (tptherapy.com). They come as a short, 13 inch version for $40.00 or the longer, 26 inch roller for $65.00.
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
For injury prevention, athletic performance, and general health, a regular program of lower extremity power training is beneficial. Traditional exercises that improve explosive leg power—jumps, hops, bounds, and skips—are too challenging for many fitness clients. Limited leg strength, poor balance, joint problems, and a high body mass index all make traditional plyometric training problematic. The assistance of a suspension trainer creates an environment that permits everyone to succeed in exercises that improve leg power.
Older fitness clients may not possess the balance to perform traditional plyometric power production exercises. The stability assist from the TRX is the balance “training wheels” necessary for beneficial jump, split jump, jump squat, and lunge exercises. The suspension trainer unloads an exercise and allows the client the opportunity to practice explosive movements with less joint stress. TRX power exercises require no set up time, and a full complement of explosive enhancing drills can be completed in five minutes.
Older fitness clients are in special need of training to improve leg power. Between the ages of 65 and 89 lower limb power (the ability to move the legs explosively) declines at a rate of 3.5% per year. Strength declines at a slower 1-2% per year rate in this same group. Power is the ability to create force in a short period of time and is different than raw strength. Lower extremity power capacity keeps us safe. It is the component of fitness that enables you to react and save yourself from a fall or sudden disturbance in balance. As leg power falters, injuries increase. As injuries increase, pain, mobility and independent living decreases.
Exercise is like medicine, administer the correct prescription at the proper dose and the patient thrives. The “exercise medicine” that is missing in many training programs is a consistent dose of power training. Watch the video for some examples of simple power production exercises you can add to your program.
-Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
To view a video demonstration of multiple exercises completed with TRX, click on the link below:
This month’s issue has information on the lumbopelvic hip complex including written/video exercises. Mike O’Hara also gives information on unstable pressing exercises to improve posture and improve motor control and symmetry. Also read about the Becoming Unstoppable clinic for athletes 13 years and older that will be help April 30th at Fenton Fitness.
I get this question all the time. I am not a big believer in body part training, so I usually say front squats or the Turkish Get Up. Right behind those two exercises is the Pikesaw performed on a suspension trainer. The Pikesaw engages the entire chain of muscles from the ankle to the elbows. Core stability training is all about isometrically resisting the forces that attempt to bend the spine, flare the rib cage, and tilt the pelvis. Every time you open your laptop, you reload the lazy scapula muscle virus into your neural network. Most gym goers could use a revitalizing vaccination of scapula on rib cage stability training provided by the Pikesaw.
Set up the suspension trainer so the foot straps are at mid-shin level. Lay prone and place the feet in the straps. Assume a push up position plank (PUPP). Keep the knees straight and pull the hips up toward the ceiling and let the head travel between the arms. In a steady and controlled manner, return to the PUPP. Keeping the body straight and stable, move the foot straps of the TRX backward by pushing with the arms. Attempt to get the hands under the forehead. Return to the PUPP and repeat the Pikesaw. Perform five to ten repetitions.
View performance of the pikesaw here: Video_Pikesaw
-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS