Promo: In this episode of Active Healthy Aging, coach Ken discusses a few myths of core training, some foundational core stabilization positions, our resistance to change, cleansing as a regeneration strategy, and this episodes fun fact.
Movement Concept for Episode #12: Dispelling the Myths of Core Training
It probably goes back to the late 1990’s when we started hearing the term, “core training.” From there, things got a little crazy. We were already obsessed with 6-pack abs but now there were these additional core muscles that we were supposed to work. Along with this invigorated interest in core training came a barrage of exercises tools like:
Now, not all of these pieces of equipment are necessarily bad but some of them completely miss the point of core training. So please keep an open mind, as I challenge your beliefs about what the core is, how it functions naturally, and some more effective ways to train your core.
OK, let’s do this.
First, what do we specifically mean when we say the core. In it’s simplest terms, it is your torso or everything but your head, arms and legs. There’s a whole lot more to core than just those 6-pack muscles in front. While I’m on an ab roll here (a little humor never hurts), those so-called 6-pack muscles that many of you are crunching desperately to find have always been there. That’s right, you were born with a 6-pack, actually if you consider the lower region of your abdominals, you have an eight-pack.
The long, vertical fibers of your abdominal muscles are intersected with tendinous inscriptions that create the appearance of six muscles. So, if you are 6-pack seeker, look no further than under your belly fat, if you can’t see your 6-pack.
That’s right, that 6-pack comes as standard equipment and if you can’t see it, it’s because you have too much adipose tissue (nice word for fat) hiding them.
As long as we are myth busting, why are so many people still doing crunches or sit-up’s to develop their abs? Good question and thanks to the work of leading back researcher, Stuart McGill, who considers these among the worst movements for your back. Yes, that’s right. He uses the analogy of breaking a credit card if you don’t have scissors. What do we do? We bend the card relentlessly until it breaks. This is exactly what doing excessive crunches is doing your spinal vertebrae.
I hope that visual of breaking a credit card is sinking in because I’m inviting you to consider a healthier way to train your core so that it functions as it should. I’m well aware that if I ask 100 people what the best core exercise there is, the majority will respond, “sit-ups/crunches.”
I get it, we have literally been bombarded with images of buff, tan, and oiled up models crunching away on ab rollers in late night infomercials. The connection between crunching and developing a 6-pack seems natural, plus when you crunch a lot, those puppies are sore the next day so it must be the right thing to do but let’s go into this a little deeper.
I’m going to ask you to at least listen to the rationale for functional core training. First, and this is a biggie, your core muscles have one primary function, they are stabilizers. Specifically, they stabilize and protect your spine throughout all your movements. They are not prime movers, so please stop training them like they are. There is only one time a day that you actively use your 6-pack for sitting up and that’s usually getting out of bed. I challenge you to give me an example of daily human activity where repeatedly flexing your trunk is required.
Ironically, the most important function of those 6-pack abdominals is preventing extension of your spine. What you say?
Yes, that’s right, they keep us from falling back while we are standing or moving. So, the fact is they are designed to decelerate back extension not flexing the trunk for hundreds of reps.
So, who cares you say, “I like the way my abs burn when I crunch and I like the ripped abs looks.” Again, I get it, especially if you are a young male or female in your 20’s or 30’s, it’s hard wired into our biology to want to look virile and attract a potential mate, it’s primal, but is not a healthy way to train your core, especially if your are sacrificing your back health for aesthetics.
Now that I’ve probably alienated some of this audience, I would like to tone down my criticism of most of core training I see done in gyms and offer you some safe and effective core basics.
I mentioned that the primary function of all of your core musculature is to stabilize and protect the spine. There’s an amazing band of muscle that forms a corset-like belt around your torso. I’m intentionally leaving Latin muscle names out of this conversation. I want to paint a picture with words and descriptions rather than having you suffer through trying to remember a muscle name.
So back to our “corset muscle.” Maybe I should describe what a corset is since they aren’t often seen these days, accept maybe being worn by lusty winches at our local pirate festival. Anyway, back around the 1600’s women began to wear these cloth cylinders with cords that could be drawn tight to create a smaller waist look. See, we were already doing silly aesthetic things to ourselves even back then. Thankfully, we have this amazing corset muscle that reacts to every movement we perform to protect our spine.
I’m going to explain how you can feel this reactive muscle within your own body, right now. Well, if you are driving or in some other way indisposed please wait until you are in a safe place to do this. OK, here we go, please stand up, with your left hand, palm down, grab as deeply as you can into your side (just above your hip bone). Now, squeeze tight and hold, with your right arm straight, lift it laterally as fast as you can. What did you feel in your left grabbing hand? You should have felt a contraction of your corset muscle. Pretty cool huh?
Well this brings us to the crux of the issue with core training. We have sold the idea of training these muscles by doing isolated movements like:
All sorts of machines have been created to allow us to sit down and perform these movement patterns. The problem is you are probably sitting or laying while doing most of these and real world core training mostly happens when you are standing. You see every time your head, arms, or legs move outside your standing centerline (imagine a line running between your eyes down to your groin) your core stabilizers are automatically engaged. Just like the fast arm raise we just did. Now if we want to get even more activation we can add a small load to our arms or move our legs outside their tall standing position and again more activation.
To recap, those 20+ muscles that crisscross around your torso are there to stabilize and protect your spine as you move. Most of these muscles work reactively as our corset muscle example. You don’t need to tell them to fire, you just need move in a particular way and boom, they fire.
In the next episode I’ll go into a little more detail on the orientation of these core muscles and making sure that we are setting up a solid core that can stabilize in three planes of motion and how we can strengthen and add power movements once you are competent with the basics.
Movement Practice Concept: Basic Core Stabilization Positions to Consider
Let’s look at some entry-level core stabilization positions. Please make sure that you can perform these correctly and for the recommended time before you start doing more dynamic core work.
We’ll begin with a prone plank. Most of you are familiar with this position but here are some specific body ques. This position teaches us how to resist flexion and extension of the spine.
Laying in a prone position, forearms on the mat, elbows directly under your shoulders, toes curled under, tuck your pelvis slightly to a neutral position and squeeze your buns (as we like to say crack walnuts). If you can’t do this from your forearms try it from a straight arms, push-up position initially.
I should be able to lay a yardstick along your spine and it should have the following three points s of contact: back of the head, between the shoulder blades, and your tailbone.
Initially work up to 30 second holds for 2-3 sets and when you can hold for one minute straight, maintaining your alignment you will have adequate stability to move on. If you are a recreational athlete you will want to work up to a two minute plank.
Next, Side Plank:
Begin on your side with your knees bent. Make sure your thighs and hips are in a straight line, parallel to the edge of your mat.
Again, make sure the elbow is directly below your shoulder and your back is vertical as if against a wall.
Press yourself up, keeping neck and head neutral and hold for 30 seconds. Eventually, work up to one minute
If that position isn’t challenging enough, extend the top leg straight out as you hold your position.
Finally a full side plank, both legs are straight, stack the feet and legs and lift your body up and hold for 30 seconds and eventually working up to one minute.
Next up, a “Bridge” position.
Laying on your back, knees bent, with your heels close enough to touch with your fingertips.
Raise your toes off the ground so that you are just pushing up with your heels.
Cross your arms across your chest, press your hips up so that you create a straight line from your knees down to your shoulders.
Hold this position for 30 seconds, eventually working up to one-minute holds.
If this double-legged bridge is not challenging for you, you can extend one leg so that you are only using one leg to hold the bridge. Work up to 30-second holds on each side.
Lastly, a anti-rotational position. Sometimes we need our upper torso to rotate, as in a golf swing but in this movement we want to train anti-rotation or not allowing the spine to twist.
We can do this from a “bird dog” or opposite arm/opposite leg position.
Kneeling on your hands and knees check your alignment. Thighs vertical, hips over knees, wrists directly under your shoulders, head neutral.
Simultaneously, extend your right arm forward, thumb up and fully extend your left leg rearward and hold for a count of five before returning to your hands and knees position.
Repeat the same opposite arm/opposite leg pattern on the other side. Alternate sides for one minute.
To add challenge to this once you are competent with the base pattern, you can hold a small; (2-5 lbs) dumbbell in your extended arm.
Your low back should remain still and level throughout the set. You can test yourself by putting a foam roller or a 2 liter water bottle horizontally across your low back while performing the movements, now don’t let it drop.
There you have it some basic core stabilization positions that all able-bodied humans should be able to perform. Notice that we have worked around your body, from face down position (plank), on both sides (side plank), chest up position with the bridge, and anti-rotation with the bird dog position. Again, I want to emphasize that these should be mastered before you consider doing the more fun or dynamic core movements I will discuss in the next episode.
There are some of you that may have some restrictions or limitations to these starting movements. There are modifications that can be offered so consult a physical therapist or fitness professional if you need assistance with these movements.
This Week’s Wellness Thought: Comes from the Buddha
“Change is never painful. Only the resistance to change is painful”
You certainly don’t need to have lived on this planet very long before you are confronted with the realization that life isn’t fair and that everyone experiences suffering in their life.
I suppose one of the benefits of growing older is that we have the opportunity to reflect on the many challenges we have faced throughout life and survived. It seems almost axiomatic in our culture that “change” is supposed to be difficult but is it?
It’s pretty obvious that without the will or ability to change, life would grind on into a monotonous, predictable march from birth to death. Thankfully, most humans do embrace their free will to some degree and when they’ve had enough of an unacceptable situation, they initiate some sort of change.
From our Active Healthy Aging perspective, change is often necessary to regain our health and/or fitness. Many of us struggle with our nutrition, getting adequate and appropriate movement, relationships, and creating or finding work that truly serves our highest good.
Most of our struggle with change happens in our minds not from some external force. There certainly can be outside events that force us to reevaluate or change our circumstances but it is the resistance in our minds that creates that familiar struggle we perceive.
Another related quote I saw years ago compliments the Buddha’s sentiments:
“Change will occur, when the will to change is greater than the resistance to change.”
You would think that with our sophisticated thinking and reasoning skills that change would just be another little problem solving opportunity. When we look honestly at any of the changes we have made in our lives, the results were usually positive and resulted in some personal growth. I’m not suggesting that this growth wasn’t sometimes painful but we survived and grew from the experience.
Our first reaction to the mere suggestion of change in our lives is usually resistance. Even if we aren’t happy about a situation, sometimes it seems easier to just stay put and so we settle. The root of our resistance is of course fear and our mind loves to run with all the possible scenarios that might happen if we actually change something.
To me, change is a great opportunity to grow and learn. Even if the change seems disastrous at the time, it is rarely life threatening and there are usually other options to consider. The point is that the resistance we create in our minds is where we need to focus. What is the underlying fear that is paralyzing us?
Confronting our fears, both real and imagined, is a form of spiritual weightlifting. The more you allow yourself to confront those fears, the stronger you will become and the fewer fears you have, the less resistance you will have to change.
So identify one small fear you have. One of mine was playing music in public. Resolve to confront your fear and most importantly, act on your fear by facing it square on.
I think you will find that afterwards, those fears were paper tigers, and that you are strong enough to change any circumstances that are holding you back.
You are listening to Active Healthy Aging on KCIW 100.7 FM
This Week’s Regeneration Strategy is: Spring Cleaning Our Body’s with a Cleanse
I thought this topic would be a good segue after discussing the challenges that come with learning to embrace changes in our lives. Culturally, I think most of us naturally participate in some form of “spring cleaning.” Maybe it’s all the environmental signals we receive like longer days, flowers blooming, grass and weeds needing attention etc. At any rate, it tends to call us to action in the form of cleaning and tidying.
In previous episodes I’ve discussed regeneration techniques like foam rolling, stretching, or even hanging up side down. Today, I thought I’d touch on a simple, health promoting strategy that you can do at home, at little or no cost, and that is considering doing a fast or cleanse.
Most spiritual practices around the world dedicate a time during the year for fasting and reflection. Fasting can be pretty straight forward from just not eating or drinking certain foods to a full on multi-day water fast, no food just water.
There seems to be some controversy among the medical community as to whether fasting or cleansing provides measurable health benefits to the body. Perhaps this is because the most common reason people fast is to lose weight. In my opinion, I don’t think fasting or cleansing should be used as a weight loss tool. I understand that I’m of a minority opinion here but there it is. To me, the intention and attention needs to focus upon improving ones health, specifically supporting all the organs that digest our food or those that provide enzymes to facilitate digestion.
The most basic cleansing strategy you can easily integrate everyday is drinking adequate pure water. When we become dehydrated, the body can experience higher concentrations of waste products. Drinking adequate amounts of water is a simple and efficient way to flush your system of these waste products. When we are properly hydrated, our urine should appear a light straw color, be clear, not cloudy, and copious.
These waste products are not just from the food we eat but metabolic waste products from the myriad of chemical reactions that go on in our body’s daily. So making sure that you are getting adequate clean water will help your body naturally cleanse itself.
Sometimes it may be appropriate to consider targeting specific organs i.e. kidneys, liver, gall bladder etc. to be cleansed but check with your health care provider to see if it’s appropriate for you and which protocol they recommend.
The other term that gets used interchangeably with cleansing is detoxing. One of the problems with both of these terms is that there hasn’t been much research on the efficacy of either approach. Obviously we are exposed to a variety of toxins on a daily basis. For the most part, our body’s filtering systems remove them from our blood stream but they can accumulate over time in our organs i.e. brain, liver, kidneys and lungs. In these cases, it may be appropriate to pursue a targeted cleansing protocol.
So if you are feeling like a spring cleaning is order, check with your health care provider, share with them your concerns, and what protocol you are looking to follow. If they have no major objections, then go for it.
In the end, no pun intended, it’s simply about “Taking in health promoting foods (and I know you know what these are), drinking adequate pure water, and taking out the garbage aka elimination of liquid and solid wastes.
.Fitness Truths, Half-Truths, and Lies:
Next week I’ll dive into your CORE, not literally
Your Core musculature is reactive, stop training them like prime movers
Fitness Fun Fact: How much weight does the average person gain after the age of 26?
Epidemiologists have observed that the average person gains 1-2 pounds a year from their mid-20’s on. This works out to about 35 additional pounds by the time they are 60.
I suspect that this figure is increasing as we become more technologically addicted to labor saving devices and poor nutrition. We are anatomically designed to move often and perform physical tasks.
I don’t know how many of you saw the movie “Wall-e” where humans devolved into a “fitless state” but it’s never too late to make better lifestyle choices. I’m not going to insult your intuitive knowing, you know what you need to do in general to remain healthy and active. I’m just trying to offer you some strategies for improving your health and movement competency that have real world practical application.
The information and opinions expressed on this show are for informational and entertainment purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and/or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or health care provider regarding any medical issue you may be experiencing
Thanks for listening and as always,
BE WELL …BE FIT