In this episode I discuss the 2 ways to improve your next workout.
Are you still doing sit ups?
“I want to build my core” or “Yea, I’m trying to get stronger around here so I do a lot of sit ups”
In both these cases, a lot of the time its quite clear people aren’t sure what core stability is. Its ok, its no surprise. After all, a year doesn’t go by that a shopping channel isn’t trying to flog you a contraption that basically mimics you doing a sit up.
In fact, sit ups are one of the worst things you can do and they won’t be missed if you eradicate them from your exercise repertoire completely.
Before talking about 2 ways to improve core stability, it is best establishing what core stability is and why it is so beneficial.
What is Core Stability?
I want to highlight 2 definitions of core stability. Strength & Conditioning expert and head of the mens canadian national basketball team Charlie Weingroff defines stability; as “having control in the presence of change” or the “ability of your joint structure to maintain position in the presence of change”
Physical therapist Gray Cook says that Stability is instantaneous integrity in the presence of full range of motion.
A simple way of thinking about it is keep a solid structure around your spine while your extremities (your arms or legs) move.
Working with Busy Professionals like you
As a personal trainer I work with mainly busy professionals aged from 40 years old right up to people in their 70’s. It is common when asking what they want out of personal training, they’ll say something like “ah well I want to lose a bit of weight and improve my core” while pointing towards their stomach area.
It is no surprise when considering the symptoms they relay about what they’ve experienced lately; a feeling of weakness around the lower back, continued stiffness, a ‘softness’ around the midriff area.
When you have a strong core, you feel just that; strong. You feel strong on your feet and when you move it feels like your body is able to work in unison because the central station that connects your extremities is working as a solid unit.
The Benefits of a Strong Core
But there are other benefits to developing a strong core;
1 – Injury prevention
There is research to suggest that a strong core can reduce the risk of back pain. Now in another podcast I will explain why pain isn’t just related to how your body moves, but it is certainly a factor that for many having a weak core contributes to experiencing pain. Its not just back pain, shoulder pain be amplified by poor stability.
Evidence suggest that 18-24% of us will experience shoulder pain at any one time. A big reason for this is the lack of stability in your scapular and rotator cuff. This creates the appearance of the sagging, hunched shoulders, increasing the chances of an impingement in the shoulder joint.
Working to create stability, through scapular retraction, in this instance will go a long way to preventing those late afternoon slouching over the desk look.
2 Improves your sports performance, especially power output.
A big factor for stability is stiffness and timing; the ability for neighbouring joints to remain stiff in place while the required muscles activate to perform a movement.
A perfect example I saw was on a YouTube video called Sport Science hardest kick. A champion thai boxer was performing the hardest kick the lab had recorded at a stunning 770lbs of force. This was enough power to break the handle end of a baseball bat.
What was interesting and pointed out by physical therapist Dean Somerset was how stiff his spine was as the thai boxer delivered the extraordinary power. It was this ability to create that stiffness while the necessary muscles activated that he was able to produce that power.
In your sport whether its running or football or whatever sport there will be moments in the play when you have to create a level of stability in order to perform the move whether its the rotational force of a hockey drive, or the strike through of a football or simply landing one foot when running.
So how do you improve your core stability? In the remaining part of this video I will provide 2 tools to add into your training plan to work towards progress in having a strong core;
Improve your next work out 1 – Breathing
One big reason people have chronically tight shoulders & neck muscles is they breath from their chest creating a upward motion. Another consequence of this is never getting the chance to practice strengthening the diaphragm and the inner core muscles it activates when the diaphragm expands.
Do this drill:
Place a hand over your belly button and the other over your chest. Now take a deep inhale through your nose and imagine that inhaled oxygen is filling and expanding a balloon on the inside of your belly button.
The aim is to have your chest relatively still while your diaphragm expands out and pulls down. What this does then is activates the muscles around the spine in a process called intra-abdominal pressure (IAP).
This goes a long way to creating a stiff trunk when performing exercises or simply doing a number of everyday activities. Earlier in the podcast I said a big factor for stability is timing. To help improve stability when performing exercise, before you move set up the IAP by expanding your diaphragm and then bracing. By bracing I mean holding that tension while you perform the exertion part of the exercise.
Be sure to do this at every repetition to set up your movement to ensure the right muscles are activated at the right time to create stability.
Improve your next work out 2 – Anti-Movements
Imagine for a moment you perform a lunge and while at the bottom position I come from the side and apply pressure to the side of your torso. The pressure is going to prompt you to fall sideways. If you don’t and stand firm it is because you have activated your core stability to hold yourself in place in the presence of pressure. Remember one of our definitions “having control in the presence of change.
This phenomenon is known as anti-movements and is the bedrock of stability training. There are 3 forms of anti-movements;
1 Anti flexion which is what the example mentioned displays, when a force is attempting to move your torso along a lateral plane.
2 Anti rotation where a force is attempting to turn your torso in a rotational manner
3 Anti extension where a force is attempting move your torso forward or back from the hips.
The point of maximum pressure will be when your extremities are fully extended and so at its maximum distance from your torso. This is the point where you want to experience maximum stiffness in your torso activating the muscles around your spine to hold yourself in place.
An example of this is the Paloff Press. This is where you stand perpendicular to a cable and bring the cable with both hands to your sternum area. You will then proceed to punch out and extend your arms. The palof press is an anti-rotation move with the pressure coming from the side of you, its force wants to rotate you in the direction of the cable machine. By you holding your ground and not rotating (thus anti-rotation) you will feel a tension in your torso area especially the side oblique closest to the cable machine.
The paloff press is my favourite anti-rotation exercise and certainly gets your mid-driff burning. In terms of Anti-flexion I really like the low woodchop in a half-kneeling position. It really forces you to activate your core else the cable isn’t going anywhere.
In terms of anti-extension, the obvious example is the plank but not in the way most it in terms of see how long you can hold it for. No, I like the RKC version where you ensure your pelvis is in neutral and then for 20 seconds create as much tension in your body as humanly possible. That means pressing your feet together, pressing your knees together, squeezing your glutes and abs and squeezing your fists tight. Everything is tight.
One tip is to stop you holding your breath, just before you get into position take a deep inhale through your nose and then as you continue to intensely produce all round tension slowly exhale.
If you do it right, this should feel very tense and there should be no way your pelvis tilts, thus producing the extension you are looking to avoid.
So that concludes the two things you can do in your next session to dramatically improve your core stability. They are easy to incorporate into your current regime but produce a dramatic result over time. Breathing to activate the diaphragm and anti-movement exercises. These should be part of every busy professionals exercise routine to upgrade their every day health.
I hope this has been valuable to you and I look forward to providing more value in our next podcast. See you then.