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Is It A Core Or Back Exercise?

sandbag exercise equipment

When we discuss various exercises I often feel like we aren’t even speaking the same language. There are SO many concepts we can talk about, but even at the most simple levels we often aren’t saying the same things. How do I mean? A great example is the confusion that swirls around knowing if an exercise is more of a core or upper back movement?

While I don’t love talking about specific muscles, the reality is that I find it can be at least a starting point on getting people thinking on a better path about their training. Can we even figure out what the goal of an exercise really is if we look at it with the right glasses? Let’s try.

So, here is the trick to remember, if we are VERY stable it is REALLY easy to know what we are overloading and the research will show if we isolate an area we will get a lot of muscle activity (I think that is obvious pretty much to everyone). The issue arises is transferring that strength to real life, I would say it is unfair to say machines have zero carry over in strength, that isn’t true. It is MORE accurate to say that the transfer is very limited.

In our example of back exercises we are going to look at different rowing movements. Well, the upper back can be really isolated if we lay our chest on a bench and take out our core and and lower body, we can handle way more weight because we are being artificially supported. That will make our back muscles grow, but in real life/sport, we have to use that upper back with our core and lower body. Therefore, if there is a big disconnect (which a lot of machine training will cause) then that machine training will limit our ability to take that upper back strength and muscle to more functional activities.

At the SAME time, if we are rowing and we are SUPER unstable (let’s say on a single leg or even a bird dog or plank position) we can’t load the upper back to anything close to the same levels we would in more stable environments. Often times, the rowing movement in a very unstable position isn’t used to actually build up the upper back, but rather challenge the core by having the weight move and cause instability to the trunk and/or connect the core with the integration of the lats.

back exercise

Is there something in between?

What makes DVRT different is that we don’t live on either extreme. If we want to prioritize building muscle we don’t fall back on machine or artificially supported movements, we simply use more stable environments and/or tools (like using suspension trainers for body rows or bent over rows)

back exercise

We can start people in more stable environments, but we don’t go from stable to crazy unstable exercises, especially if we want a combination of strength and stability.

That way we can decrease the imbalance between the core, lower body, and upper body. Just as importantly we want them to learn how to work together as working parts completely independently and then expecting them to work so well together is often a big failure in understanding how the body actually works. However, we can do all of this with progressive instability, where we can do both build muscle and work on our stability training.

You see above I take advantage of the 4 primary options in building strength, muscle, and stability…

-Grip (the type of grip you take)

-Loading Position (do we use both hands attached to the same object, hands attached to independent weights, weights moving at different times, or even weights moving in different directions)

-Body Position (how incremental can we make our position of loading, sprinter stance, rear stepping, rear foot elevated, etc.)

-Plane Of Motion (which direction to do we have our body moving when we move?)

Considering these 4 concepts can be layered then we have core and back exercises that can challenge both at the same time. This doesn’t mean we can’t prioritize one of the other here and there, but it is WAY more efficiently to build progression like you see with Greg Perlaki above and our other great DVRT coaches.

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