Sometimes the many fitness debates people are discussing online are futile (besides it being an online debate) because they aren’t speaking the same language. For example, many times when I am teaching courses to gyms, therapists, and strength coaches a like, I ask them to define a term first to find out where they are coming from. When it comes to something like core stability, many don’t know how to define it because overall in the industry we’ve done a pretty lousy job of doing so. That leads us back to doing “ab exercises” and having arguments about things because we aren’t even talking about the same thing!
I like to go to subject matter experts on such topics and few are as well respected as renown spine specialist, Dr. Stuart McGill. When it comes to helping people understand core training and core stability he explains, “Measuring stability is difficult but those few labs around the world that have measured core stability, or spine stability, have concluded that all muscles are necessary contributors. This is because the spine is a flexible rod yet it must be able to bear compressive loads. It will buckle without a very robust guy wire system formed by the many muscles. Furthermore, when all muscles contract together they create a “superstiffness” that is higher than the sum of the stiffnesses of the individual muscles.”
What can we learn from an in-depth statement like that? Some actually really core training ideas! Like….
It Isn’t About One Muscle
Some people believe I put off a “smarter than you” sense. The truth is that I don’t believe anything like that! Where I do become frustrated is when people won’t listen when you share your mistakes and the lessons you wish people would take from what you share. A great case comes in core training. I absolutely was that person in the late ’90’s talking about the transverse abdominis and trying to train it with this and that. It was only later that I learned what an error that was and that core training is just about what Dr. McGill speaks about.
That is training all 35 muscles at once. The key is HOW! How do we go about knowing that we are performing core training that teaches the entire core to work together and in the right order? The easiest way is to focus on movement patterns and not exercises or muscles. Every DVRT exercise we share that starts on the ground we can show how is ultimately reflected in standing and more functional drills.
For example, our dead bugs have a strong relationship to lunging, split stance pushing/pulling, different patterns of hip hinging and squats. If you see JUST a dead bug though, that is problematic. That is why instead of trying to cue a muscle, we use the load of the Ultimate Sandbag and the manner in which we cue its use to tap into how to get muscles to work synergistically. As simple as “pulling the handles apart” may sound, it is such an effective way to going down the right path of core training.
Physical therapist, Jessica Bento, does a great job of showing how we take an important concept for core training like lifts/chops and apply to them to multiple movement patterns.
It Isn’t Just About Your Abs or Low Back
The amount of blogs I see in the industry devoted to helping low back pain through speaking about training the abs and low back muscles is still staggering. We know way too much now to make such oversimplifications of such common issues. The majority of research doesn’t point to a muscle being weak as to why people have issues like low back pain, but rather the muscle doesn’t work at the right time or in conjunction with the right “team” of muscles.
This means more mindful of how we coach and progress or movements are far more important than trying to strengthen any individual muscle. Using such a strategy and leads to people questioning if core training really makes a difference. We can’t have such discussions though until we realize that core training is something far more specific than trying to hit our abs and low back!
The core training that DVRT UK Master, Greg Perlaki shows above is all related and a progression of one another. That means he isn’t focused on just training the abs or low back, but how the core functions during actual movement. This leads us to the second point that most people really oddly like to argue.
Proper Core Training Is More About Resisting Unwanted Movement
I have quite a different take on the “bad exercise” argument. While some love to say there is no such thing as a bad exercise (which I don’t understand for the life of me because there absolutely are!), I like too ask “how do you define bad first?” There are exercises that have a much higher risk of injury than others, I would consider those to be less desirable if not bad. I mean, if I offered you a pill to help with your being sick and one had a 5% chance of causing you any negative side effects and one had an 80% chance, which pill would you want to take?
My point is that bad doesn’t have to mean “instantly causes injury”. Sometimes a bad exercise or movement will have a negative effect over a period of time, or simply increase your risk of having issues. Since training time is one of the greatest challenges for both coaches and enthusiasts alike, shouldn’t we then spend our time with exercises that have the greatest benefit with the lowest risk?
I mention this because when it comes to core training some people want to defend exercises like sit-ups to the death. The issue with exercises like sit-ups is that it is hard to figure out the benefit that people are trying to accomplish with a movement that potentially has higher risk. If you tell me you are trying to train the rectus abdominis, then I would point out two issues….
When we look at it, I can’t think of too many times we perform really hard trunk flexion. Most explosive movements may have hip flexion, not trunk. In fact, an inability to resist unwanted movement is a key element in many low back issues just as they are to the shoulder. So, most of our core training should be centered around resisting unwanted movement.
You can see in more dynamic training how our core has to reflexively stabilize depending upon when we need that tension and that is what Dr. Stuart McGill refers to the “pulsing” of the core. We don’t want to be super tight all the time, then we can’t move.
You could make a very easy argument that all these drills shown above are higher level core training exercises. That is because the Ultimate Sandbag and these movements require us to produce and resist force at the same time. This is exactly want our core training to lead to in our real life performance. Understanding core training helps us realize which exercises we should focus upon and how we should progress our training. Hopefully this is takes a topic that is often a whole book and makes it a bit more understandable in where our training often misses the science of true core training. Drills like Greg Perlaki demonstrates aren’t just new exercises to add, but are part of a much larger system.
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