NOTES FROM COACH / TIPS & THOUGHTS

MINDFUL MAC

Building a Strong, Sexy and 'Functional' Core

Have you heard of the term “functional fitness?”


I’d imagine most people would reply with an emphatic ‘yes’, as it’s a trendy way of marketing in the health and fitness world right now.


Despite a ton of mainstream usage, most professionals still struggle to come up with a solid explanation of what it actually is, because there are two different aspects to think about - specific and relative functionality.


So what is the difference?


In a broader sense, specific functionality means that there are going to be aspects that simply matter more to a certain portion of the population.


For example, providing care and attention to a movement pattern/area of the body that causes issues, or has previously suffered an injury that could impact movement pattern quality (i.e. lower back pain).


This is even more amplified when you take into a persons occupation/daily routine into account.


Nurses often require a plan that will compliment being on their feet for hours on end, and repeated lifting in awkward positions.


When compared to a person who has a relatively sedentary job - such as a 9-5pm desk job - it's virtually night and day when assessing their specific needs.


Relative functionality are the things that should matter to every, single person - like being pain free and injury resistant, along with the ability to participate in the daily activities that they love to do - and less lovable ones that they need to do!


This usually means having adequate strength, stability and mobility in the major joints of the body, across a variety of different environments and body positions.


Both aspects are incredibly important, and things that need to be considered not only during routine creation, but monitored as you progress through different activities.


Regardless of the goal, the number one idea that people fall in love with is having a strong and sexy midsection.


Abs.


The coveted 'six-pack'.


There is no doubt that a strong core will help you develop overall strength, avoid injury and improve your quality of life. It is literally the movement gateway from the upper half to lower half - and vice versa - and has a resounding effect on the entire body.


The ability to effectively transfer force throughout the body is one of the leading factors associated with injury resistance, because the inability to do so makes it more likely that one area could become overloaded in a way that it just isn't ready for.


This is why effective core training is crucial, but also complicated.


Everyone wants 'abs', but very few people recognize that the rectus abdominis (yep, that's where the name comes from) is just one muscle group that makes up a larger, more complicated network of muscles, bones and connective tissue called the 'torso'.


You could consider everything between the hips and the neck your torso. It effects - and is effected by - everything in the body, because its also home to a large portion of your spine and spinal cord.


For years I've heard clients say "I wish I had abs."


My response is always the same: "Everyone has them - sometimes you just can't see them"


And while visible abs are cool and shit, they don’t necessarily confirm the health of an individual.


They don't even really signify a strong and stable core.


They are primarily responsible for flexing/bending the spine forward - but the spine also extends, bends sideways and rotates - sometimes simultaneously, and often in different positions.


Not to mention that it also protects against unwanted movement.


There are three categories of 'anti-movement' training:

  1. Anti-extension (preventing spinal straightening/extending)

  2. Anti-rotation (preventing torso rotation)

  3. Anti-lateral flexion (preventing sideways bending)


The best part about these kind of movements are the multitude of options available to make the exercise more or less challenging - also known as progression or regression, respectively.


Not only are they safe and effective ways to help you learn to properly utilize your core, they are staple movements that should be in every, single routine regardless of your skill level.


See examples below, with bodyweight and gym options provided.


 


Anti-Extension


Extended Plank (Bodyweight Option)

  • The start position is a "high plank" position with arms fully extended and hands below the shoulders

  • Head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should be in alignment

  • Before any movement, inhale (breathe in) and moderately brace the core, thinking about "pulling the rib cage down"

  • As you extend, think about keeping your ribs pulled down towards the hips and moderately squeezing your butt

  • Find a hand position that's challenging, but one where you can maintain proper form

  • Repeat in sets of 20-60s


Plank Rollout (Gym Option)

  • The start position is a kneeling position, with the "North Pole" of ball approximately and arms length away from the body

  • Before any movement, inhale (breathe in) and moderately brace the core, thinking about "pulling the rib cage down"

  • Carefully roll the body forward so that the body is largely supported by only the forearms - maintain "strong shoulders and hips"

  • Head, shoulders, hips, knees should be in alignment

  • As you roll forward, think about keeping your ribs pulled down towards the hips

  • Find a forearm/elbow position that's challenging, but one where you can maintain proper form and hold for 1-2s. Return to start position.

  • Repeat in sets of 5-15 repetitions


 

Anti-Rotation


Torsion Plank (Bodyweight Option)

  • The start position is a "high plank" position with arms fully extended and hands below the shoulders

  • Head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should be in alignment

  • Before any movement, inhale (breathe in) and moderately brace the core, thinking about "pulling the rib cage down"

  • As you tap your opposite shoulder with controlled movement, think about keeping your ribs pulled down towards the hips to prevent any rotation

  • Stay strong in the hips and lower body (create moderate tension)

  • Hold position for 1-2s (longer if desired, so long as technique remains solid)

  • Repeat in sets of 5-10 repetitions per side


Pallof Press (Gym Option)

  • The start position is a standing position with weight/resistance directly to the side of your body

  • The knees should be in a "soft" position (slightly bent), with slightly wider than hip/shoulder width apart

  • Before any movement, inhale (breathe in) and moderately brace the core, thinking about "pulling the rib cage down"

  • As you brace, fully extend arms in front of the body and resist rotational force

  • Stay strong in the hips and lower body (create moderate tension)

  • Hold position for 1-2s (longer if desired, so long as technique remains solid)

  • Repeat in sets of 5-10 repetitions per side


 

Anti-Flexion (Lateral)


Half Kneeling Side Plank (Bodyweight Option)

  • The start position is a modified "side plank" position - the bottom knee should be bent to 90 degrees and elbow/forearm below the shoulder

  • Before any movement, inhale (breathe in) and moderately brace the core, thinking about resisting any sideways bending. Think about pulling the ribs down towards the hip (as if someone were to hit your stomach)

  • Use the lower leg to "drive" the body up from the floor

  • Use the bottom leg to engage the outer hip (think of pushing outer knee into the floor)

  • Head, shoulders, hips, knees should be in alignment

  • Repeat in sets of 20-60s


Farmer's Carry (Gym Option)

  • The start position is standing, with weight on one side of the body

  • Before any movement, inhale (breathe in) and moderately brace the core, thinking about resisting any sideways bending. Think about pulling the ribs down towards the hip (as if someone were to hit your stomach)

  • Hinge from the hips and ensuring proper lower body lifting mechanics when getting into start position

  • Standing tall with weight, ensuring that it is not being held against the body

  • Head, shoulders, hips, knees should be in alignment

  • Breathe deep and controlled, and maintain tension throughout the body

  • Repeat in sets of 20-60s/side

 

The bottom line is that 'functional fitness' is a blanket term that can be applied both broadly and specifically. Learning more about overall functionality will help you realize how intricate and complicated these bodily relationships are.


The answer is almost never black and white.


It is true that insufficient core strength is one of the issues associated with lower back pain - but it certainly isn't the only one!


While the torso will always be the movement gateway between the upper and lower body, most of the time it isn't the root of the problem.


The feet and lower leg have a major impact on the hips and lower back.


The shoulders and upper back have a major impact on the entire torso.


Injuries are a part of life, but addressing potential issues instead of ignoring them - like generalized aches and pains -is the only way to promote years of happy and healthy movement.


By getting back to basics - getting outdoors as much as possible, spending more time barefoot, prioritizing high-quality activity instead of ego-based lifting - you will move better and feel better.


Let 'looking better' just be a deadly byproduct.





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