Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reality to the Core

As I walk around the gym day in and day out I too often see people hoarding the crunch machines. More often than not the average gym-goer walks through the door, scans his/her id, heads up the stairs for 30 minutes or so on the elliptical, and finally beelines straight to the abdominal circuit on the machines downstairs. Even the more “advanced” members spend the last 20 minutes of every workout performing crunches in a myriad of different positions, assuming that the change of the leg height will put more emphasis on the obliques.Why do people insist on doing so many crunches? To get a six pack of course, because that is how it’s done. Well, not really. If you don’t get rid of the fat on top of those muscles, then they will never be seen, and no girl will ever love you. Seriously though, the abdominals are there and will be seen as long as you take care of your nutrition and get to work burning some fat.Crunches super-setted with crunches will not magically make you beach ready. Not to mention there is no functional carryover with crunches, so why not do some work that will help the rest of your body?

Before we get into specific exercises and ways to train, let’s explore the core and how it works. Most people focus on abdominals, but in reality, this is only one component of the core. In my opinion, the “core” is not just the trunk muscles, but also all of the muscles that stabilize the center of the body during movement. This would include the muscles of the shoulder girdle, the hip, and also those of the trunk. In addition to the more well known muscles, the trunk also includes some lesser known deep stabilizers. These muscles include the miltifidus and transverse abdominis. For a long period of time it was thought that the function of the core was to flex and extend the spine. However, an increasing body of evidence suggests that the actual function of these muscles is to stabilize the spine (lumbar specifically) and prevent movements such as flexion and extension. There is also a need for force transfer from the lower body to the upper extremities during movement, whether it is sports or just someone standing up from a chair. So instead of training for flexion and extension, training should be done to improve stability in multiple planes.

Now that we know what the purpose of these muscles is and what we need to improve, we can look at exercise selection. When selecting exercises, keep in mind that the body moves in multiple planes, so we must train each plane of movement. Additionally, keep in mind that we are including the shoulder girdle and hips into this equation. Now to the exercises. Over the past couple of years I have picked up on some great exercises from great names around the training world and implemented them into my own programming. I have also modified a few and have been experimenting with some of my own. Below are some exercises to try out and implement into your own training:

Plank With Knee Drive
Waiter Walk
Half-Kneeling Cable Chop
Chance Press
Cable Rotational

Just like any other part of a program design, we must remember that there has to be a specific progression. We can’t just start with the most explosive core exercise without developing a stable spine and strong base. A progression would start with exercises that involve little, if any, movement (such as planks or birddogs) and moving into more dynamic efforts where movement around the core is present, and finally evolving to explosive-type exercises where force transfer through the core is maximally utilized. The first stage of training is going to improve neuromuscular efficiency (making sure the core muscles are being activated) as well as spinal stability. As you progress, the stability of the core is going to be challenged during movement, such as with plank walk-ups, cable chops, etc. With explosive movements such as medicine ball slams, throws, or wood chops, the core is not only stabilizing the spine and center of the body, but it is also taking the force produced through the ground and transferring it up the body to the arms for maximal velocity of whichever movement you may be performing.

When adding these exercises into your workout, make sure you incorporate rotational stability as well as flexion and extension-based stability (remember, multiple planes of motion). Work up to 30 seconds on the holds and to rep ranges of 8-15 on the movement-based exercises, while completing 3-4 sets per exercise. With improvement in core stability there will also be improvement in many other lifts such as squats, deadlifts, bench and so on. As an athlete, core stability is very important for performance, as every movement on the field or court must transfer force through the core. For the weekend warrior or your average gym buff, improved core stability will help with daily life, from movement to alleviation of joint pain. Also, as we age, posture is the first thing to go, and this leads to numerous health issues. Creating a strong core and a stable spine will help prevent-or at least postpone-this degradation of posture, thus creating a healthier, more mobile life.

When it comes down to it, ditch the crunches, avoid the machines, and start adding in some core work that will benefit, not harm you. You will be amazed by the improvements in the rest of your life.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I am going a little off the charts tonight with this post but hang with me. I want to discuss a topic that I truly believe in after experiencing much of it throughout the past decade. The topic I am referring to is the Law of Attraction. For those who are not familiar with this term let me elaborate. The Law of Attraction is a theory that one's thoughts and feelings can influence the things that happen around that person. The belief is that thoughts have an energy, therefore that energy can attract other energies.

I promise I am not completely crazy, but I do feel that this holds some truth. I believe that if a person is always positive and truly thinks positively, then positive things will come that persons way, and in the opposite sense, negative thoughts will bring negative actions. I had heard about theories like this when I was younger and always saw them as bogus but after a number of years of life experience I have come to truly believe the way we think affects what happens to us. I relate this a lot to religion and "miracles." Within a church or religion there is a large number of people looking up to a higher power. If there is a problem and such a large number of people truly believe that this higher power will fix that problem, the positive energy from such a large group of thoughts brings along positive results, thus creating a miracle.

Another way to look at it is the saying "When it rains, it pours." A person has one bad thing happen to them, they start to feel and think negatively then another bad thing happens, then it builds and more bad happens. When it rains it pours. The energy from the negative thoughts brings negative actions.

To relate this to sports, think about a position player in baseball who makes an error. If he lets it get to him and starts thinking negatively, it's almost a guarantee that he will make another error if given the opportunity. In basketball, a shooter who misses a few shots may start having bad thoughts and the next thing you know he is 0-20. This is why they say a good athlete must have a terrible memory. Negative thoughts cannot come into play because they hold a greater power.

Basically, what I am saying is this: if something bad happens, you can't let it get to you. Continue to stay positive no matter what. Have a confidence about yourself and your surroundings. It also helps by surrounding yourself with positive people and positive things. If your best friend is Debbie Downer, you will probably be seeing a lot of negative things happen and you may not reach your full potential. Stay positive, stay confident, and great things will come your way.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Strong Man Bootcamp

Today at the gym we had a little fun outside with a bootcamp. We tend to have one or two bootcamps every month but this was the first bootcamp that we were able to take everyone outside this year. The weather was amazing and we had a nice little group of guys show up to partake in the festivities. The bootcamp included three stations, one being med ball work, the other two made up of things such as tire flips, sledge swings, farmers walks, and sled pushes. Quite a challenging bootcamp and a fun one to run as well. Check out the videos below for some of the action and feel free to leave your comments on your bootcamp experiences, whether ones you have participated in or ones you have run.

After the bootcamp my training partner and I decided to have a little fun with the equipment outside as well. We completed our lift then went outside for a finishing circuit. The circuit included 3 rounds of 10 single arm tire flips with jumps, 10 med ball wall throws on each side, and a sled push with 5 plates. It was fun but a bitch.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lift Heavy to Lose Weight

For years now people have claimed that the way to get big and "bulky" is to lift heavy weights, therefore a woman should not lift heavy but instead lift light weights many, many times. This is why so many women are scared to lift heavier weights for less reps. The issue here is that majority of women want a "toned" look. Well that "toneness" comes from muscle. You have to have muscle to have shape. And to build muscle, or even maintain muscle, you need to lift heavier weights to create a stimulus to the muscle. However, with a fear of getting manly, women usually won't do this. This is the thing though: there are two things that these women are missing that prevents them from getting "big". One being large amounts of testosterone and the second being a high calorie diet. Therefore, the larger muscle recruitment from lifting heavy weight will burn more calories as well as develop some shape and "tone", which is exactly what most women are looking for.

In the New York Times this week an article was published addressing just this. It explained what many of us strength coaches/trainers have been trying to preach over the past years, that lifting heavy weights will have better results than endless hours of cardio and pink dumbbells. Try doings sets of 6-8 reps with a challenging weight for a little while and see the changes that occur. Not only will body composition improve, but you will be a lot more functional for daily life, whether it be as a mother, a worker, or a weekend athlete.

Get away from the normal thoughts of female training and avoid the group fitness classes and get in a squat rack and move around some heavy weights. You won't get manly and big (unless you are taking something) but instead you will see some results you have been waiting for for years.

Juliet Deane...she is a powerlifter, who lifts heavy weights as you can see. She is not what I would call manly by any means.