Category Archives: Core exercises

Shape-Up Series – Anterior core

I’ve written about this before, and I want to stress again that the true definition of the body’s core is more than just a certain muscle or muscles that you can see in the mirror. Your core is a complex system involving numerous muscles in different layers, as well as other soft tissues and the bony structures they attach to. This also includes body systems like breathing, as well as your strategy of contraction, recruitment and integration.

To try to accurately and comprehensively relay this information through a few words and pictures is difficult, but I strongly believe that a little awareness and understanding is better than none. To train the muscles in your mid-section without this awareness is like driving a car with a flat tire. You might get where you’re going, but you’ll have very little control and probably cause costly damage along the way.

Anterior Core Setting

 In almost any movement you do, there is the potential for your body to be either strong and stable, or weak and unstable. Strong and stable is always better. This starts with good inner unit core activation, which provides stability for your pelvis and lower spine and initiates good firing patterns and sequencing for your muscles. On a daily basis, and before any core training or athletic activity, it’s good to practice this movement. Start on your back with your legs bent and heels on the floor. Place your fingertips flat on your lower abdomen so you can feel if it domes upward or flares wide. Take a deep breath in and exhale, allowing your abdomen to rise and fall. Once it has fallen inward, ‘set’ your inner-unit core system by contracting your pelvic floor muscles (as if you were gently trying to stop going to the bathroom). You should be able to feel your lower tummy flatten slightly. Now slowly perform a curl-up movement, leading with your lower ribcage rather than your head, while keeping your lower abdomen flat and narrow. Try to leave your legs (especially your hamstrings) relaxed as you go through this movement. Attempt 2-3 holds of 20-30 seconds, breathing comfortably and improving your core engagement throughout.

Ball Plank

Doing a plank on the floor is an excellent exercise, and performing it on a ball adds a whole new dimension. Start with your forearms on a ball and your hips, knees and ankles flexed. Your spine should be parallel to the floor with neutral curves. Good core activation will hold you strong in this starting position, which is more than challenging enough for beginning exercisers. To increase the leverage, slowly push the ball 2” forward and back, moving only the arms, without losing any quality in your spinal position or core engagement.  As you get stronger, increase the movement of the ball, and incorporate opening at the shoulders and hips at the same time. Perform 3 sets of 30-60 seconds in a smooth, controlled fashion. For increased instability and greater difficulty, try putting your hands on the ball instead of your forearms. As you get more comfortable, you can also increase the speed of the movements, or add side to side action to the ball. Always use your core engagement and neutral spinal alignment as your measure of quality and stop before you lose control.

Twisting Ball Crunch

When you’ve established the ability to maintain proper core activation, exercises like this ball crunch will be much more effective. Start by sitting on a ball and roll your hips forward until your lower back is on the dome of the ball. Have your feet hip to shoulder width apart and maintain a good core set. Place your fingertips behind your ears and lean back until your spine is in straight, neutral alignment. Crunch upward and twist to one side, moving your head, arms and shoulders as a single unit. Lower to the center and repeat to the other side. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per side. If this is too challenging, try keeping your arms folded across your chest.

Performance Sport Conditioning – Shear weakness

The more athletes I work with, the more amazed I am at how well some of these individuals manage to perform, considering the physical weaknesses and imbalances they possess. I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, but foundational core strength is pretty important, and is often less than ideal.

One weakness that regularly surfaces is the inability to maintain neutral alignment of the ribcage on top of the pelvis even under light lateral or rotational loads. The energy leakage or shearing that occurs across the mid-section can compromise performance and permit unnecessary stress to the spine. Proper core activation can increase 360˚ stability and prevent this problematic shearing from occurring.

Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for 20 years and currently operates an exclusive private training studio Mixx Fitness Studio, with a team of 10 trainers, as well as a multi-disciplinary posture facility, Performance Posture Clinic. Rob’s parent company is Williams Health Group. Rob is an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition. He is a sought-after posture and performance coach for professional and amateur athletes and celebrities.

The Power of Posture

Over the holiday season I was fortunate enough to work with four elite Canadian athletes, from two different sports, each playing at the national and international level. I have to admit that I continue to be amazed at how important posture is for overall health and athletic performance.

With each of these athletes, a preliminary posture analysis was performed to identify any asymmetries in their standing and neutral athletic positions. These observations were closely related to existing or prior injuries that these individuals have been managing during their playing careers. It’s always rewarding for me at this stage to watch an individual have that ‘AHA!’ moment, where they can actually see how their posture is contributing to their problems.

Once I’ve analyzed someone’s posture, it’s important to get an understanding of how their body functions. This is done through manual testing, for things like core function, joint range of motion and muscle flexibility, as well as with analysis of movement patterns and strategies. Poor posture causes faulty movement, which leads to pain and injury. In each athlete there were weaknesses identified that were clearly related to the athlete’s performance limitations or prior injuries.

Through thousands of posture assessments and related training sessions, I’ve observed how closely postural alignment is related to dysfunction at various parts of the body. The most notable areas are the neck, shoulders, lower back, hips and knee joints. If you’re dealing with overuse or chronic injuries in one or more of these areas, try improving your posture as part of your corrective rehabilitation program. You’ll be surprised how much it can help.

As always, consult your physician before beginning or modifying your exercise program, and be certain to perform an effective warm up.

Posture and back pain

If you deal with chronic lower back issues, or get recurring episodes of acute pain, there’s a good chance that your posture is part of the problem. Because of the complexity of the spine and pelvis there are many things that can go wrong to cause pain and dysfunction. Making sure that you sit, stand and move in the best position possible will prevent muscle imbalance, joint stress and increased pressure on the intervertebral discs of your spine.

One of the most common posture deviations is the anterior pelvic sway, where your hips and pelvis begin to drift forward of your body. As the pelvis migrates it often tilts forward as well and the upper body must lean backward to keep you from falling face first. These displacements result in an increased or sharpened curve in the lower back, as well as a rounded upper spine with forward head carriage. This increased curve in the lower back puts strain on the joints and extra pressure on the discs. One way to prevent this is to remember that your ribcage should always be aligned directly above your pelvic ring, with 360˚ support from the entire core complex.

Posture and shoulder injuries

Clients often come to me with mild to moderate shoulder problems caused by sports or their occupation. Most of the time they’ve already tried various forms of therapy and treatment, but not had any permanent resolution to the problem. When this is the case, a posture assessment usually gives some indication of why.

Most posture deviations result in changes to the position and alignment of the upper spine and torso. When this happens, the arms will hang forward of the body and the shoulder blades will swing outward around the ribcage, often winging or rolling forward. This is one of the worst positions because it increases the risk of shoulder joint injuries. By realigning the rest of the body, the arms and shoulders will become more neutral, and the joints won’t be as susceptible to trauma.

Posture and how you move

Rob training Scott Richmond on Core X

Likely the most stimulating aspect of my professional practice is the part where I get to analyze a client’s movement strategies and improve upon them by optimizing their dynamic posture and alignment. Everyone should understand that training their bodies to maintain the best positions possible during movement will maximize their strength, balance and function. Even the elite athletes I work with see an instant improvement in their stability and athleticism when I coach them into better body position. This might involve getting deeper into the hip joints to encourage the big glute muscles to fire, or neutralizing the curves of the spine so that the core muscles can work from a position of strength.

When considering your own body position, check if your spine and pelvis are square and neutral and that your core system is engaged. Be sure you’ve balanced your bodyweight between your two feet, keeping them active rather than collapsed. All movement should begin from the center of your body, and happen with efficient precision. Try to avoid excessive, unnecessary motion, or weak, imbalanced body positions.

Rob Williams is a Vancouver based multi-business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is an entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes on the North Shore www.williamshealthgroup.com

Take it of in 2012

Weight loss is no laughing matter. Although it’s probably the number one New Years resolution, successful weight loss eludes most people, including those who need it most. I’ve written about weight loss before, and shared my most effective strategies, yet I realize that there are still many people who struggle when it comes to dropping a few pounds.

Because there is so much conflicting information about how to lose weight, many people are confused and overwhelmed by the thought of it. Every second magazine I see in the stores promises to help you get a flat tummy or rock-hard abs in a few short weeks. I saw one the other day that was advertising how you could lose 30lbs in 3 months like a famous pop star.

If you’re determined to lose weight and are looking for some direction, here’s a no-nonsense, tried and true program for building muscle, burning fat, and being happy with your body. I can’t actually make you follow through every step of the way, but I can be sure you know what to do and how to do it. Always consult your physician before beginning or modifying your fitness program.

Weekly training schedule

I truly believe that an individual should be able to maintain their bodyweight at desirable levels by doing regular resistance training and eating properly. You shouldn’t need to grind away at cardiovascular exercise for hours each week just to keep from gaining fat. If this is the case, then you’re eating too much. For anyone whose goal is to steadily lose body fat, I find some cardio is helpful, and the following schedule works very well:

Monday/Wednesday/Friday – Full body resistance training program  40-60-minutes

Tuesday/Thursday – Cardiovascular exercise   30-45 minutes

Saturday – Be active

Sunday – Rest

The full-body resistance training sessions will jump-start your metabolism by stimulating your muscle tissue. This will increase the number of calories that you burn during all activities. By training the body on non-consecutive days, you’ll give your muscles time to recover and repair so they’re ready to go for your next workout. The cardiovascular activity days will help to remove waste products and deliver healthy nutrients to your muscles in-between your resistance workouts, and will improve your cardiovascular health, while burning extra calories. Having a day on the weekend for activities like cycling, hiking, kayaking or sports will ensure enough variety in your week to prevent boredom, while providing a cross-training benefit. Resting your body one day per week is essential for re-charging your engine and keeping your energy levels up.

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The Workout

The full-body workouts recommended in this program aren’t specific when it comes to particular exercises, and the exercises can be changed from one day to the next. The important thing is that you use as much of your muscle mass as possible for the duration of the training session. The more muscle mass you use, the more calories you’ll burn, and the greater the benefit, both during the workout and afterward.

One approach is to take all of the major muscle groups in the body and pair them up. The three larger muscle groups that require compound exercises are the legs, back and chest. The smaller muscle groups that are targeted with more isolated exercises are the shoulders, biceps and triceps. Pair a large group with a small group (ie. legs + shoulders, back + triceps, chest + biceps) and choose two exercises for each muscle group. Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps of the first exercises, alternating between the muscle groups, then move on to 2 sets of 10-15 reps for the next exercises. Repeat for each pair of muscle groups.

A workout might look something like this:

Warm-up

Squats and DB Shoulder Press – 3 x 10-15

Walking Lunges and Upright Rows – 2 x 10-15

Seated Cable Rows and Overhead Tricep Rope – 3 x 10-15

Lat pulldowns and Bench Dips – 2 x 10-15

Incline DB press and Barbell Curls – 3 x 10-15

Pushups and DB Hammer Curls – 2 x 10-15

Core Work

This may seem like a lot of sets but if you keep moving from one exercise to the next, and only rest when changing exercises, you’ll easily get through the whole workout, including warm-up and core work, in 45-60 minutes.

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Nutrition: The Key Ingredient

There are dozens of books and internet websites devoted to eating for weight loss. Personally I’ve seen so many of my clients succeed with the approach of eating 4-5 small meals, evenly spaced throughout the day, that I’m not sure why anyone would do anything else. Choose high-quality foods, avoid snacking, and keep sugars, fats and alcohol to a minimum. Limit the amount of carbohydrates that you eat in your last two meals of the day. Diarizing everything you consume will help keep you accountable, and drinking lots of water will improve your digestion, absorption and removal of waste products.

Rob Williams is a Vancouver based multi-business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is an entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes in the North Shore community.www.williamshealthgroup.com