Monday, July 26, 2010

Core Stability- Rotation

Leave the Twist to Chubby Checker
The core is a critical link in rotational movement, and perhaps more often, resisting rotational movement.  Previously I defined the core and discussed its role in bending.  As a quick refresher, the core refers to the area between the ribs and pelvis, including the lumbar spine, and its primary role is to provide a stable connection to transmit force between the upper and lower halves of the body.

The less obvious role of the core is to twist and resist twisting the spine, technically called transverse plane movement or rotation.  Resisting rotation is more important than creating it- this is called anti-rotation, and is a form of stability.  Anti-rotation stability is critical for functional strength and athletic performance, and for avoiding injury to the low spine.  The internal and external obliques are the primary muscles involved, but as always it's a team effort.

Twisting the spine means that the hips, ribcage, and head point in different directions.  The head isn't part of the core of course, so it's the change in orientation between the ribcage and pelvis we're talking about and trying to build strength to resist.  Being able to twist is good, but heavy exertion while twisted is definitely bad, and trying to twist the low spine as a stretch is also not advised, although maintaining existing range of motion is appropriate.

Anti-Rotation Examples
As always, I advocate compound, full body exercises, and discourage using machines.  The one machine that is OK though is the adjustable cable column, usually seen as a cable crossover machine or the fancy Free Motion machine.  These machines will serve well to learn about anti-rotation.

Stand facing a cable column with the pulley at shoulder height.  Grasp the handle and pull it toward you.  Physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  As you pull the handle, it pulls you, and the pull is a combination of rotating your spine toward the pulley and bending it forward.  Do the exercise, called a row, with the hips and chest facing straight toward the machine the whole time, and those anti-rotation muscles will get used nicely.  Do both sides, then face away from the machine and push.  Again, use the core muscles to keep the torso in line.

The progression from this to really work at anti-rotation is to stand in the middle of two cable columns and push one while pulling the other.  This will really, really, work those anti-rotation muscles, without including the bending muscles, plus give you some nice shoulder exercise.

These show how to keep the torso stable motionless while working the upper extremities, but more fun is to move the whole body while keeping the core in a strong, stable alignment.

It's All in the Hips
Here's the absolutely critical part:  We do need to twist, but not the lower spine.  Twisting should come from the hips.  Too much sitting down and general lack of movement causes tight hips.  Since the hips are tight when you do try to twist, extra stress is put on the spine.  This means that equally important to strengthening the core in order to protect the spine from this stress is gaining hip mobility and movement patterns to avoid the stress in the first place.

When the body needs to turn to the side, the pelvis and ribcage should both turn, and at the same time the legs should be turning in the hip sockets.  This gets a bit difficult to explain in writing, so I'm going to include a couple of videos from great coaches that further explain this idea.  These are my first embedded videos, so let me know if they don't look right.  The first is Rotary / AntiRotation Core Training from Nick Tumminello, a huge name in the training world with a blog well worth following:

Second is from TCU coach Zach Dechant from his blog post Rotational Movement Series, which gives details on an example exercise and other excellent rotational training information:

I'll discuss this more in the future and give more exercise examples that integrate anti-rotation with other movement.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

First, Move, Then Improve

After spending a long time at a gym, you become familiar with how some of the other regulars work out.  You may notice that most do the same exercises every time.  If you are a bodyworker, trainer or coach you may notice even more.  You may notice not only that the routine is the same, but may have other shortcomings such as over emphasizing some movements and ignoring others, never improving and worst, doing things which may be harmful.

So, what to do?  Well, mostly nothing.  It isn't my, or your, responsibility to correct someone.  And face it- no matter how well intentioned and non-judgmental the advice is it probably won't be welcome.  Still, if I know the person at least a little and they somehow seem like they might be receptive, I look for ways and times to make a suggestion that won't sound like criticism.  I think, at least hope, that people in this business want to help others, and never offering advice would be overly chary of our knowledge.  Of course as a professional trainer in our place of employment, offering advice may actually be part of the job.

What I try to keep in mind is that for most people at the gym the comparison shouldn't be between a poor workout and a good one, but between working out and not working out at all.  Being inactive is far worse than repeating an ineffective routine every gym visit, and far be it from me to discourage someone from trying.

The first thing the body must do is move.

Then, if there's interest in going beyond maintaining the status quo, and spending the same amount of time getting stronger, leaner, and moving better, I'm available to help.

In the meantime, I'll try to stand back, shut up, and (mostly) mind my own business.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Reaching a Fitness Goal

A personal goal, with an asterisk, met
One year ago I started doing dumbbell snatches.  Like most new things, progress was rapid at first then slower and slower.  In May I set a specific weight I would lift by July, and last week I did it with one day to spare- from the floor, a clean lift, and a steady pause overhead before setting the weight down.  The asterisk is because I did it with one hand and not the other.

The snatch is shown here, and I'll mention that it is notable for its complexity, requiring coordination between different parts of the body doing more than one thing each. Almost every body part is involved, and power and stability are critical. Naturally I use a dumbbell because it's harder, meaning you get fitter, than a barbell.

The weight was 70 lbs., which happens to be the heaviest dumbbell at my gym.

I began with 25 lbs.  That amount I could put over my head any way I wanted, but I spent a month with it practicing the proper form.  And even as I slowly started adding weight, I found improvements in technique I could make.  A year later, and I still need to improve my form and timing.  I reached my my goal, with asterisk, not because I have any inherent physical talent or experience in sports(I was a nerd) but because I put in the work to gain a skill I didn't have.

As a Personal Trainer, my job is to give you guidance and encouragement to help you develop the skill and strength to meet your fitness goals.   Whether short term and arbitrary like lifting the heaviest dumbbell in the gym, or long term like improved health and athleticism, personal training can help you.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New Blog Home- Welcome!

This is both a "so long!" to my old blog address and a "welcome!" to my new blog address and new blog name.  As my business has evolved to include personal training, I thought it appropriate to make the name change.

The new name is Steven Rice Fitness at the address

The existing content has been moved, and all new content will be on Steven Rice Fitness.  I'll be writing about the same topics, including massage, but I think massage is part of fitness more than fitness is part of massage.