Core strength: A 360 degree perspective

Everyone is always talking about the “core”. Essential for strength, stability, and preventing back pain, we’ve become obsessed with this region of the body, but are we all on the same page with defining what our core is? As you will see, the core is much more than just the ab muscles.

Muscles of the core:

The core is a group of muscles in our trunk that protect the spine while allowing movement in every direction. Defining the core is important for making it stronger. Being able to visualize the different muscles working as you exercise will help you strengthen more effectively.

  • Multifidus-Don’t let its small size fool you. This muscle is located right next to the low spine for a reason. It is vital to spinal support and strength.
  • Scapular stabilizers-Rhomboids, trapezius, levator scapulae, serratus anterior, and rotator cuff muscles keep the shoulder in place while performing movement. The harder the exercise, the harder they work as a team to prevent shoulder injuries. These muscles are considered the “core” of the shoulder.
  • Internal obliques-Allow side to side bending. Provide lateral support to the trunk. Also known as “love handles.”
  • External obliques-Diagonal bending, spinal stability, and abdominal compression.
  • Transverse abdominis-The deepest layer of ab muscles, the transverse acts as a corset and helps to hold in the belly and also stabilizes the pelvis.
  • Rectus abdominis-Commonly known as the “six-pack”, these muscles flex our trunk and help maintain proper posture.
  • Quadratus lumborum-This deep back muscle stabilizes the pelvis and moves the spine in different directions.
  • Psoas-This complex muscle performs a number of functions including holding the spine in alignment and stabilzing the low back.
  • Erector spinae-These long muscles of the low back provide support to the spine and help us stand up straight as well as bend and lift without rounding the back.
  • Pelvic floor-Support the internal organs and help prevent incontinence.
  • Glutes-Gluteus maximus, minimis and medius are all important for stabilizing the hips. Without strong, stable hips, we are unable to safely perform many common exercises.
  • Local places to strengthen your core:

    The core can be strengthened doing almost anything as long as you are aware of your posture and make an effort to move from your center. Here are some examples:

  • Walking or hiking
  • Weight training-at a local gym, at home or even outside
  • Outdoor play (running, jumping, throwing)
  • Swimming
  • Golfing
  • Dancing
  • Pilates
  • Rock climbing-indoors at Pacific Edge, outdoors at Castle Rock or Pinnacles
  • Yoga-local gyms, bikram yoga studios, Nourish
  • Taking classes or working one-on-one with a fitness professional to gain a deeper understanding of your core is invaluable. These muscles work hard every day to prevent injury and optimize physical performance. It takes practice to learn how to use them correctly, but the benefits are well worth it.

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    Burst training offers superior fitness results

    Short-duration, high-intensity activity intervals (a.k.a. short-burst training, SBT, or just burst training) are becoming an increasingly popular fitness trend. Why? Because it leads to quicker results.

    What is burst training?

    Burst training is a style of exercising in which you exercise as hard as you can for a pre-determined time interval (anywhere from 30-90 seconds, commonly 60 secs). Rest intervals last at least as long as the burst interval and sometimes 2-3 times longer. You want to feel recovered from your burst interval before beginning the next one, so you should not resume bursting if you are still breathing heavily.

    Burst training sessions involve a total of 4-8 total minutes of bursts. Length of bursts and total bursts depend on your fitness level. For example, less fit folks may start with shorter bursts of 30 seconds (rest for 60) and repeat a total of eight times, whereas seasoned exercisers will do up to 8 minutes of bursting with bursts lasting 60 seconds. If you really push yourself, you will receive a workout that gives you better results in a fraction of the time.

    Examples of burst training activities are sprinting, jogging up and down stairs, jump-roping, heavy lifting, quick pushups, pullups, jumping jacks…anything that pushes you to your max by the end of 60 seconds. Santa Cruz has plenty of places to burst train, including the stairs at Seacliff beach, cement ship, Capitola, 3rd Avenue, Sandbar on the west side, TXT classes at Toadal Fitness, Crossfit classes, and indoor or outdoor bootcamp-style classes.

    How does burst training work?

    Burst training involves much shorter exercise sessions than both traditional strength training and traditional aerobic training. This training method is hard work. It has to be to deliver the results it does.

    When we burst, our bodies release high levels of  lactic acid. After awhile, we cannot recycle the lactic acid quickly enough and your body says, “I’m done!” The impact of lactic acid stimulates higher levels of human growth hormone (hGH) to be released about an hour after you exercise. hGH promotes fat loss, increases lean muscle, and helps de-age the body.

    Celebrity health and nutrition expert  JJ Virgin says the science is very clear that long cardio sessions raise stress hormones, burn out our adrenals, lower metabolism, and put the body in a catabolic (muscle breakdown) state.

    Higher intensity, short workouts burn more sugar/carbsduring exercise, which leads to greater fat burning after exercise. Lower intensity, longer workouts burn more fatduring exercise, but this method trains your body to put fat back on first after you exercise. Your body learns that it needs to use fat as fuel during exercise so you become better at storing fat when you train this way! Somewhat defeats the purpose of why most people are spending all that time on cardio machines in the first place, doesn’t it?!

    5 reasons burst training rocks

    1. Reduces body fat and increases lean mass in less time. The body is put into an anabolic (muscle building) state versus the catabolic state initiated with long workouts.
    2. Improves aerobic endurance and capacity. A study in 2005 showed that participants who did burst training 2x/wk, when re-tested, had doubled their aerobic endurance!
    3. Improves strength due to more lean muscle and a higher threshold for using that muscle.
    4. Mentally as well as physically strengthening as you learn to push yourself to a higher level of activity.
    5. Trains your stress hormones to relax so you don’t store as much fat. When you repeatedly burst and recover, the body doesn’t stay in fight-or-flight mode (traditional training demands a lot of the sympathetic nervous system). Steady state training raises stress hormones and keeps them raised, putting the body into muscle breakdown mode–the opposite of what you want if you are trying to build muscle and lower body fat. Burst training helps restore the natural ebb and flow of stress hormones.

    Proper guidance with burst training is advised. Not everyone can or should push him or herself to the limit without a checkup first. Burst training can certainly be worked up to slowly and modified if one has health limitations. See your health care provider for a physical exam and consider hiring a trainer or coach to get you started safely.

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    Egoscue Spotlight

    It’s great to be part of such a committed team of professionals. Check out my Egoscue Spotlight and if you are interested in getting out of pain and/or into the best shape of your life, don’t wait another second! Contact me today and let’s get to work on the right plan for your ultimate health!