Serial Trainer

{August 8, 2008}   What’s All the Hype About “The Core”, Anyway?

When you go to a trainer for a fitness assessment, it’s more than just telling you what you probably already know. You’re out of shape. The truth of the matter, is that we all have something wrong with us that needs “fixing”. Even your trainer.

That ballerina who looks so elegant and fit and graceful? She has postural deviations, too. No one is exempt. The reason why this is happening is because of lifestyles and environments. Take this moment to stand up and look in the mirror while in a relaxed natural state. Look forward, then turn to the side. Compare it to the following picture:

[Click on the picture for a larger view]

I would guess that 99% of you have one of the postures to the right of the first one. I used to have fun with my clients and “guess” what kind of lifestyle or job they had before they told me. It was amusing to see their eyes widen as if I had read their palm, in surprise.

I could say things like, “you sit at a desk all day” or especially for females, “during your squat assessment, I could see that you leaned more to the left to take the load off the right hip. so you probably carried your baby in the left arm and used that hip, right?” and my clients would always laugh at how accurate I could get. The “baby hip” is the one that gets them all the time. We stand in such funky positions as mothers!

The problem with that is we are adapting to our lifestyles. I’m hearing “oh’s” and “ah’s” as the realization sinks in. Your body is slowly molding to what you do, every day. If you sit at the computer, how do I know? Your chin probably juts forward, you may have tension headaches, shoulders are rolled forward, etc.

It’s really not an attractive look, am I right? Can you hear your mother’s voice in your head saying, “don’t slouch”? This is why working and using your core is so very important. Want to get rid of chronic lower back pain? Stick with me and don’t wander off. It may be a less expensive cure than a new bed and/or chiropractor.

Benefits of working the core:

  • relieving lower back pain
  • preventing injury
  • improving posture
  • improving function of vital organs
  • improves balance and footing (think senior years, definitely)
  • improves breathing

I could go on but I think that’s a pretty healthy list, don’t you? Let’s look at a few of those and explain them, shall we?

Preventing lower back pain. You’re in a sitting position all day. Hip flexors are contracted (tight) for about 7+ hours a day. You may be overweight and carry most of that extra weight in your abdomen so your pelvis dips forward. You go home and sit down for dinner, then sit down and maybe catch up on email/work, then sit down and watch some television, then go to bed. You wake up and your back is throbbing sore but your doctor says you’re otherwise healthy.

The culprit in this scenario for my first guess would be a postural deviation. You’re asleep and relaxed all night, your muscles finally loosen and wow. Imagine holding a dumbbell in your arm, contracted, for the entire day. Do you think your bicep would be screaming and sore by the time you put it down at the end of the day? How about the next day? Your back takes a lot of abuse.

Now let’s go on to improved breathing. If you’re hunched over all day, how on earth do you think you’re getting full, productive breaths? Answer: You’re not. If you work your core and you have good posture, you are sitting taller, organs are in alignment, shoulders are pulled back and head is sitting level over your shoulders and ..wait.. what’s that? You can breathe!

Do you know what this also prevents? Tension headaches. We stare at computers all day long so it may not be a “cure all” but it will certainly help. To better understand what I’m saying, let’s break it down. Your head, alone, weighs 8lbs. So your shoulders, chest and back muscles have to balance this head-ball all day. Now, take the head-ball and move it forward slightly. What’s straining to pull that head back up? That’s right! Your neck muscles. Only now, it’s not 8lbs, because gravity is working against you. All those tiny little neck muscles are straining to hold 10-16 lbs, maybe? Owch.

The breathing leads directly into the vital organ point. If your muscles, blood and organs don’t get oxygen, they’re suffocating. I think that’s pretty blunt and direct. Do you need anymore explanations? I hope not. When things suffocate, they die. So you’re essentially slowly killing –or depleting– your organs, faster.

So what does all this have to do with preventing injury? Muscle over-compensation.

What the heck does that mean?

You’re body is this incredible machine. Think of it as a car. We get into it and love it for a bit, then a few years down the road, we have kids and they spill drinks on it, drop food in it, leave garbage in it…oh, sorry I got off on a tangent!

I digress. This machine we call the human body, is so intelligent that it can adapt to nearly anything you put it through. So if your day to day life is to sit, hunched over a keyboard all day. Your body will adapt your muscles and skeleton to that position. Isn’t that great!?

What? Oh, that’s right. It looks ugly and you are sore and feel like crap every day. In a nutshell here is what muscle compensation does that isn’t so wonderful:

You stand up too quickly and feel a twinge. You pulled your back out again.

You are playing in the backyard with the kids/pets and as you run you feel that pinch in the back of your leg where you just pulled a hamstring.

Imagine trying to walk down those steep stairs and your ankle or knee becomes too weak to support your weight. It gives out and you fall. You couldn’t re-balance yourself to steady your fall.

You want that big, sexy chest you see in all the Muscle & Fitness mags. You do chest presses so often your buddy’s call you Joey “The Bench Press” Kawalski. But the only pose you can do is the “front-abdominal-thigh-isolation” and the “Hulk Hogan“.

It’s scary isn’t it? I can hear a lot of you checking the web right now for how strengthen your core. And that’s great! You’ll be looking and feeling better because of it. As always I’ll preach it until I’m down to the bone in my fingers: Get your doctor’s approval before beginning any workout. Then, get with a trainer. Most fitness assessments are free, if not, get a new gym! Find out what a trainer sees that you can’t. Their eyes are trained to catch a lot more than we can but they can also tell you what stretches and exercises can fix it. They have a chart that they use while you perform certain exercises to see where your problem areas are and what potential danger could arise from not only day to day activities, but in the gym as well.

It goes deeper than just your core. It goes down into your calves, up into your neck and there are small, preventatives that you can implement to erase bad habits. In the next post, I’ll go over self-myofascial release. It’s not as scary as it sounds, but it all ties in.

So stop slouching! And get to work that core!

I’ll leave you with some stretches, from the Mayo Clinic, that you can do at the office right now to alleviate some discomfort.


Ron says:

So strengthing my back and core and doing those back stretches will be enough to make me get rid of my awful posture? I always assumed that, since my mom has the same posture, that it was just something genetic.

serialtrainer says:

A lot of people think that they are predisposed to a lot of things they aren’t. Granted it does play a part in things and you may have to work harder than most people but in most cases it’s not impossible to break the mold.

good story i like because new knowledge for me.

Very interesting to know the reasons why we are suffering from different kinds of pains and about the methods to reduce those pains.There is a therapy discovered by arizon back institute which reduces pains without using any drugs or surgery.

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