BUILD MORE THAN GREAT ABS

By Kellie Davis

Core Stability Training

The words “core” and “abs” are often interchangeable in casual workout conversations, but the core is more complex than that coveted six pack. Training both the deep and superficial core muscles protects the spine, increases stability and mobility in joints, and safeguards against injury.

The superficial abdominals that show up when belly fat disappears are just a fraction of the big picture. Having a strong, stable core extends beyond what is seen on the surface. In other words, a ripped stomach does not equal strength and stability. Learning how to tap into the inner core will not only deliver beach-ready abs, but will also increase strength and mobility. Let’s take a look at what makes up the core and how it works.

The Core Make Up

Though different practitioners have various definitions for the core, the term “core” is used to describe the muscles, bones, and tissue from the sternum to the hips. Think of the core as a cylinder with the diaphragm at the top, the pelvic floor at the bottom, and the walls as the deep torso muscles (transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal obliques) as well as the superficial torso muscles (rectus abdominis, external obliques). The core also includes the hips, SI joint, psoas, pelvis, and lumbar spine.

The core is often thought of as a prime mover for trunk flexion and extension –basically bending forward and leaning back. In turn, most core training revolves around movement, including crunches and back extension (which isn’t a back exercise, but a glutes exercise). But in order to achieve optimal core strength and stability, it’s important to think beyond squeezing the abs.

The core is responsible for proper breathing, maintaining posture, joint stabilization (including the spine), energy absorption and transfer, and urinary and fecal continence. The inner core must be balanced with the outer core for all of these awesome functions to take place – hence the need to think beyond the abs.

To gain a better understand of what the core looks like and how it functions, here is a breakdown of each muscle.

The pelvic floor: The pelvic floor sits like a cradle inside the bony pelvis. These muscles support pelvic organs, promote waste continence, aid in sexual function, act as lymphatic pumps, and stabilize connecting joints. The pelvic floor works in conjunction with the diaphragm to regulate breathing and stabilize joints. During an inhale, the diaphragm pushes down, putting pressure on the abdominal wall. The pelvic floor accepts this pressure and descends slightly due to its elasticity. During an exhale, the pelvic floor recoils and the diaphragm ascends.

The diaphragm: The diaphragm is an umbrella-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs, below the sternum. Music teachers stress the importance of the diaphragm because it helps regulate proper breathing patterns. The diaphragm has to activate before the abdominal wall during regular breathing as well as various movement patterns. Mix this up, and the diaphragm cannot descend properly, which decreases spinal stability. Intra-abdominal pressure is created when you activate your diaphragm, pelvic floor, and abdominal wall together. this is often referred to as bracing during exercise. This keeps your spine and pelvis aligned during planks and push-ups, and protects your spine during deadlifts and squats.

Practice: Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal wall and also works as a great stress reliever. Here’s how to do it.

•          Lie on your back on a mat or bed with a pillow supporting your knees and head. Place the left hand on your chest near your clavicle and the right hand below your sternum where your diaphragm is located.

•          Breathe in through your nose starting your breath at your diaphragm. Fill your belly with air so that the right hand is moving upward. The left hand should remain completely still.

•          Exhale through your mouth, and, while keeping your abdominal muscles tight, pull your belly button toward the spine so that the abdominals fall inward and the right hand lowers. The left hand should remain still.

•          Practice this for 10 belly breaths in and out.

Multifidus: The multifidus is a series of superficial and deep muscles attached to the spine that keeps it straight and stable. These muscles activate before back extension and rotation to protect the spine from injury.

Transverse Abdominis: The transverse abdominis (TA) is a stabilizing muscle group deep in the abdominal wall. Rather than moving the body like the rectus abdominis and obliques, the TA compresses and supports the abdominal cavity and spine like a corset.9 The TA is a postural muscle group, so it should be trained differently than the movers. This is likely the most overlooked muscle group in the core, and often the rectus abdominis is far stronger than the TA.

It’s important to start all postural exercises by activating the TA. This is easier said than done, so here is a good activation exercise to perform. This will teach you how to activate your TA prior to exercises that require spinal stabilization like planks, push-ups, bicycle, pull-ups, etc.

Abdominal Draw-In

  1. Lie face-up with a pillow supporting the head. Bend the knees, placing feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place a rolled up towel or tennis ball between the knees.
  3. Slightly roll the hips up to bring your low back toward the floor and align the pubic bone with the pelvis. Squeeze the towel between the knees and draw the abdominals in so that the navel pulls back toward the spine. Do this without moving the chest or crunching the rectus abdominis.
  4. Perform each rep for five seconds, but do not hold your breath.
  5. Repeat for five repetitions in three sets.

Rectus Abdominis: These long, flat muscles extend vertically along the length of the abdomen and are what is known as the six-pack. These muscles flex the torso and spine by pulling the rib cage closer together. Crunches work the rectus abdominis, but too many crunches and not enough deep core activation can lead to a weak TA.

External and Internal Obliques: These broad, superficial muscles lie on the lateral sides of the abdomen outside of the rectus abdominis. When contracted, these muscles perform several different movements including lateral flexion and trunk rotation. Internal obliques are positioned between the external obliques and the TA. When acting together, both sides flex the vertebral column, bringing the pubis toward the breastbone. Separately, when they contract it brings the vertebral column to the side or rotates it.

Make It All Work Together

Bird dog

1. Rest on all fours: Place hands under shoulders and align the knees under the hips.

2. Draw the abdominals in toward your spine to activate TA.

3. Extend the right arm and left leg until they create a straight line with your torso. Keep the abdominals drawn in and contract the glutes at full extension.

4. Lower arm and leg back down and repeat for 10 reps on the same side. Switch sides and repeat for 10 more reps.

Tips:

•          Avoid allowing the spine to arch and the abdominals to move toward the floor as the hip extends.

•          Extend the leg straight back, keeping it in line with the hip. Do not allow the working leg to move outward, away from the stationary leg.

•          If it is difficult to move the arm and leg simultaneously, switch to just the arm, then just the leg, then try for both as you progress.

Deadbug

1. Lie face-up with feet on the floor. Roll the hips up to align the pubic bone with the pelvis and draw the belly button toward the spine.

2. Place both arms up with fingertips toward the ceiling and both legs up with bent knees.

3. Move the right leg and left arm out to full extension so that the elbow is by the ear and the leg hovers above the floor. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side for a total of 10 repetitions on each side.

Tips:

•          As the arm and leg extend, do not allow the chest to rise and arch the back. Maintain a neutral spine and keep the core engaged.

•          If this is not possible, stop the movement at the point before the chest begins to rise and the back begins to arch. Over time, work to increase this range of motion to full extension.

Plank from Elbows with Hip Extension

1. Lie on a mat face down, rising up onto your forearms and toes.

2. Maintain abdominal draw-in and contract the glutes so that the pelvis aligns with the ribs and pubic bone.

3. Extend the right leg upward toward the ceiling, keeping a contraction in the glutes. Hold for two seconds and repeat for a total of 10 times.

4. Perform the same movement on the left side.

Tips:

•          Maintain the abdominal draw-in and glutes contraction throughout the duration of the exercise. If form breaks, reset before continuing.

•          If hip extension is too difficult, perform front planks only.

Plank from Side with Hip Abduction

1. Lie on the right side with the elbow under the shoulder. Rise up so the body is resting on the forearm and foot.

2. Contract the obliques and raise the top leg toward the ceiling. Lower the leg and repeat ten times.

3. Switch to the left side and repeat.

Tips:

•          Keep the obliques contracted so the body remains aligned and the spine neutral.

•          Elbow pain during this exercise can result from not positioning the arm directly under the shoulder.

Kellie Davis

Kellie started her career as a fitness writer in 2009 with a blog. That has led to co-authoring a women’s strength training book called Strong Curves. She currently attends graduate school at The George Washington University and lives with her husband and two children.

CORRECTIVE EXERCISE FOR CHRONIC KNEE ISSUES

By Dr. Evan Osar

Do you work with clients that have knee pain? How about yourself – do you have knee discomfort that nags at you as you are doing your workouts or runs? While the medical field likes to blame genetics and old age, most chronic knee problems are related to our habits. More specifically it is the loss of optimal alignment and control during activities of daily living and exercise that contribute to most knee issues. In this article, we will discuss one of more common alignment issues that relate to chronic knee issues and demonstrate a simple corrective strategy to help your clients exercise, walk, and/or run with better alignment and control.

One of the most common misalignment issues affecting the knee is external tibial rotation. It is quite easy to note this alignment in your client by looking at their knee position, specifically their femur to tibia relationship. You will note that the client’s patella (knee cap) is facing forward however their foot is turned. Note this alignment in this individual’s right leg.

Recognize that your client’s standing alignment is generally the same alignment that they will utilize when they squat, lunge, jump, walk, and/or run. This will place a tremendous amount of stress upon the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus of the knee and is a common cause of tears. Additionally chronic walking and exercising with this alignment leads to degenerative changes of the knee.

The great news is that as a fitness professional you can do a lot for these individuals by helping them align and control their knee position.  One of our go to corrective exercise patterns – and one that you can incorporate into your client’s program – for helping to align and control the knee position is the lying ball curl.

The client lies on their back with their heels positioned on an exercise ball with their ankles in slight dorsiflexion. They will gently push their heels down into the ball and pull their knees in towards their chest and then return them to the starting position. They will perform 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets. The feet should remain in dorsiflexion throughout the pattern and there should be no change in the pelvis or spine alignment throughout the pattern. Naturally this exercise is not ideal for clients with significant injury and/or degeneration so do not perform the exercise if this movement is uncomfortable for your client.

Once you have improved the client’s alignment and control in the supine position, you must help them incorporate this into the upright posture. Be sure to line up the hip, knee, and ankle-foot complex as you are having your client perform squats and lunges. You do not want force the tibia inward however you do want to be sure to help the individual achieve the best alignment that their body will allow.

It is important to maintain this ideal alignment through all their lower extremity patterns including step ups and bridges as well as during any cardio exercises they are doing. It is not advisable to have the client try to adjust their alignment while walking and/or running since they will likely compensate by rotating their femur rather than their tibia. However, another good opportunity to work on proper knee alignment is while they are on the stationary bike and/or elliptical machine.

With proper alignment and control you can help a lot of your clients alleviate the chronic stress upon their knee. As they gain more confidence in their ability to move without discomfort, you will empower your clients to remain active so they can accomplish their goals of losing weight, gaining strength, and/or improving balance.

If you are looking for more information on the knee including anatomy, biomechanics, and corrective exercise strategies, than you will want to check out the following resource. This summer at the ECA Thrive event we presented Corrective Exercise Strategy for Saving Your Client’s Knees. If you were unable to attend we recorded a webinar covering the exact strategies we use with our own clients. This webinar is full of useful information and strategies so that you can help your clients with knee issues. Access this information at the following link.

About the author

Dr. Evan Osar, an international presenter and postural/movement specialist, is the 2013 ECA/OBOW award winner of All Around Personal Trainer.  Dr. Osar is the creator of over a dozen resources including the highly acclaimed Corrective Exercise Approach to Common Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction. He is the developer of the Integrative Movement U™ – the on-line education resource for the health and fitness professional looking to develop themselves into the expert that their general population clients need, want, and will pay for. For more information including free video resources on posture and corrective exercise, please visit www.fitnesseducationseminars.com

CREAM RISES: Excellence in Private and Group Fitness Education

CREAM RISES: Excellence in Private and Group Fitness Education, Lawrence Biscontini’s third book, details the lessons Lawrence has learned within fitness industry, including tips from the best leaders in the field. Make the transition from good to great and elevate your abilities as you learn what makes
the cream rise to the top in a competitive economy. The book features many interactive “TRY THIS” lessons to fuse theory with practical application.

Aerobic Fitness Proves to Be Beneficial

According to researchers from the University of Alberta, traditional aerobic fitness training trumps pedometer-based programs. The study compared fitness training to a pedometer-based walking program, measuring the fitness and health outcomes of each.

This six-month study, published by exercise physiologist, Gordon Bell, recruited 128 physically inactive men and women with no known cardiovascular or other diseases. Throughout the study, all participants saw benefits. Those participants in the supervised aerobic fitness program showed significantly greater reductions in their systolic blood press, rating of perceived exertion, ventilatory threshold, and peak VO2. Source: sciencedaily.com

10,000 Classes by Renee Diamond

“The mediocre teacher tells, The good teacher explains, The superior teacher demonstrates, The great teacher inspires” – William Arthur Ward

I have done the math and have come to the realization that I have taught more than 10,000 classes since I began my career in 1979. Starting in fitness and evolving as time (and injuries) went on, my partnership with yoga in around 1995, satisfying healthy balance, brought me to the present.

You may wonder what prompted me to make the calculations of those teaching hours. Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, Outliers: The Story of Success, says that 10,000 hours spent honing your skills is a baseline of success. He sites many examples of successful people in all fields and includes other factors such as work ethic, luck, a strong support system and even being in the right place at the right time. If you practice something for 10,000 hours, you become proficient enough to be called a master. The number stuck in my mind and I was curious so I went back and started counting to see if I qualified.

While I am positive that true mastery has been attained, this exercise illustrated for me how much experience I’ve actually had. I could also see that hours spent in actual studio time teaching, add up to a substantial self-education. Taking whatever level of education you have and putting it into play with a live audience is a challenge. How many times have I prepared a fabulous class and had to throw the whole thing out and go to Plan B when the circumstances in the room were not what I thought they’d be? For example, a class labeled intermediate and half the room shows up beginner; or the ac system malfunctions and the room is too hot or very cold; or, more subtly, you can feel that the practice you planned is not the right fit for the energy in the class that day.

This last example is, perhaps, one of the most important aspects of teacher development: the ability to “read” the room. You can’t learn it in teacher training, no matter how many hours you dedicate, yet it is the most vital skill. A well-tuned teacher can deliver three poses and have everyone walk out with a smile on his face. A well-tuned teacher knows when he or she has hit it just right.

What then are the standards and measures in our business by which teachers are hired; The RYT requirements
for certain positions in studios, health clubs, spas, or corporations? A 200-hour basic certification course is not an overwhelming amount of training; however, it is enough in many cases to gain employment.

Let’s say that the 200-hour teacher lands an entry-level position and teaches 3 classes a week. That’s 144 actual teaching hours per year; 576 hours in four years (if the
class is one hour). She is very successful and her classes are packed. Now this teacher is ready to move up in her
life and wants to apply to a high-end spa or club where the compensation is better. The new facility requires 500 hours of teacher training to qualify for a position there. Her colleague just completed her 500 hours at Kripalu and is ready for

her first teaching job. Whose 500 hours is more pertinent or valuable: the one with actual hands on experience or the one with teacher training education hours? The answer is neither – or both. The education is essential, but we also have to be able to deliver this knowledge and connect to people, to motivate and inspire, to give the right lesson at the right moment. This takes practice, perhaps 10,000 hours, as Mr. Gladwell theorizes.

I often have teachers-in-training in my classes. Afterward,
I am asked to sign their record books confirming their attendance in my class that day. Maybe in the future we may need to have the student sign for us, confirming receipt of a yoga class well delivered. This could prove to be an important record necessary in qualifying us for mastery or, at the very least, a raise.

What Do You Think Is the Future of Group Fitness?

Answered by long time ECA presenter, Jon Giswold.

Carol. Great question. As an old timer, I have seen our industry go through growing pains as any industry must in order to sustain itself and prosper. I think that we are at a crossroads now where a movement became an industry. When passion turns into business, along the way it loses it soul. I remember when our industry cared about people dying of AIDS and we worked for the City of Hope in such an organic way, jumping jacks for dollars and aerobic marathons. The City of Hope had a large marker in the rose garden that said, THERE IS NO PROFIT IN CURING THE BODY IF, IN THE PROCESS, WE DESTROY THE SOUL.

Well, our industry has lost some soul. The organic way that we use to have to find a studio on the third floor of nowhere, where we changed clothes in a bathroom and smelled the burritos being prepped for that night down in the basement. The authenticity of what we were doing is over, I feel, and the spirit of the teachers has been fragmented. We are all in special groups. We have ourselves pitted the Personal Training staff against the Mind Body Staff who think that the Group Ex Staff are not worthy and the Aqua Staff are the ugly step kids that only want attention from the SPINNERS and the STEP instructor who has been sent to Siberia. When did this happen? When did the convention circuit turn into it’s own culture that never seems to translate to the rooms that teachers work in? Maybe I am out of touch. I think that we should be concerned with what people need and how to deliver it to them in safe and effective ways. We are never going to make any progress in getting our country to an ideal weight when we don’t look further than the front row of our class.

Community – Join the Group!

In this ever-growing isolating culture where people text people in the same room, we are in desperate need of community! One of the great benefits of group fitness is the ability to have a communal experience. Whether you are training people in small group trainings, teaching in a studio, or club, the group is able to experience that sense of community which fosters everything from retention to greater fitness results along with bonding and lasting friendships. Humans are social beings and need interaction. We as fitness professionals are able to offer a forum where this type of interaction is made possible. We can expand upon this benefit by offering more opportunities for interaction. As the leader of the group, you are the role model for fostering a greater sense of community. Learn and use the names of those that attend your trainings or classes. Offer a time within the class or training for discussion or comment. Praise and acknowledge fellow attendees. Offer attendees the opportunities to work as partners or in small groups where they can reinforce friendships and interaction.  Offer attendees the ability to lead or demonstrate the exercises or routines. By providing more interactions within the group you are enabling them to experience a greater social environment, which in turn leads to even more positive effects. Bonding can occur and with that, an increased sense of belonging. Attendees or members can now share and vent their feelings, feel a greater sense of inclusion, and empathize; all are important emotions that need expression. We as Trainers and Instructors need similar outlets. Places where we, as like-minded populations can gather and share our common experiences and expressions together and commune in a positive environment. Conventions and workshops are excellent opportunities that provide that environment. Even staff meetings (which can sometimes make us cringe) are great sources to bond with fellow travellers and get to know each other.

Although sometimes inconvenient, group and communal experiences are necessary and provide an important component to our mental health and wellbeing.  Next time you are out and about, pop the headphones out of your ears, turn your cell phone off, and engage! You’ll see it will leave you more fulfilled then being isolated.

Community Begins in the Classroom

By Heidi Aspen Rhoades

In the last issue of ECA, Carol Scott encouraged our industry to push the limits of our profession beyond the physical needs of our clients and ourselves and look to reaching out to our community at large, which includes the earth.

Michelle Mascari, general manager of group fitness for Lifetime Fitness, gave a presentation at the ECA/THRIVE Miami 2010 conference where she discussed best practices for fitness instructors.  One of the key best practices is building and creating a sense of community among our students and the power that team building can have on our group in particular and on any project or issue we chose to embrace.

Group fitness, as explained by Mascari is… using this model. “The easiest way to connect with our students is through good old fashion “face time”; availing yourself before and after class to chit chat.  During the class you can bring people closer by addressing participants by name; monitoring when students get particularly charged by a certain song or genre of music or by mentioning, for example, how it’s Tuesday and how you, as the instructor, are so excited because that means tonight is “Glee”.

All of these little notables can be fused to create networks among people in the class.  Conversations start and a micro community is born.

Today we can move beyond the physical space of the aerobics room and enter cyber space using social media*.  Facebook, Twitter and web pages are integral resources for transmitting information and keeping people connected not only to you but to each other. Naturally people will make posts about how terrific the class was (of course!) but they may also dial class members into a dog wash charity at the local shelter or a bike drive for underprivileged children.  Posts can include a link and voila! Fitness has just crossed into the realm of altruism.

Once you have created a team among your members, you have recruits at the ready.  Let your class know about a trash clean up in a local preserve and have a sign up sheet available.  Encourage members to do the same if they have a pet project or passion that they would like to share.  It is important that each person that comes to your class has at least one friend. There is a fifty percent likelihood that the friend may be convinced to come to that event therefore increasing the person-power of the project.  Imagine how fast a home could be built if one hundred people attended a Habitat for Humanity project.

Humans are social creatures and that is the draw of group fitness; we sweat, dance, hoot and holler together.  We roll our eyes at each other when the instructor asks for another set and we help one another with equipment.  That camaraderie is one of the driving forces for bringing people back into the room.  As instructors, we can capitalize on that dynamic and cultivate a crew of community go-getters.

The era of self-absorption is over for many reasons.  The recession has brought about the necessity to cut back and rediscover the basics.  What hasn’t changed, however, is people’s desire to be together and to have fun, it’s just doing it on another level.  As leaders we have the capacity to guide folks to doing things that are entertaining but humanitarian in nature.  Working together towards a goal is one of the more fulfilling things in life; throw in some good music and a potluck and you can call it a party.

There are many real life examples of community blossoming out of the classroom. Zumba instructors are notorious for creating strong communities with followings that will travel great distances to dance, make new friends and support causes. Instructors from all over south Florida congregated with their students to raise over ten thousand dollars for the victims of Haiti’s earthquakes. Our facility also works closely with a local nonprofit organization called “Best Foot Forward” that advocates and supports children aging out of foster care.  With several thousand members, we do a lot of promotion for their events in all of our classes and do a great job of attending their events and filling their volunteer positions.

Community building in the classroom is the next step in our industry.  We are at the forefront of social innovation in terms of defining wellness; wellness for our bodies, our minds and most importantly, our planet and its inhabitants.  Are you ready to take your profession to the next level?

*Please be aware that social media does have its pitfalls.  It is important to keep personal information to a minimum and to avoid disclosing inappropriate information that could harm or damage you or the cause that you are supporting.  Use common sense.  There are many resources on the Web that discuss how to maintain a public Facebook, Twitter or web page in an appropriate manner.

Heidi Aspen Rhoades is a group fitness instructor at Lifetime Fitness in Boca Raton, FL. She is the mother of two young children and a freelance writer.  She loves being a part of her community.