FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Finding the “Right Fit” with Exercise Instruction

Try to imagine you have finally come across a particular style of pants that you know will be both functional and flattering.  After inspecting the pants closely, the high quality of the fabric and workmanship is evident. The price is reasonable, so you decide to try the pants on. There is only one problem, and you discover it as soon as you slip into the pants; the label reads: “One Size Fits All”, and these pants don’t fit quite right. This would be a great time to have a personal tailor but without one, you end up leaving the pants on the rack and the quest for the perfect pair of pants continues.

DECIDING WHAT TO BUY

What are you looking for and why are you looking? Let’s consider the scenario of buying pants.  If merely obtaining pants was your ultimate goal, then you would tolerate the irritation every time you wore the pants.  Many readers may question the purchase in the first place if you never bothered to look at the size of the pants before you made the purchase. Others may question why the pants only come in one size.  Align this reasoning with that of finding an exercise program that fits your needs. What you are looking for may not be as important as why you are looking for it.    

WHY are you looking?

Seeking personal enrichment? Weight loss? Feeling discouraged? Needing motivation? Tired of pain? Bored? These are just some of the many reasons people look to professionals for help to improve their health and fitness.

WHAT are you looking for?

The fact that you are reading this article proves that you are looking for – change. Change can be challenging.  Being able to recognize intrinsic motivation and honor personal core values, while dealing with the perplexing relationship between inexhaustible resources of information and finite time in hopes of developing a well-rounded, effective health and fitness program can be a full time job. Ultimately change, as a result of evidence-based strategies, is at the top of the shopping list.

FINDING THE PERFECT FIT FOR YOU

When it comes to health and fitness, a personal trainer is a valuable resource. A specialized group of educated and experienced professionals, personal trainers stand apart from other professionals in that they prescribe specific exercises and programs tailored to the needs of the individual client.

The personal trainer/client relationship provides a foundation to better facilitate the process of change. Similar to lifestyle and wellness coaches, personal trainers specialize in discovering then changing and/or eliminating patterns of thinking and behavior that prevent individuals from reaching their potential.  Many people do not realize that the coaching aspect of behavior modification is a required skill set for personal trainers in order to meet certification standards as set by the American College of Sports Medicine.

In addition to behavior modification, personal trainers, as held to the gold standards in the industry, are also proficient in nutrition for human performance and applied biomechanics in reference to exercise physiology.  This is where they stand apart from wellness coaches and fitness instructors. Personal trainers practice and teach a more holistic well-rounded approach.

Unlike a group setting where a class instructor will demonstrate exercises for all class participants to execute, a session with a personal trainer includes discussion of previous health history and current fitness levels in order to develop a program that is finely tailored to the needs of the specific individual to assist the client in working toward their fitness goals. This first step can save a lot of time and money in the long run by way of injury prevention and by identifying motivational strategies that are meaningful to the specific client. For example, an attentive personal trainer would not encourage a client who deals with the effects of tight hip flexors to perform V-sits as a core strengthening exercise. The trainer would first educate the client in identifying other potentially damaging movement patterns and then provide training for other options that strengthen the core while lengthening the hip flexors. Additionally, the personal trainer would want to ensure that the exercise program, in addition to addressing any musculoskeletal imbalances, also makes functional, common sense for the goals of the client.

If group fitness is a motivating factor for you, a personal trainer can be utilized through periodic consultations to help you get the most out of the classes you participate in on a regular basis. Why settle for a class developed for everybody; a ‘one size fits all’ mentality, when, with the guidance of a personal trainer, you can implement changes to make the classes more tailored to your needs?

As with variations in quality of clothing, there are varying levels of quality in certified personal trainers and wellness coaches.  Be sure to read the labels before you purchase.  Ask a potential personal trainer or wellness coach where and when they received their training. Look up the certifying institution online and review the background information about the organization that has provided the certification. How many hours of training were required for the individual to become certified? And of course, ask friends and neighbors about anyone that they have used. Did they meet their goals? Was the personal trainer or wellness coach able to provide effective guidance that had real life application and was it maintainable even without direct support by the trainer or coach?

Once you have made the decision to work with a personal trainer or wellness coach, continue to get a feel for whether or not the “fit is right”. Do you feel heard? Are their questions and recommendations in line with your core values, goals, health history? Are you compatible?

Developing a good relationship with a well-trained, competent personal trainer can be an exciting, fun, and significant adjunct for an overall health program. This relationship is one that can grow and support you in your health and fitness endeavors ranging from “just feeling good” to complex sports and competitive goals. Your personal exercise program will enrich your life in a positive way.

Why Repetitive Sit-ups and Planking Do Not a Strong Core Make…

Let’s consider muscle imbalance –

Not front body muscles verses back body muscles, but rather surface, external, gross movement muscles verses the deep, short and stubby muscles that control arthrokinematic movement.  Arthrokinewhat??

Arthrokinematic movement – the unseen sliding and rolling of joint surfaces relative to each other that accompanies the gross movement of the bone that we can see or observe. Control of arthrokinematic movement is important for preventing joint and nerve irritation, pain, and inflammation.

According to American Council on Exercise (ACE), the core and trunk of the body is made up of “the major muscles that move, support and stabilize your spine”.  Among all these muscles, there are three specified functional groups:

  • External, gross motor group. These muscles are responsible for moving the spine in forward and backward bending and rotation.  These muscles include Rectus abdominis and Latissimus dorsi among others.
  • Deeper postural group. These muscle have the ability to stabilize torso / chest in relation to the pelvis and the ability to stabilize the pelvis on top of legs. They are responsible for maintaining center of balance. These muscles include the Erector spinae muscles group and the Psoas (Said “So-az”) among others.
  • Deepest inner group also fondly known as the “short and stubbies” or in our office, the “chicken neck muscles”. These muscles get their nick names based on their size and the location in which they are found. Ever seen a chicken neck with the tiny muscles imbedded right up against the vertebrae? These muscles include the Rotatores and the Multifidi which span from one vertebra to the vertebra directly above and are responsible for the specific, detailed control of the arthrokinematic movement of each segment of the spine. Additionally, this group also includes the inhalation action of the Diaphragm.

When an exercise program uses repetitive exercises like crunches, vertical knee raises, swimmer kicks, V-sits or elbow-to-knee bicycle kicks often the training of the “short and stubby” intersegmental stabilizers is over-looked, almost guaranteeing a program that promotes dominance of the more superficial gross motor muscles over the deep stabilizers. This results in less than optimal stabilization with the larger muscles less adapted to provide specific control over the bony structures of the spine. Think of what it would be like to try to write by moving your entire body versus the more localized control from your fingers and hand. In some ways, the control provided by the “short and stubbies” is similar to the control the finger and hand muscles give the pencil while relying on the external gross motor muscles for control of the spine. This is like relying on movement of the legs to produce a written message with a pencil held in one’s hand.

Planks don’t involve these repetitive motions.  Do they have a place in core strengthening and stabilization?

Yes.

The body and brain work together in crafty ways to generate force and leverage to perform the tasks we ask of our bodies. As demand increases, well-coordinated communication between the brain and body results in the brain recognizing the benefit of increasing the rigidness of the body to generate leverage with the various fulcrums created by the bones and joints of the body. For example, rigidity is not typically helpful or required to pick up a toothbrush and brush one’s teeth, but rigidity may be helpful when required to pick up a 50 pound bag of dog food. Rigid stability in the trunk may be very helpful as a protective strategy for the spine when demand levels are high and as a means to generate leverage to lift the heavy bag up off of the floor.

The problem with sustained planking and other activities that promote rigid stability is they often result in an over-reliance on the rigid trunk strategy for all types of actions – whether it is for brushing one’s teeth or lifting a heavy bag of dog food – the training suggests to the brain the best way to handle everything is to be stiff and rigid. Even our cultural language associated with exercise has picked up on this notion – advocating the desired “hard body”. Exercise programs that emphasize this type of strengthening typically do so at the deficit of the deep core muscles. The body and brain begin to see the only option for movement is that which is based on this rigid, stiff stabilization strategy and over time, the body starts to lose mobility thus furthering imbalance in structure and function.

What’s the solution to all the imbalanced core workouts out there?

It would be nice if the solution was as simple as prescribing a few specific exercises that would benefit everyone, but that is not sensible as we all have varying levels of fitness, coordination, body awareness, motivation and perhaps most importantly, different goals.  Instead, try to realign your thinking to the development of an entire balanced core program, not just isolated exercises.  What exercises are most existing programs missing? One example would be exercises that don’t require gross motor movement at all, but rely simply on the excitation, or firing of deep core muscle fibers at the most base level.   These are challenging exercises to promote considering the actual exercise takes place in the development of the neuromuscular pathway rather than the repetitious movement of a part of the body. Wondering what on earth would be an example of this type of exercise??

Breathing is a good place to start!

Properly utilizing the Diaphragm for breath does not require movement of the spine, shoulders or pelvis.  One should be able to get a full inhalation without arching the back, lifting the shoulders or tilting the pelvis and remember, the lungs reach from the lowest ribs to just above the collar bones – a full inspiration is typically much more than most people think of as a full breath! Despite the basically static position of the spine, the ribs should be able to widen and stretch apart as the breath fills the lungs.

Lying in on your back, with the spine in its naturally occurring position, let your body relax. (If you are uncomfortable simply lying in this manner, support yourself with pillows, towels, bolsters to encourage relaxation.) You can try this with your legs stretched out long or bent depending on what position is most comfortable for you. Allow the rise and fall of the belly to happen effortlessly as the focus of the work is directed towards making no movement of the spine, shoulders or pelvis.  This occurs not by “making the movement stop” through the contraction of muscles, but rather by minimizing the effort involved in breathing. Quiet the extraneous effort in other muscles and focus on letting the breath happen just by using the Diaphragm. The sternum will gently rise and the ribs will expand but the spine itself should remain for all intents and purposes, still. (If someone was standing beside you watching, would they observe anything besides the gentle rise and fall of the ribs and abdomen?)  Allow your Diaphragm to draw in deeper breaths as you are able – focusing on this effortless breath – not by demanding the body to do more. This same exercise can be performed in standing, sitting, on your side and on hands and knees.


The two pictures below demonstrate breath without gross movement of the spine, pelvis or shoulders.
Notice the rise and fall of the soft tissue of the belly. Lauren inhaling Lauren exhaling

This next picture shows over-reliance on the superficial muscles of the trunk for inhalation. Notice how the back arches in this picture during inhalation. 

Lauren breathing 2The following picture shows over-reliance on the abdominal and gluteal muscles as a means to produce exhalation resulting in flattening of the back and tucking of the tailbone. Again, if someone was observing, they could see this movement? It is unnecessary in the act of normal breathing.

Lauren breathing

 

You might be thinking, “How is this stability different than holding the spine still as when doing planks?”

The answer lies in the important fact that the external gross motor muscles should be relaxed and supple while breathing deeply during this exercise. As you begin to become more skilled with this type of core stabilization via breathing, you will increasingly be able to recruit both the deep and superficial muscles in a more balanced manner allowing maintenance of this supple and yet, stable strategy for more challenging movements and heavier lifting.

Make this single exercise even more challenging by sitting on a gym ball and shifting weight from one foot to the other, as in the picture to the left. The added element of balance will require even more work of the deep, inner Brennan sitting on ball knee extmuscles while trying to minimize over activation of the external gross motor muscles. Remember – your goal is to reproduce the sensation of supple stability that you had while lying on your back. Can you do this exercise without immediately resorting to the rigid stability strategy?

It takes a lot of focus and body awareness to execute these types of exercises and they and cannot be rushed with music tempo, motivating jargon or friendly competition so they don’t really have a place in high energy, high movement exercise programs.  Look for programs that address intersegmental stability and mindful movement utilizing the proportionality principle over power, repetitions, and large movement.

The key to a balanced core is the process of organizing muscle recruitment with quality over quantity.