Core Strength Training

DSC_2059 (Copy)What are the core muscles and why do we train them?

The body comprises two types of muscles: mobilizers and stabilizers. The mobilizers are the ones we are most familiar with. They’re the ones that keep us moving. They are the doing muscles. These muscles have low endurance capacity and require a rest after short bursts of intense exercise.

The stabilizers, on the other hand, are our core muscles. They are responsible for holding us upright and maintaining good posture. Without them our spines would literally collapse in a heap onto the floor. They are our endurance muscles as they are required to work against gravity 24/7.

It is our muscles that hold us upright and not our skeletons, as most people think.

If these endurance muscles are weak when we exercise, we tend to use the mobilizers to perform some of the stabilizers’ function. The result – stressed out muscles, poor performance, weakness, bad posture and over a period of time, injury.

So, it is of primary importance to first activate our stabilizers before picking up the box off the floor or doing a bench press. It’s a matter of priorities: first stabilize, then mobilize. That’s why it is of vital importance to learn how to engage and utilise the core muscles first, before embarking on any other fitness program.DSC_2097 (Copy)

The spin off to this type of training is increased muscle tone, centimetre loss and greatly improved posture. So, your friends will compliment you on looking thinner, more radiant and more confident.

I always begin my client’s training program by focusing on their core. This is of utmost importance, because if you try and pile weights on top of a shaky foundation, the structure will collapse.

So where is this elusive core that I am speaking about? The core stabilising muscles are the ones closest to the spine and hips. They are the muscles that give us strength against gravity.

So, where do I start? I scan my client, looking for imbalances. I check shoulder height, the symmetry of the spine, the hip, knee, ankle and foot alignment. If one muscle group is tight – for instance the right shoulder, I scan down the body and invariably will find the opposite hip compensating and out of alignment, which may then travel further down the body to the opposite  knee or ankle. I monitor the distribution of weight in the body. Are the shoulders centred over the hips which in turn are centred evenly between the feet?

We begin by limbering up all the external muscles: arm swinging, breathing, rolling up and down through the spine, circling the hips and shoulders, bending sideways and twisting the spine gently, never forcibly.

DSC_2171 (Copy)Then, I measure the degree of muscle imbalance in the pelvis and hips and the length of the legs. If there is a difference, I will use muscle activation techniques, acupressure, kinesiology techniques or all three, to encourage the relaxation of the tight muscles and the restoration of neutral alignment.

When the body is straight and in symmetry, we perform Muscle Activation to various pressure points on the body. This is to enable the muscles to perform with 100 percent capability.

When all the muscles are activated and the posture is correct, we begin with abdominal work. We use breathing as the focus to ensure that the client is not straining. By using breath to ensure the correct contraction and relaxation of the muscles involved.

I teach my clients how to zip up and engage their layers from the innermost core. We use a lot of visualisation techniques and this is often done with eyes closed, as opposed to staring at the outer muscles in the mirror at the gym.

Once my client has the ability to engage the abdominal muscles with ease, we focus on the back muscles. I always balance my training by alternating working the muscles on the front of the body with the corresponding muscles at the back, e.g. Abs then back, right side followed by left side, quadriceps followed by hamstrings, etc.

After each muscle group is worked, we stretch the muscles for upwards of 30 seconds until complete relaxation has been achieved.web core crop (Copy)

As we age our muscles shrink and become tighter, reducing blood flow and circulation. Stretching challenges the muscle fibres and increases blood flow and circulation. It is a vital part of my training program as it promotes greater flexibility, recovery, increased function and helps to prevent injury.

If my client has a particular weakness in one muscle group, we will spend more time on that area to strengthen it, e.g. if the right thigh is weaker than the left thigh, we may do 20 reps on the  right leg and only 10 on the left, or we may just train the weaker leg.

web crop hovers (Copy)I have combined many different disciplines of training in my work. These stem from my earliest ballet training, through aerobic and gym training, physiotherapy and occupational therapy exercises, yoga, muscle activation, acupressure techniques, Eastern meditation and breathing techniques. All these various styles I have gathered along the journey of my life, having tested all these various practices on myself first and secondly on my clients. The nature of my training is problem solving and trial and error. Each client’s program is individually tailored to their specific needs and their strengths and weaknesses.

We generally don’t do a lot of repetitions, but focus on the correct alignment when executing the movement. It is quite amazing how much more effective a few well executed exercises are, than 100 fast repetitions, which rely on momentum rather than muscle strength.