Our culture seems to be obsessed with Abdominals! Many cultures around the world train their core differently. For example, how strong and functional is the “brick thrower’s” core (top) and the “pole gymnast” (right)? I wonder how many crunches these guys do? I wonder if the great powerlifter, Alexiev ever pondered “pulling in” his belly button or “hollowing”? Try doing the “brick Routine and Pole moves” without bracing your core to stabilize the spine: I’d venture to say, “don’t think it is possible!” Training abdominals for core strength and function is consistently a controversial “hot topic” in the industry. There are so many different experts with conflicting advice and even the research can be contradictory. It is even hard for those in the Health and Fitness and Sports Medicine industries to filter through it and stay up to date on the ever emerging new data/ research/ and techniques.
Lee Brandon, CSCS, has been in this arena as an expert a long time, training Olympians and even being a professional athlete herself, has a strong grasp on core training for functionality in many arenas! Lee states, “There are so many fanciful routines that actually could set us up for injury, if were not careful.” For example, Lee explains, “now the hot new core video might be Brick Tossing and Pole gymnastics after disclosing these videos here! Seems the more ridiculous the routine, the more attention it gets because of it being so demonstrative, and lets face it, we all want the quick fix! Success on the installment plan is not what our FAST society is about now days!”
Even more frustrating are the infomercials, ab-gadgets, talk show host’s secrets to “6 pack-abs.”
Dr. Stuart Mc Gill and Lee Brandon, CSCS
Lee laughing states, “I’m tired of it, the late night lies and widgets that don’t deliver what’s promised. I am sure that I am not the only one that believes that we (the general public) are all ready for the research based core truths. But, of course, we all know the truth has never been popular.” Hopefully by the end of this blog you will have additional insights on what delivers “spine sparing results and form” when it comes to designing your own core training routine.
Dr. Stuart Mc Gill is one of the ground breaking pioneers in Spine Biomechanics Research, and in this blog, Lee is sharing some of the work they had the privilege of doing together.
Function of the Core
Before we load any system, we should understand how it functions; The human body is no different! Bad backs are at an epidemic level!
The core muscles, and spine is actually a very complex area. The catch phrase today is “the core”. This area actually is made up of many torso muscles. Remember that the Lat’s and glutes are the most overlooked core muscles and part of the torso that cannot be overlooked, but for the sake of this short blog, we can simplify the conversation and focus on the spinal erectors (low back), rectus abdominis (the “6 pack”), obliques (the “love handles”) and the transverse abdominis (the “pull the belly button to the spine” muscle).
The spinal erectors function to extend the torso.
The rectus abdominis functions to flex the torso.
The obliques function to rotate and laterally flex the torso.
The transverse abdominis, along with all the other torso muscles, function to stabilize the torso.
Hopefully you can see how complex the torso musculature is and why Oprah’s 300-crunches-a-day routine failed! The AB-Inforcer even made it to the Top 20 “Hottest New Inventions on the Oprah Show 2 seasons ago. “I hope I have the chance to take Oprah through one of my precise routines.” Lee continues, “Let’s think this through: if I want larger arms, I do bicep curls…If I do 300 bicep curls I’d expect to get bigger arms. So why in creation would I want to do 20′ minutes of abdominal work… for larger, thicker abs from doing 300 crunches? I’m just say’in!!!”
3 Time Olympic Swimmer: Marcus Rogan from Austria
How Much Core Training Should I Do?
How often should you train your abs? Once a week? Three times a week? Everyday? Yes and no. If your goal is more along the lines of low back rehab/prehab, doing one set of one to three exercises daily is a very good approach. If you are training the abdominals with heavy weights and higher volumes (i.e. sets and reps) one to three times a week would be a better. Lee adds, “Personally I have found two to four times a week to be ideal for me. I suggest you experiment and find what works best for you!”
What Exercises Should I Do?
This is probably the most important factor to consider. When building your workout it is important to remember there is not a single exercise that works all the functions of the torso musculature. We feel most people would do well to do what renowned spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill, refers to as the “Big Three”. Most should spend about 4 to 8 weeks doing the “Big Three” before moving on to a more advanced program (see the rest of the blog for more advanced tips).
What’s The Correct Form?
1. You can hire a credentialed exercise Specialist to use their hands for feedback…
2. Or, you can use your own hands as feedback to ensure the correct neutral zones are maintained and the correct muscles are being used…”Training not Straining!”
3. There is a clinically tested, research based Core Biofeedback system called the AB-Inforcer that could be your own “Personal Training coach” at home. *Check with your Dr. and Health Care provider prior to training on any program to make sure it’s right for you!
4. AB-Inforcer works by providing precision feedback under the lower back and head, instead of using the hands (as seen above). 2 high precision Sensors (in red above) are built into a lumbar cushion that provides support and feedback to you by Lighting up LED bars independently in the hand piece if your correct muscles are working.
MC GILL’S BIG 3: Video
This exercise is for the rectus abdominis. To perform this exercise lie flat on the floor, slide your hands under your low back to support the lumbar spine, and extend one leg. This position will prevent the lower spine from flattening against the floor. This technique is important in minimizing the stress placed on the spine. The goal for this exercise is to rotate the upper torso (thoracic spine region) only. It is important to keep the neck (cervical spine) and lower torso (lumbar spine) as immobile as possible. When performing the exercise simply pick the upper torso off the ground, pause for 1 to 3 seconds, then lower back to the starting position. This is not an exaggerated movement, but if you do it correctly you should feel it between your sternum and pelvic bone. Try to get between 10 and 20 repetitions.
Lee’s favorite additional curl up choices:
This exercise is performed for the obliques and transverse abdominis. The goal for this exercise is to hold the position in perfect posture. Keep the spine in its correct neutral alignment, as it is when you are standing perfectly straight. This exercise may be performed from the knees for beginners and from the feet for those more advanced. Simply hold yourself in the side bridge position pictured. Try to perform this exercise for 10 to 20 seconds.
This exercise is for the back extensors. Begin on all fours and lift the left arm and the right leg to a position parallel to the ground. Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds, lower then perform with the right arm and left leg. Perform 10 repetitions for each side. It is important to tense your abs (brace them like someone was going to punch you in the gut, do not “suck in” the abs) and keep the entire spine in its neutral position throughout the exercise.
Lee’s favorite additional bird dog choices:
This program will lay the foundation for a strong and stable spine. Remember, the primary goal of our torso musculature is to stabilize the entire core/spine and produce various torso movements in activity and sport.
Give it a shot and you will be on track to improving posture, torso strength and health. Good luck!
For more information on Dr. Stuart McGill and his training techniques, we highly recommend his books (see below).
Lee Brandon, CSCS, 2 Time Women’s World Long Drive Champion, was flown to the University of Waterloo, near Toronto Canada, by Dr. McGill and Team, to be tested and evaluated. Dr. McGill stated, “Any one (irrespective of gender) who can duplicate swing speeds in excess of 120+ mph over the age of 40 is either a genetic mutant or has stumbled on a secret to sparing the spine,” and we want to document it!”
Lee Brandon, CSCS Winning drive of 332 Yards
What Dr. Mc Gill’s research found was insightful, duplicatable, and repeatable. Keep your eye out over the next few months as segments of this research are disclosed.
Lee said: “This experience was very enlightening, and this opportunity to be involved with this level of scientific research was very exciting!”
About Dr. Stuart McGill
Dr. Stuart M. McGill is a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, ON, Canada). His advice is often sought by governments, corporations, legal experts and elite athletes and teams from around the world. Difficult back cases are regularly referred to him for consultation. Any product associated with this website has been tested in Dr. McGill’s laboratory at the University of Waterloo, ON, Canada.
Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance (4th Edition) (Soft Cover)
The Ultimate Back (DVD): Assessment and Therapeutic Exercise
Low Back Disorders: Evidence-based Prevention and Rehabilitation (Hard Cover)$60.00 CND
The Ultimate Back (DVD): Enhancing Performance
The team of Doctors and Researchers under the direction of Dr. Stuart McGill above at the University of Waterloo, Canada.
AB-Inforcer Core Biofeedback System being evaluated and tested at the Spine Biomechanics Lab.
“Only one Core training machine teaches ‘Bracing’ and correct spinal stiffness and form necessary to do the BIG 3 exercises by Dr. McGill,” States Dr. Dan Jones, RKT.
“A great cost effective Therapeutic training tool that teaches bracing.” Ethan Ezaki, DPT, Physiotherpy Associates, Clinic director
“The AB-Inforcer is a time saving tool which adds three powerful values in one machine to any facility: Functional core training with feedback, functional assessment for reliable testing inter-practitioner, and great range of motion training in neutral spine postures.” Dr. Donald Chu, Ph.D., ATC, PT, CSCS, NSCA-Pt
Innovative design incorporates 3 torso devices in one: bi-lateral core trainer, postural trainer, and relaxing massager.
Multi-patented, 3-sensor system transmits signals to the user to promote better training form and increased postural awareness to maximize training results and improve posture.
Neck and lumbar cushions have built-in interactive biofeedback technology to increase abdominal and core muscle activation, while their ergonomic design helps reduce the risk of neck and spine strain while exercising.
Versatile and portable design allows the AB-Inforcer® to be used on any stable surface including the floor, Physical Therapy table, Shuttle®, Total Gym®, or horizontal wall and attaches firmly to most standard flat or incline benches.
To sculpt his body for Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. endured rigorous workouts at the hands of trainer Brad Bose. One of Bose’s favorite toning tools for his celebrity clients? The AB-Inforcer, a device that gets your spine in a neutral mode to work your core muscles properly and uses sensory feedback to alert you when you’re out of alignment. “It teaches the difference between using your abs and using your hip flexors,” says Bose, “which are usually the root of a lot of postural problems.” Tighter abs and better posture? Sign us up! – Maureen Harrington (PEOPLE MAGAZINE, May 23rd 2008)
Incorporates three torso devices in one: bi-lateral core trainer, postural trainer and massager. Feedback technology encourages better training form and increased postural awareness by incorporating a simple audible and vibrating 3-sensor system onto contoured shapes that support the spine. Customized hand piece integrated into the 3 zone feedback system houses the “smart logic” which provides immediate visual sensory feedback in the form of LED lights when in exercise mode. Adjustable sizing fits most users 4’11″ to 7′ tall and supports up to 325 lbs. Includes blue contoured neck, upper back and lumbar pillows, head-neck support board, black non-skid base mat, audible red head sensor, red lumbar sensors, detachable hand piece, hands-free Velcro®, 2 customized straps, UL listed adapter, portable carry/travel bag and user guide. Uses 10 AA batteries (not included). Dimensions: folded 15″H x 23″L x 8W”, flat 15′W x 46″ L x 5″H. Weighs 12 lbs. Fits most users 4’11″ to 7′ and up to 325 lbs. 1 year limited warranty.