Core training - The stability paradox

INTRO

 

Welcome back to the AIM files, in this article we will discuss core training and how it can actually be detrimental to your mobility and movement practise. It may seem counter intuitive at first but if you stick with me you will understand why overtraining a stabilized core can actually impair your movement patterns by shutting down opposition in the trunk and forcing other muscle groups and connective tissues to take up the slack.

In the video at the end I will give you some spinal mobility drills to help restore lost range of motion and bring you back towards a more optimal centre position.

 

CORE TRAINING

 

Core training has become a big thing. From planks to hollow rocks to ab wheels and everything in between.  Often people with back pain are prescribed tons of core stabilization routines to help strengthen a “weak” core, I’m not saying that this is wholly a negative thing and it probably works for some, but the reality is that core stability is only a piece of the equation.

 

WHAT DOES CORE TRAINING ACTUALLY TRAIN ?

 

When we train using planks and other spinal stability drills. what we are actually doing is teaching our spine to favor neutral (not extended, not flexed), the input we are giving our nervous system is to stay in that neutral position and not to deviate (or deviate very little) from this position. basically “stiffening” our trunk.  

 

WHY IS THAT A PROBLEM ?

 

If we take a look at the gait cycle, the spine is required to flex and extend with every step we take! If the average person walks 10000 steps per day, that's 10,000 flexions and extensions, with the spine passing through neutral every time!

Now, for someone that has invested a lot of time in core stability, without training core mobility,  what they are in fact doing is muting the spine's ability to effectively move from extension, through neutral, and into flexion. They are training that spine to maintain neutral. If the spine can’t effectively achieve extension and flexion in the gait cycle, then there will inevitably be compensations elsewhere in the body. The same is true for somebody that is stuck in a flexed or extended posture from lifestyle factors.  Your gait will be sub-optimal and it is possible that you will experience pain or discomfort as a result. If you are an athlete, your performance will most likely be compromised to some degree.

 

 

THE REAL ISSUE

 

When we see people with pain and “dysfunction”, a lack of stiffness in the core is rarely the problem. In fact, it's quite the opposite, the vast majority of people are simply too stiff in the spine and lacking the ability to achieve flexion and/or extension!

 

The human spine is a column of joints. Joints are designed for movement. In fact, to maintain healthy joints, it is essential to move them through all ranges of motion. This is how joints are nourished and blood flow is provided.

 

“you are only as young as your spine is flexible”

CORE MOBILITY

 

Rather than take an already stiff spine and stiffen it up more, which will only compound the problem. Much better to provide that spine with effective and functional range of motion on both sides of neutral, this will give the spine the ability to operate smoothly in the gait cycle, achieving all 3 positions of extension, neutral and flexion, while also providing a more natural resting position without training it to be stiff at all times.  

The spine needs to be able to access movement in all 6 directions : flexions to the front and back/side flexions/ and rotational movements. The more even and balanced these movements are, the less pain and dysfunction we see.

The idea of a mobile spine being essential to a healthy and pain free body is not a new one. Ancient cultures like India and China have long cherished the concept, and it is at the very core (no pun intended) of arts like yoga.

There is an old Chinese proverb : “you are only as young as your spine is flexible”.

It simply points to the fact that a stiffened, immobile spine will lead to serious degeneration and dysfunction down the road.

 

 

SO THE SPINE DOESN’T NEED TO BE STABLE ?

 

So this is where things get funky. The spine absolutely needs to be stable. But more importantly, the spine needs to be able to move at will from stable to mobile and back again to enable us to both walk/run (mobile), and also perform tasks such as lifting (stable).

The simple fact is that the majority of people today are simply not moving their spine (or their bodies) enough! Spending long periods every day in the same position will inevitably stiffen the spine and most likely cause pain as a result. (that pain may show up in the back, but could just as easily appear at some other point in the system that is under or over working as a result).

 

 

THE SOLUTION

 

The simple answer is to simply MOVE more. Consciously move your joints (including your spine) through full range of motion EVERY DAY !

 

Even better : practise the movements in this video daily to give your spine mobility and restore lost range of motion in 3 dimensions.  

 

These drills look really simple and easy at first but believe me, they will be really tough for the majority of people.

 

No matter what your sport or pursuits, whether you are a top level athlete, a recreational fit mom, or a desk warrior that hasn’t trained a day in your life, these drills will benefit you greatly. Restoring range of motion in the spine will be massively beneficial to the vast majority of people in today's de-moved world.

 

Give them a try and let me know how you get on, I would love to hear some feedback.

 

If you would like to investigate further, don't hesitate  to contact me.

 

Keep moving,

 

Jody

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The AIM files : Runners knee pain, a case study.

In this article I want to explore and demonstrate  how a small deviation in the foot can alter the whole structure above it and cause pain and discomfort in completely different areas of the body. We will look at a client that came to me with severe and long term knee pain. This client is a very active man with several years of endurance training under his belt. The Knee pain first showed up  couple of  years ago when he began training for the New York marathon. As most of us do, (in our infinite wisdom) he kept “running through it” and gritted it out to complete his goal. (props for that)

 

However , after completing the marathon, he found that every time he ran his right knee would blow up in pain. It continued to get worse until he literally couldn’t run a kilometer or two without having to stop because the pain was so bad.

 

When we looked at his structure, I could immediately see that his left foot was stuck in pronation(flat) in a static stance. A flat foot is an immediate red flag, and an obvious point for me to start investigating. When we had taken his injury history, this client had a history of ingrowing toenails on that left big toe, which may well have caused an adaptive pattern in gait to avoid bearing his weight fully on that side. 

The problem is that once our nervous system adapts to an altered centre of gravity, that "feels normal" so we aren't even aware of it. Often, we never readjust back to our natural centre when the injury has healed. 

 

WHAT A FLAT FOOT CAN DO TO THE REST OF THE BODY.

 

A flat foot on the left side will shift the centre of mass towards the right. It will supinate(arch) the right foot and and shift the hips towards the right, this will hike the right hip and drop the left hip. 

In order to maintain balance and stay upright, the spine will flex right to keep the centre of mass over the balance point (shifted towards the right leg)  and the neck will flex left in an effort to maintain a level skull.  



 

So we see a shift of millimeters at the foot, and the whole skeleton must rearrange itself as a result !! And this is just in the frontal plane, there are 2 other planes (sagittal and transverse) that we haven’t even looked at !



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we look at the muscle and connective tissues, we can clearly see how an altered structure will put these tissues under stress. (forgive my childlike writing in the diagram)

In this image we can clearly see the cascade of alternating long and short fibers along each side of the body.

The body is an amazing adapter, even when we force it to operate in terrible conditions, sit all day long  and deprive it of the movement that it so badly desires and needs, the body will adapt and continue to allow us to operate in this sub optimal state!! Amazing.

Some may look at this picture and call this a dysfunctional body. But it is far from dysfunctional, this little trooper is doing everything in its power to remain operational and functional.

The human body is hardwired for perfection, it is always trying to return to a state of “zero tension”.

If we can give it the correct cues and input, it will respond !!

 

So, you will remember that this particular client's pain presented in the right knee, however the knee pain was a symptom rather than the cause, the flat (pronated) left foot was causing the weight to shift right of centre and the right knee was simply carrying the majority of his bodyweight.

Stack some long distance road mileage on top of this and we see how the right knee could get a little cranky ! The poor little guy is working overtime to keep this marathon running beast in the game!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE “FIX”

 

In AIM (ANATOMY IN MOTION) we look at everything in terms of the Flow Motion Model which is essentially a map of the human body in motion as it moves through the gait cycle (walking).

We begin with the assessment and use that to figure out where the person cannot move, this in turn leads us to a particular phase of the gait cycle that is difficult for the body to achieve.

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Once we have figured out which phase or phases (it is often more than one) are relevant to the individual, we can then start to slowly  move them into that difficult phase that they find hard to achieve.

With this client I started with the feet, using wedges to encourage the feet to move in their natural range and to create space for the foot to move into. As the feet began to move somewhat correctly we brought it up the body, section by section until we had him moving into that phase with every joint in the body in the correct position. Moving slowly and safely into this forgotten position.

And This is where the magic happens, as the body achieves forgotten range, the nervous system can recognize that this is a safe position again and allow that movement to return to its physical vocabulary.

 

THE “RESULT”

After just one session (3 are generally recommended) , this client was immediately feeling different and better. With his left foot operating correctly and his centre of mass shifted back towards its natural centre point, the pain in his knee went away!

He has ran close to 10 long distance races since with no knee pain !!

 

CONCLUSION :

Pain is an indicator, a warning system. Our body telling us that something is not right. But focusing on the area of pain is not always the correct path.

This client's pain could have easily showed up in the hip,  lower back, upper back, shoulder, neck, or any combination of the above. The solution would have been pretty much the same regardless. Bring the structure back to its natural centre point (zero tension) and many of these ailments can dissipate.  

AMAZING!

I love this work.

 

In closing : a flat foot has the ability to completely alter the whole structure above it. And here’s the real bad news : 85-90% of people have one foot that is flatter than the other!!! 

In essence, 85-90% of people are operating in a sub optimal state !

Stay tuned for my next article where we will be discussing some actions and exercises that you can use to mobilize and strengthen your feet to get them moving in a more natural way. building a healthy environment for your body to operate in. 

keep moving !

Jody