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 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.
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 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.