Welcome back to Part II of Core Training: Inside and Out. I am now all set up with the website and want to advise you all to keep checking for new updated articles and information. I hope you have all learned a lot from my last post and have started expanding your thinking of what aspects of the core we should spend time training. This week we will delve into the idea of core dysfunction, but not before we ask ourselves certain questions.
What is dysfunction?
Dysfunction comes into play when something isn’t functioning properly. Let’s think of dysfunction as it relates to movement. Movement is the patterns and motor control one develops in one’s lifetime. When there is movement dysfunction, a synergist takes over and does the work of the prime mover.
How does this relate to core training?
It is vital to reset the proper movement patterns in our core musculature because any type of pain or tightness alters motor control and the ability to stabilize the core.
How do we know if we have dysfunction?
To discover dysfunction, pain, or mobility and stability issues, we must look at the joints and muscles both below and above the site of pain. It is important to understand that for every tight muscle there is a weak one. This becomes exceedingly important with regards to the back because for every tight hamstring, glute, hip, or thoracic spine, a very common source of the pain is the back, most notably the lumbar spine.
Dr. Perry Nickelston of Stop Chasing Pain discusses the reactive and inner-neurological core by talking about the need of getting from dysfunctional to functional.
The Four Step Process of Dysfunction
It first starts with Subconscious Dysfunction, where we have dysfunction in the body without knowing. After evaluating and assessing a person, we now make awareness of the problem, however, still have dysfunction; so that leads us to Conscious Dysfunction. Once we fix and go through the process of corrective exercises for our “weaknesses or imbalances”, we now make a conscious effort to move the right way; Conscious Function. Lastly, once we have set all the boundaries, and reset and reinforced proper movement patterns, we are now in a state of Subconscious Function, which is the ideal state.
Subconscious DysfunctionàConscious DysfunctionàConscious FunctionàSubconscious Function
In the case of dysfunctional movement, tightness actually becomes a safety net for stability. This is the only way some people can stabilize themselves. That being said, working on mobility and stability issues may be the predecessor before focusing on strengthening the abdominal musculature which is usually believed to be the case.
How do we know whether or not we have a stability/mobility issue, or if it is just lack of core strength?
This leads us right into one of the best and most popular ways to assess and evaluate people; Gray Cook’s Functional Movement Screen. The FMS was created to help health professionals find any “weak links” in the body, including pain sites, imbalances, asymmetries, and mobility and stability issues. This will be a huge tool in being able to look deeper at a person’s needs in respect to their core training.
This relates to the concept of movement dysfunction because the FMS doesn’t require a perfect score, but it tells us if we are movement competent. Movement competency means that we are able to partake in a strength training program without cause for concern.
Just like in life, when there is a problem you need to look a little deeper. The same applies in your body. If there is pain, there is a movement problem. We must have core stability in 3 different foot positions. Based off the FMS, we must be able to show core stability with two feet on the ground, such as in squatting or an athletic position in sports. We must also have core stability in a 1-leg (hurdle) stance, where 1 leg is off the ground and the other is used to stabilize our body. This is seen in running, and many other activities in everyday life. The third foot position is in a lunge position where both feet are in contact with the ground but are in opposition to each other, yet still need to balance and stabilize the spine.
If through any of these movements we are “dysfunctional” or movement incompetent, we must attack those before we build. Imagine building a brick house on top of pieces of cardboard for a base. If we don’t have a strong base or foundation, then no matter how hard we work, it will be impossible to reach our maximum strength, power, force. After all, isn’t this what everyone seeks for in their strength training program?
Let’s take the idea of having a strong foundation and see how it relates to our body. We produce power from the ground and it travels its way up the kinetic chain. We must build our strong foundation at the base, with our leg training. This power/energy must transfer from our lower body (legs) to our upper body (hands/arms), which are more often than not the part of the body that does the work, or “performs the task”.
How does this power/energy travel from our lower body to our upper body? The answer’s simple. It must travel through a stiff and stable core. If this isn’t the case, then power/energy is continuously lost and leaked out of the body by the time it reaches our upper extremities. If that wasn’t the case, then the person who could squat the most would be able to hit a baseball the farthest, or throw a baseball the farthest for that matter. Imagine a bodybuilder who can squat 1000 pounds and bench press 600 pounds trying to throw a 95 mph baseball. I don’t think that would happen. We must be able to produce enormous amount of power in a dynamic fashion. Now that’s “functional training”. This is a perfect example of linking the entire kinetic chain and being able to have a strong foundation throughout.
Our stiff core is supposed to remain rigid and tight as we produce motion in our other extremities, most notably our legs and arms. We want to be like tree trunk that is hard and consistent throughout, not an Oreo that’s hard and then soft in the middle. Think how easily you can take an Oreo and split it in two. In reality, that’s what a weak core and will do to us. It will break our bodies down.
If we don’t fix our mobility issues then we continue to build on a weak foundation. The goal for our core training is to make our stabilizers work. Our stabilizers fire based on reflex information which deals with muscle spindles and proprioception. Since our stabilizers are based on reflexes, they should fire automatically. This doesn’t occur if we have mobility issues, or pain because this gets in the way of the sensory information that is sent throughout our body. When this happens, a thing called the threshold strategy begins to take place in our body.
High Threshold Strategy
When there are pain or mobility issues, the High Threshold Strategy takes over. “The HTS is a response by the CNS central nervous system to increase activation to the outer core, which leads to 24/7 muscle activation and the propensity for trigger points, muscle fatigue and fascial restriction issues. This means that our prime movers and global stabilizers take on the function of our local stabilizers, which restrict our neutralizers and stabilizers from ever getting the proper stabilization work it should get.” (Perry Nickelston) This gives us even more reason to deal with any pain or mobility issues first in our training programs
I can’t stress enough the importance of building on a strong foundation and having a strong linkage system throughout the entire kinetic chain. Just make sure you tackle any pain or mobility issues first.
Next week we will take a look at how other muscles and joints throughout the body have an effect on lumbar spine issues.
Core Exercises of the Week:
In order to get this stabilization of the core that we have discussed we should work on simple movements as easy as carrying stuff. This is a great way to keep the core stable and reach the deep stabilizers such as the Quadratus Lumborum.
1) 1 Arm Overhead Carries: Grab a kettlebell in one hand and lift it overhead. Make sure to keep your scapula retracted and think knuckles to the sky.
2) Bottoms up KB: Using a KB, hold it so the handle is towards the floor and the bottom is up towards the sky.
3) Unbalanced Farmers Walk: This is one of my favorites. Grab a single heavy dumbbell or bar and hold it by your side.
***With all of these exercises simply find a given distance and walk in a slow and steady pace. I recommend using about a 15 yard course and repeat 2-3 times down and back. Remember to keep your body tight and upright without leaning towards one side.***
Bill Rom is the top strength and conditioning coach on Long Island.