Here’s a fun conversation I had with a new trainer the other day:
New Trainer: Umm Dean?? I have a client who has a disc bulge coming in this afternoon. What is that and what should I do with them?
Me: First, pick up a couple of these books here (toss Stu McGill’s books Low Back Disorders and Ultimate Back Performance on the table) and memorize them before you train your client. Then, get them doing anti-flexion/extension/rotation core exercises without any axial loading, and no forward flexion positions.
New Trainer: Anti-what?? Does that mean, like, situps and stuff? What about deadlifts?
New Trainer: Ummm… Dean?
Me: …..just have them do some curls. I hate my life.
New Trainer: Oh!! Well why didn’t you say so??
Now I know you’re probably sounding like the newbie trainer and thinking crazy ol’ Dean’s gone off his nutter talking about anti-ab exercises, but one of the things we forget about the core is that it’s designed not to be a prime mover, but as an elastic pillar that can accommodate changing internal volumes from breathing and eating. Mike Robertson came up with a brilliant post a few months ago in which he interview Chris Collins, talking about the “balloon core” theory of how the core actually works, and it’s something I feel is worth a look.
One often overlooked feature of the abs is the ability to resist movement and to create a ground reaction force from the feet through the spine and into the arms in a way that can measure and react to the amount of force being applied, in effect either deadening it (in the case of landing or absorbing some form of impact) or accelerating it (in the case of throwing movements).
These are movements that can involve a greater percentage of the core muscles than doing basic crunches or situps, and on top of that they can help to save your back from unnecessary wear and tear to the intervertebral discs that are kinda delicate and necessary for function. McGill showed in the aforementioned books that repeated spinal flexion essentially caused the degeneration of the discs, and made them more susceptible to bulge and herniate, so training the abs in a way that doesn’t force it to go through that gawd-awful crunching movement would be beneficial to pretty much everyone with a pulse and a desire to strut along a beach with every member of the opposite sex (or same-sex, whatever) checking them out in all their hotness.
So how do we train anti flexion, extension and rotation? Why by putting some form of stress on the body that could normally cause it to go through a moment of deformation, but where the core has to resist in order to maintain a linear core position. Check this action out.
While I wouldn’t necessarily give all these exercises to someone with a disc issue, they illustrate the concept of anti-movement controlled by the core. By training the core to resist deformation, we can reduce the chances of being injured and can still provide a great training stimulus to advanced athletes looking for that added advantage.