If you have been following my Instagram closely enough to read the string of hashtags that conclude the many lengthy posts, you may have spied this one. What does it mean?
While the human brain is widely regarded as the most sophisticated structure in the universe, it is followed closely by the human spine. The stack of 26 bones separated by slippery, squishy disks, not only manages to remain upright, but can move through three planes simultaneously at slow, fast, powerful, and subtle speeds.
But as many of us fail to use our brain to its fullest potential, so too do we neglect to use our spine. Over time, our torso grows slow, stiff, and our spine may ultimately begin to deteriorate. That old adage, "If you don't use it, you will lose it," springs to mind. Like any skill that requires practice, so too the spine requires regular exercise.
While every gym has some mention of "core" on the schedule, the emphasis is not necessarily on the spine so much as old school ab training that fixates on the notion that through enough crunches you may be able to cosmetically whittle away at the waistline. If only it was that simple!
There is actual intelligence that exists in and around the spine. Reflexes that control position and movement are created through intricate feedback loops that are capable of high-speed processing, immense adjustability and novel pattern generation, just like the highly regarded circuit resting in our skulls.
Looking to Olympic gymnasts, figure skaters, and even the amateur belly dancer, it is easy to pick out athletes with excellent core body intelligence. My favorites, however, are the NBA players, prima ballerinas, and martial artists. Here the core body intelligence is driving movement through otherwise injury-prone extremities to create insane degrees of rotation, flexion, and extension, that travels through space, and at times through opponents, with remarkable force.
Imagine trying to replicate that level of force in a traditional core class. Wait, don't! No one wants to do power crunches in rapid succession. Unless the goal is to land in a spinal surgeon's office?!
A true core training program is extremely sophisticated and is aimed at functional movement capability. The primary objective becomes strengthening the spinal support mechanisms and provide a solid base for vigorous movement. The emphasis is and should remain on the student's ability to move their spine with precision and awareness. That's called dexterity. Because strong is good, but strong and skillful is always going to be better. Smarter.
Bad news. There is no single prescription for a strong core. Our spines are all so vastly different. This is why it is important to receive the guidance of a coach who can individually tailor movements to you. But there is one common characteristic. If our goal is for increased dexterity, that means we are all going to be favoring movement that is different from what we already know how to do. In other words, a runner does not develop a stronger core simply by increasing their runs.
My all time favorite way to mix things up is by throwing a wrench in things. Your body's ability to respond to an outside stimulation, like an uneven surface, is going to get your core firing on all cylinders.
My second favorite way is to get people off the floor. Literally. Starting from the ground, I like to create a pattern of movements and positions that will eventually lead to standing. The goal for my students is to eventually be able to perform the exercise with as few extremities as possible. In fact, there's even a fun test that is rumored to help determine a student's longevity that involves such an exercise. Besides, how much more functional does an exercise get that simply making your way up to standing?
Finally, the bulk of my core training sessions involve a great deal of standing. If the goal is to build strength to support the spine in an upright position, it follows that the spine ought to be in the upright
position a good portion of the time it is being trained. Whether hitting a few intervals of hearty battle rope work, medicine ball slams, or kettlebell loaded movements, from standing, I can clearly see the position of each students' spine as they move. From here, I can give the guidance required to create force while driving from their core.
One of the best questions a student can ask is "Why are we doing this?" Inevitably, the answer traces back to the core. And this is at the very heart of #trainsmarter.
Learn more by checking out a COREfit class, offered 5 days a week, for free!
Disclaimer: Fit Club is not a medical doctor and the information contained herein should not be taken as medical advice. These are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health problem. Recommendations by Fit Club are not intended to replace the advice of a physician or health professional. Please consult your physician or a health professional before beginning any diet or exercise program.