Archive for core training, tips for trainers, workout tips

Smart Exercise Swaps for the Core

by Meaghan posted February 1, 2016

I feel like at this point I shouldn’t still be talking about the importance of prioritizing neutral spine and core stability over movement in training, but I still see so many examples of the opposite that I guess not everyone is up to speed. For brevity’s sake, I’ll try to simplify the science as much as possible.

First, the sheer structure of our lumbar spine suggests that it’s not meant to move very much. Each of its five vertebrae have only a few degrees of available motion, and between them we have discs that have shown to wear down with excessive movement, especially under load. And there are all those fragile nerves sticking out at every interval!

Additionally, the anatomy of most of our core muscles is unlike that of our prime movers: The fibers aren’t really aligned in a manner that is optimal for large amounts of force production. Rather, they seem better suited to absorb and resist force through isometric action. To no surprise, many of our core muscles also seem to elicit greater EMG activity with isometric exercises than they do with movement-based exercises.

That said, to both prevent spine injuries and optimize performance and appearance, doesn’t it make more sense to train them in the manner for which they seem to be designed? I certainly think so. That may mean simply training the core to keep the spine stable under load through larger lifts like squats and deadlifts that train our bigger, stronger hip extensors to produce movement. Or, for some clients who feel the need to “do abs,” it may mean making smarter exercise selections – and here are two examples:



Instead of: 

Standard Crunches (requiring a flexed lumbar spine)



McGill Curl-ups


As our renowned and leading researcher in spinal biomechanics, Dr. Stuart McGill, points out, your pelvis and lumbar spine stay neutral in this exercise due to the position of the legs while the more mobile thoracic spine moves to lift the chest and shoulders. Moreover, the tactile feedback on the hands in the small of the back tells us if we’re moving from places where we shouldn’t be. And for stubborn clients, the exercise still looks and feels very much like a crunch! Continue reading »

Weightlifting Belts: Good or Bad Idea?

by Meaghan posted January 25, 2016

As our Advanced Concepts students are simultaneously learning about heavy lifting and the importance of core stability as pertains to both preventing and improving spine injuries, the always controversial topic of the use of weightlifting belts was bound to arise.

weight belt

Why the controversy?

Well, for starters, weightlifting belts are widely misused by the general population. As one of our students pointed out, some guys use them for every exercise, regardless of the need for additional spinal support.

curling with belt

And that’s just silly.

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4 More Beneficial Things You Could Do in 4 Hours and 26 minutes Than Plank

by Meaghan posted October 9, 2014

I’m sure we’ve all heard by now about the new world plank record set by Mao Weidong: 4 hours and 26 minutes.


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Effective Exercise CUES: Planks and Side Planks

by Meaghan posted May 15, 2014

You may have seen the ‘Core Challenge’ we recently posted on the FocusNYC Facebook page involving everyone’s favorite core exercises: Planks and side planks.

I’ve said this so many times that I feel like a broken record, but these are great exercises to train the primary function of the core muscles: To RESIST movement, NOT create it.

The standard plank trains the anterior core to resist spinal extension – at least when done correctly. Just this week, I made a point to emphasize an import cue for the plank that is often forgotten: “Squeeze the glutes.” Sure, we all know we’re supposed to “squeeze the abs” or “pull our bellybuttons in,” but when we start to get tired in a plank and gravity begins to force the lumbar spine into extension, thereby tilting the pelvis anteriorly (remember lumbo-pelvic rhythm?!?), squeezing the glutes will help you hold on a little longer by tilting the pelvis back posteriorly to maintain neutral spine in that plank.

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Effective Exercise Alternatives for the Core

by Meaghan posted July 28, 2013

I’ve written before (HERE) about how and why I’m not a fan of a commonly used exercise by personal trainers: The lunge with rotation (usually accompanied by a medicine ball or ViPR). Simply put, most people don’t have the correct amounts of mobility and stability in the correct areas to really do it correctly, and wind up rotating from the wrong areas – namely, the knees and the lumbar spine. Watch here:

Did you notice what happened when she added the trunk rotation versus when just the arms moved? Watch again and look at the woman’s knee…

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Complete Spinal Health and Core Training

by Meaghan posted March 13, 2013

I think anyone in this industry who knows me also knows I’m a little opinionated when it comes to core training… Research aside (and there’s a lot of it), a simple consideration of kinesiology tells us that certain joints were meant to move – the hips and thoracic spine, for example – while others were meant to NOT move – like the lumbar spine. This simple joint-by-joint analysis should, for the most part, dictate how we train.

Of course, there are always structural abnormalities, postural deviations, conditions, etc. that may warrant a different approach, and this is precisely why assessments are so important. I’ve always admired Tony Gentilcore for constantly acknowledging these things, and I admire him even more now for making his recent core training seminar available:

Together with Dean Somerset, Jeff Cubos and Rick Kaselj, Tony discusses how he assesses his athletes to determine things like whether or not back pain (or the potential for back pain) is flexion- or extension-based, the role of posture and breathing, the importance of hip mobility and glute strength in the prevention and treatment of low back pain, and where foam rolling/massage and core stability fit in. BUT, he does so without losing focus of the goal: PERFORMANCE.

As trainers, we don’t treat pain, and most of our clients don’t want to spend money doing just “corrective exercise.” They want to train. We just have to understand what movements and loading patterns are likely to cause pain and what interventions are likely to help prevent or improve symptoms.

I don’t want to give away too much, so check out this video for a little more about Tony Gentilcore and Spinal Health and Core Training:


If you like what you see so far, the full seminar is available HERE.


by Meaghan posted September 19, 2012

Aside from a desire to help people, one of the major things that distinguishes a trainer from a fitness enthusiast is an understanding of WHY we select certain exercises. At FPTI, we pride ourselves on our commitment to constantly refining and improving our curriculum. For example, we’re always striving to make “functional anatomy” a little more “functional.”

Take the way the function of the trunk muscles is typically taught: Rectus abdominis flexes the spine; erector spinae extend the spine; internal and external obliques rotate the trunk to the ispilateral (same) and contralateral (opposite) sides, respectively; and the obliques and quadratus lumborum laterally flex the trunk. While all this is true, the major function of ALL trunk musculature is to NOT move the spine; these muscles are meant to contract isometrically to protect and stabilize the spine against forces that attempt to create these actions and damage spinal structures – which is why we teach plank variations over crunches and side plank variations over those silly side bendy things so many people still seem to love…


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Restore the Core DVD

by Meaghan posted May 8, 2011

Now that those 50 pages of research writing are finally behind me, I have the chance – privilege, really – to write this review of Chris Kelly’s brand new instructional DVD, Restore the Core: Integrated Core Training for Real World Function.

Given that it’s “What We Love This Week,” I probably don’t need to tell you that I thought it was great. I do, however, need to tell you why.

There are plenty of DVDs out there filled with great information, but what sets Restore the Core apart is that it’s more than just a video presentation that you can pop in your DVD player, sit back and enjoy (yes, this is a GOOD thing). Rather, it’s a complete educational course with instructional text, audio, pictures and videos that cater to all learning styles. I haven’t seen many (if any) other DVDs successfully incorporate all available multimedia options in order to clearly present material for various types of learners, and I think this approach is definitely the way to go when education is the goal.

As for the content, Chris delivers as always, and in a manner that illustrates the integrated systems approach he stands by. While he includes things like inner and outer core assessments and the plank progressions you’ve seen on the site, he goes way beyond this and also emphasizes the importance of mobility, breathing and individualization that make these things effective – all with the anatomy and scientific rationale behind his recommendations. He also stresses how to carry over his “core principles” to strength training and life; without this final piece of the puzzle, what good is core training, really?

Chris also includes sample progressions and workout charts that can be downloaded in PDF format. And for all you certified trainers out there, you have the option of purchasing the DVD with a quiz that earns you Continuing Education Credits (CECs) for an additional $14.95. Not a bad deal, considering you’ll get a unique and effective system for one of today’s hottest topics in fitness.

Go get your copy HERE.

When Bracing Goes Bad

by Meaghan posted April 25, 2011

Before I tell this story, I need to make a couple of disclaimers:

1) What I’m about to tell you did not, in any way, change my belief about the importance of core stability training (nor should it change yours); and

2) The fact that I find the following incident somewhat laughable in hindsight is OK because it happened to me. Your laughing at the potentially dangerous situation, however, is NOT acceptable, and if I catch you smirking the next time I see you I will beat you down!

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Side Plank Principles: Part II

by Guest Contributor posted April 8, 2011

Today we have Part II of Chris Kelly’s “Side Plank Principles” series.

If you missed Part I, be sure to check it out first here.

Step #4: Compress to impress:

In addition to trouble with positioning, the other main issue we often encounter with both front and side plank exercises is the inability to maintain an abdominal brace. Because recognition of the brace must compete with positioning of the shoulder in the side plank, many clients often have trouble “feeling” the core during this exercise.

The solution to this problem is to create additional force to assist in bracing the abdominals – a technique known as “compression.”

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