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5 Common Core Exercise Mistakes and Fixes

We’ve come along way over the last decade when it comes to training the core.  Not too long ago, training the core consisted of mainly exercises like sit ups, with no specific attention to how the core functions.

One of the key areas of core training that I focus on to enhance movement quality and performance is stabilizing the core while the arms and legs move.  Essentially proximal stability, with underlying distal mobility of the extremities.

However, don’t forget that the body is amazing at compensating to get the job done.

Any lack of mobility or motor control will often result in compensatory movements.  Many people want to fly through their core program, but often times don’t focus on the quality of the movement.

Here are 5 common core exercise mistakes that I see, along with some suggestions on how to fix them.  I posted these as a series on Instagram, if you want to see more posts like this, be sure to follow me there.

 

Front Plank

A common error I see when people perform a front plank is over relying on the hip flexors to hold the position. You sometimes see them tighten their core but also come up into a bit of hip flexion.

If you hold planks for too long, you may also notice that you slowly creep up into this position as your core fatigues and your hip flexors take over.

There are two easy ways to improve this:

1. Focus on tightening your core AND your glutes.  This should help hold the neutral pelvic position.
2. Perform sets of planks with each rep being ~8-10 seconds, with no break, just a quick reset, instead of sustained holds.⠀This will keep the focus on the core before the hip flexors take over.

 

 

Side Plank

Similar to the front plank, the side plank is easy to use larger muscle groups to compensate.  One easy way to ruin a good side plank is simply to lift the body too high off the table. You’ll see too much side bend and will make this a lateral bend motion instead of a core stability exercise.

To fix this, try performing with a mirror so you can see your form. Your body should be in a straight line with a nice neutral spine.

 

 

Dead Bug

One of the common faults we see with the dead bug core exercises is a loss of neutral spine when the arms or the legs are full extended. ⠀The person tends to focus on getting there hands and feet extended, rather than keeping their core stable.

Remember the goal of the exercise is to brace and stabilize the core while moving the extremities.

Be sure to keep that brace, but also realize that it’s often better to reduce your arm and leg motion a bit if you are struggling and arching your back.⠀I’d rather you make the exercise less challenging, but performed well, then slowly progress over time.

 

 

Bird Dog

I’m a big fan of the bird dog exercise for two main reasons:

1) It’s great exercise to work on driving hip extension with proper core stability. A lot of people hyperextend their back instead of extending their hip.
2) Because you use alternate arm and leg for advanced variations, it also provides some rotational stability through the core.

But people LOVE to perform this exercise poorly by compensating and arching their back.  Many people struggle to extend their hip while keeping their spine stable.  Be sure to keep your core stable and just work on reaching with arms and legs.⠀Similar to the dead bug, I’d rather you reduce the quantity of your motion, and focus on the quality of the motion.

 

 

Glute Bridge

A common flaw with the glute bridge exercise (and hip thrusts) is thinking that you need to go as far as possible, as far as your body will go.

But keep in mind, the goal here is the glutes, not the low back. So the exercise should really be performed to extend you hips and NOT your back.

To help with this, really tighten your anterior core during the exercise and focus on squeezing your glutes. Then, simply stop the motion when the glutes are done squeezing. Many people want to keep going.  They tighten their glutes, but then keep pushing the body higher over the ground.  Resist the urge to continue by hyperextending at your back.

 

 

Want to Learn More About How I Train the Core?

Check out Eric Cressey and I’s Functional Stability Training of the Core program.  We discuss the core in detail and how we rehabilitate and train the core.

 

 

 

 

5 Exercises You Should Perform If You Sit All Day

Do you sit all day? Don’t worry you are not alone.

Sitting throughout the day, and a more sedentary lifestyle in general, has dramatically increased over the last several decades as desk jobs have become more popular and our devices have taken over as our form of entertainment.

The media loves to tell you that “sitting is the new smoking.” This is backwards in my mind, and something I’ve discussed in detail in a past article Sitting isn’t bad for you, not moving is.

In the article, I listed 3 things you should do if you sit all day to stay healthy:

  1. Move, Often
  2. Reverse your posture
  3. Exercise

For those looking for some specific exercise, here are 5 great exercises to perform to combat sitting all day.

 

5 Exercises You Should Perform if You Sit All Day

I’ve been talking about the concept of Reverse Posturing for years. The concept is essentially that we need to reverse the posture that we do the most throughout the day to keep our body balanced and prevent overuse.

Sitting involves a predominantly flexed posture, so doing exercises that promote the posterior chain would be helpful. These will depend on each person, but if I had to pick a basic set of exercises these would be the 5 exercises to combat sitting all day.

 

Thoracic Extension

The first exercise is for mobility of your thoracic spine. This is the portion of your back that becomes the most flexed while sitting all day. This is probably the biggest bang for you buck exercises in my mind:

If you are looking for more drills, you should view one of my past articles for several more great thoracic mobility drills.

 

True Hip Flexor Stretch

The second exercises is another mobility drill, this time for the pelvis. We always perform mobility drills first to maximize range of motion. This exercise is called the true hip flexor stretch, something I termed several years ago after seeing so many people do this stretch poorly.

This exercise will help prevent your hips from getting too tight, as well as put your entire spine in a better position.

Chin Nods

Now that we’ve done a couple of mobility drills, let’s try to reinforce a few movement patterns to reverse your sitting posture and activate a few select muscle groups.
The first is the chin nod, which is great for the neck muscles and forward head posture. Many have heard of the chin tuck exercise, but the chin nod exercise is a little different in my mind.

Shoulder W’s

The next exercise builds off the chin nods, and now combines the chin nod posture with retraction of your shoulders. This will help turn on your posterior rotator cuff and scapular muscles all in one drill.

Glute Bridge

Lastly, we want to focus on the glutes and their ability to extend the hips, and taking some pressure off your low back. This glute bridge exercise, in combination with the above true hip flexor stretch, will be a great combo to help with your overall posture and core control.

How to Integrate These Exercises into Your Day

An easy way to start and keep it simple is to perform each of these 10 times. These should take less than 5 minutes to perform and will make a big impact on how you feel throughout the day.
Many people ask, “how many times a day should I perform these?” Or even, “do I need to do these every day?”

You don’t need to do these every day. Just on the days that you sit… :)

But seriously, remember these are 5 exercises you should do if you sit all day, so doing them at the end of each day to reverse your posture is a great idea. Many people who sit for a really long time like to perform them during the day as well.

As you get comfortable with them, you may find that certain ones help you feel better than others. Feel free to add repetitions to those as needed.

 

Want a Comprehensive Online Training Program?

champion strong online training - multiple devices

We’re super excited to now offer our amazing online training programs.  You can now train from a distance using the same programs we use at our gym Champion PT and Performance with many of our clients.  We have a ton of options to choose from based on your goals.  All of our programs are designed to give you a comprehensive program to follow at the gym that focuses on helping you look, feel, move, and perform better.

We’re really proud if it. Click below to learn more and sign up for less than $1 a day:

 

Sorry, Sitting Isn’t Really Bad for You

Over the last several years, the health concerns surrounding sitting have really been highlighted by the health and fitness crowds, as well as the mainstream media.  In fact, there have been entire books published on this topic.  I’ve seen articles with titles such as “Sitting is Evil,” “Sitting is the New Smoking,” and even “Sitting will kill you.”

Wow, those seem pretty aggressive.  We’ve been sitting since the beginning of time!  I’m going to really shock the world with this comment…

Sorry, sitting isn’t really bad for you.

Yup.  There is nothing wrong with sitting.  I’m actually doing it right now as I write this article.  You probably are too while you read this article.

Don’t get me wrong, sedentary lifestyles are not healthy.  According to the World Health Organization, sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality and raises the risk of health concerns such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and even depression and anxiety.

But let’s get one thing straight:

It’s not sitting that is bad for you, it’s NEVER moving that is bad for you.

By putting all the blame on sitting, we lose focus on the real issue, which is lack of movement and exercise.  We are seeing a shift in people switching to standing desks at work, still not exercising, but thinking that they are now making healthy choices.

This is so backwards it boggles my mind.

It it all begin with the negative myth that “sitting is the new smoking” and completely ignores the true issue.

The body adapts amazingly well to the forces and stress that we apply to it throughout the day.  If you sit all day, your body will adapt.  Your body will lose mobility to areas like your hips, hamstrings, and thoracic spine.  Your core is essentially not needed while sitting so thinks it’s not needed anymore during other activities.  And several muscles groups get used less frequently while sitting and weaken over time, like your glutes, scapular retractors, and posterior rotator cuff.

Your body is a master compensator, and will adapt to the stress applied (or not applied) to make your efficient at what you do all day.

Unfortunately, when all you do is sit all day, and you never reverse this posture or exercise, your body adapts to this stress to make you the most efficient sitter.
That’s right, you get really good at sitting.

For example, think about what happens to the core when you sit all day.

One of the functions of your core is to maintain good posture and essentially to keep the bones of your skeleton from crashing to the floor.  The core is engaged at a low level of muscle activity throughout the day for postural needs.

The problem with sitting is that the chair also serves this function, so your core isn’t needed to keep you upright, the chair serves this function. If sitting is all you do, then when you stand up, your core essentially isn’t accustomed to providing this postural support so you rock back onto your static stabilizers by doing things like standing with a large anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar extension.

bad sitting posture isnt bad for you core control

Unfortunately, this becomes the path of least resistance, and most energy efficient, for your body.  Your core gets used to relying on the chair to function, then when you need it, gets lazy.

Despite what you may read in the media, it’s OK to sit all day.  That is, as long as you are reversing this posture at some point.  This can be as specific as exercises designed to combat sitting and as general as simply taking a walk in the evening.

 

3 Strategies to Combat Sitting All Day

I want to share the 3 things that I often discuss with my patients and clients.  You can apply these yourself or use them to discuss with your clients as well.  But if you sit all day, you really should:

  1. Move, Often
  2. Reverse your posture
  3. Exercise

But the real first step is to stop blaming sitting and start focusing on the real issue.  It’s lack of movement and exercise that is the real concern, not sitting.

 

Step 1 – Move, Often

The first step to combatting sitting all day is to move around often.  The body needs movement variability or it will simply adapt to what it does all day.

I get it, we all work long days, and sitting is often required in many of our jobs.  But the easiest way to minimize the effects of sitting all day is to figure out ways to get up and move throughout the day.

This doesn’t need to be 10 minutes of exercise, it could simply be things like getting up to fill up a water bottle or taking quick 2 minute walk around the office.  When I am not in the clinic or gym, I personally tend to work in my home office.  What I do is try to work in one hour chunks, so I will get up and walk around in between chunks to get a glass of water, snack, or use the bathroom.

This works well for me, but you need to find what works for you.  I know of others that use things like Pomodoro timers, or even some of the newer fitness tracking devices, which can remind you to stand up and move around at set times.

 

Step 2 – Reverse Your Posture

I’ve been talking about the concept of Reverse Posturing for years.  The concept is essentially that we need to reverse the posture that we do the most throughout the day to keep our body balanced and prevent overuse.

Sitting involves a predominantly flexed posture, so doing exercises that promote the posterior chain would be helpful.  These will depend on each person but a basic set of exercises may look like:

  • Thoracic extension
  • True hip flexor stretch
  • Chin nods
  • Shoulder W’s
  • Glute bridges

reverse your posture

I have another article you should check out on the 5 Exercises to Perform if You Sit All Day.  Perform each of these for 10 reps.  These should take 5 minutes to perform and will make a big impact on how you feel throughout the day.

 

Step 3 – Exercise

Remember going back to some of the past concepts above, the body adapts to the stress applied.  To combat this perfectly, a detailed exercise program that is designed specifically for you and comprehensively includes a focus on total body and core control is ideal.

This will assure that the muscle groups that are not being used while sitting all day get the strength and mobility they need, while the core gets trained to stabilize the trunk during functional movements.

If you want to get the most out of your body and stay optimized, you need to do things like work on your hip and thoracic spine mobility, strengthen your rotator cuff, groove your hinge pattern, and learn how to deadlift and work your glutes.

 

Sitting Isn’t Bad For You, Not Moving Is

As a profession, we need to get away from blaming sitting as the enemy and labeling it evil.  Our society is sitting more and more each generation.  We need to be honest with ourselves and realize that sitting isn’t the problem, it’s not moving enough that is the concern.  We need to stop pointing fingers and get to the root of the problem.

Go ahead and sit, just move more often and use these 3 strategies to combat sitting all day.

 

Want a Comprehensive Online Training Program?

champion strong online training - multiple devicesWe’re super excited to now offer our amazing online training programs.  You can now train from a distance using the same programs we use at our gym Champion PT and Performance with many of our clients.  We have a ton of options to choose from based on your goals.  All of our programs are designed to give you a comprehensive program to follow at the gym that focuses on helping you look, feel, move, and perform better.

We’re really proud if it.  Click below to learn more and sign up for less than $1 a day:

 

 

The Kettlebell March Drill for Functional Core Stability

We’re big fans of farmer carries and suitcase carries at Champion.

Carries do a great job of developing functional core stability by adding an offset weight to the center of rotation of the body. But carries also offer so many other benefits – from grip strength, to upper body development, to overall athleticism.

Often times, clients with poor core strength or control will compensate during the carry.

If the core can not stabilize the trunk with the added load of the carry, it will compensate by relying on the static stabilizers of the body and rocking back into hyperextension of the back or leaning to the side.

In the below video, Kiefer Lammi, our Director of Fitness at Champion, shows how we have started to modify the carry in these individuals by adding a march. Not only does this promote better core control, it also facilitates training the trunk to remain stable while the distal extremities move functionally. This is one of the fundamental principles to enhance how well people move and perform.

Follow Champion For More

If you enjoyed this video, the team at Champion and I have been producing a ton of great content on Champion’s social media profiles, including regular content for #MovementMonday and #TechniquesTuesday, plus a ton more:

 

Working Core Training in 360 Degrees

The notion of core training has been around for years and years.  As far back as I can remember, people have been doing crunches, sit-ups, weighted side bends, and more.  You could walk into any gym in the world and probably see someone doing some sort of “core” exercise.

core training sit ups

Photo credit

Even today, there are still people performing sit-ups or some other variation in their training program.  But as we continue to learn more about the spine, these traditional core exercises may actually be disadvantageous.  According to Dr. Stuart McGill, a noted spine biomechanist from the University of Waterloo:

“The spine may be more prone to injury when they are in a fully flexed posture.”

Last time I checked, when someone is performing a sit-up, they are in a great deal of flexion.  

Many other studies by McGill and other researchers have been published on the increased risk of high repetition and/or loaded lumbar spine motion.  Since this research has been published, there has been a pendulum swing towards performing more neutral spine movements such as planks.

core training plank

In another study by Cholewicki and McGill in Clinical Biomechanics:

“One important mechanical function of the lumbar spine is to support the upper body by transmitting compressive and shearing forces to the lower body during the performance of everyday activities. To enable the successful transmission of these forces, mechanical stability of the spinal system must be assured.”

By performing some type of plank or neutral spine exercise, this can potentially train the core to transmit force from the upper body to the lower body or vice versa without compromising the spine.

Performing plank variations is great, but as humans, we move in multiple planes of motion.  Therefore, we need to train the core to function in all planes of motion.

 

Core Musculature

360 degree core trainingThere are many muscles that contribute to the functioning of a stable core position.  These muscles include:

 

  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Internal Obliques
  • External Obliques
  • Transverse Abdominis
  • Multifidi
  • Quadratus Lumborum
  • Diaphragm
  • Pelvic Floor
  • Latissimus Dorsi

There have been studies performed over the years saying that transverse abdominis or multifidi are the main stabilizers of the lumbar spine.  Study after study, many by McGill, have refuted that 1 or 2 muscles are the primary stabilizers of the spine.  McGill et al. in the Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology found that:

“The collection of works synthesized here point to the notion that stability results from highly coordinated muscle activation patterns involving many muscles, and that the recruitment patterns must continually change, depending on the task.”

Therefore, when we are training or treating our clients, we should not be attempting to isolate one muscle we performing lifting tasks.  Some muscles may be more active than others in one task as compared to another.  Instead, we should be working to maintain a neutral spine position and to resist motion through the lumbar spine.

The McGill Big 3

McGill came up with a series of 3 exercises, entitled “The Big 3” to help teach and re-educate patients or clients returning from a low back injury on how to properly stabilize their spine.

They include:

McGill Curl-Up

Key Points:

  • Place finger tips under low back.
  • Maintain a neutral spine position at low back and neck.
  • Slightly lift shoulders off ground while maintaining spine position.

Bird Dog

Key Points:

  • Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Imagine you have a drink on your low back. Don’t let it spill

Side Plank

Key Points:

  • Start on your side in a hip hinged position (hips slightly flexed).
  • Bring hips forward, not up.

These exercises are great implements to add into the beginning of a strength and conditioning program or during a rehab program for someone returning from a low back injury.  But, these exercises are a foundation for movement.  If we are going to build core stability throughout, thence need to have a solid foundation as well as solid “walls and a roof.”

 

Core Training Progression

There are typically two functions of the core:

  1. Transmit force from the lower body to the upper body or vice versa.  
  2. Resist motion.  

For example, if you are a baseball player and are throwing or swinging a bat, you want to have some motion through your lumbar spine, but predominantly through the hips and thoracic spine.  If we try to stop motion at the lumbar spine, your effectiveness as an athlete will be subpar.

Don’t forget…  the spine needs to move.  This is something Mike has covered in his article Are We Missing the Boat on Core Training?

Regarding the other aspect of resisting motion, if you are going to pick something heavy up off the ground, you want to maintain a neutral spine posture so that your core can transmit force from your legs and into your arms as you lift to the implement.

We need to appreciate these two different situations as we program for our clients.

The three planes of movement that the core musculature works in is the:

  • Sagittal Plane
  • Frontal Plane
  • Transverse Plane

The sagittal plane is lumbar spine flexion and extension. The frontal plane is lateral flexion or sidebending.  The transverse plane is rotation to the right or left.

The following progressions are a big part of Mike Reinold and Eric Cressey’s Functional Stability Training For the Core program.

 

Anti-Extension Core Training

Anti-extension core training consists of the body’s ability to resist movement into lumbar spine extension or to slow down motion from a flexed position to neutral, or from neutral to extension.

Exercises that focus on anti-extension stability are:

RKC Plank

Key Points:

  • Pull your elbows toward your toes.
  • Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can.
  • Maintain a neutral spine.

TRX Fallouts

Key Points:

  • Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Tuck tailbone/bring belt towards chin.
  • Slide arms out while keeping neutral spine.

Farmer’s Carries

Key Points:

  • Hold relatively heavy weight in each hand.
  • Ribs down/neutral spine.
  • Walk.  Don’t lose neutral spine posture as you walk.

Dead Bugs

Key Points:

  • Flatten low back to ground so that spine is neutral.
  • Bring right arm overhead and left leg out away from body.
  • Do not lose neutral spine position.  Return to starting position.
  • Repeat on other arm/leg.

Tall Kneeling Anti-Extension Press

Key Points:

  • Setup cable at head height when in tall kneeling.
  • Maintain a neutral spine and press cable overhead.
  • Cable will try to pull you into extension.  Don’t let it.
  • The only thing moving should be your arms.

Anti-Lateral Flexion Core Training

Anti-lateral flexion core training consists of the body’s ability to resist movement into lumbar spine lateral flexion to the right or left or to slow down motion from a flexed position to neutral, or from neutral to the opposite laterally flexed position.

Exercises that focus on anti-lateral flexion core stability are:

Suitcase Carries

Key Points:

  • Hold weight in one hand.
  • Do not let weight pull you out of a tall, neutral posture.
  • Don’t overcompensate to and flex to the opposite side.
  • Walk.

Side Planks

Key Points:

  • Start on your side in a neutral spine, slightly hips flexed position.
  • Maintain neutral spine and bring hips forward.
  • Maintain a straight line from your head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees, and ankles.

Racked Carries

Key Points:

  • Maintain a tall posture similar to the suitcase carries.
  • Walk.

Anti-Rotation Core Training

Anti-rotation core training consists of the body’s ability to resist movement into lumbar spine rotation to the right or left or to slow down motion from a rotated position to neutral, or from neutral to a rotated position.

Exercises that focus on anti-rotation core stability are:

Anti-Rotation Press

Key Points:

  • Start behind cable arm.
  • When you press your hands away, don’t let the machine rotate you.  Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Perform facing both directions.

1/2 Kneeling Chops

Key Points:

  • Leg closest to the machine should be up.
  • Bring arms down and across your body to you far side hip.
  • Only move head and arms.
  • Perform on both sides.

1/2 Kneeling Lifts

Key Points:

  • Leg closest to machine should be down.
  • Same cues as chops, but bring cable to far side shoulder.

TRX Anti-Rotation Press

Key Points:

  • Feet should be in tandem.
  • Maintain a neutral spine position.
  • Don’t let your body rotate or sidebend during press.
  • Perform on both sides.

 

Multi-Planar Movements and Rotational Sport Athletes

Once the body has mastered the basic core progressions and anti-movement-based drills, it is important to incorporate multi-planar and rotational movements.  These movements work on incorporating movement through the hips and thoracic spine versus some of the movements before where basically no movement was occurring.

As mentioned before, these exercises will help the athlete and client to control themselves going from one position to another.  As a rotational sport athlete, we don’t want to completely limit any spine motion.  We want the body to be able to control and decelerate the body using the musculature versus passive restraints (ie. bone, ligament, etc.) at end range.  These can also be used by non-rotational sport athletes as well.

Sledgehammer Hits

Key Points:

  • Bring the sledgehammer up over one shoulder.  Don’t let it bring you into lumbar extension.
  • Hit the tire while maintaining a neutral spine.
  • Alternate per side.

Medicine Ball Overhead Slams

Key Points:

  • Raise the medicine ball overhead.
  • Avoid going into lumbar extension.
  • Slam the ball to the ground while maintaining a neutral spine.

Medicine Ball Overhead Rotational Slams

Key Points:

  • Bring the ball up overhead.  Don’t let it bring you into lumbar extension.
  • Throw while maintaining a neutral spine.

Medicine Ball Scoop Toss

Key Points:

  • Load your back leg with your weight.
  • Transfer weight quickly from back to front leg.
  • Majority of the motion should be coming from the thoracic spine and hips.
  • Perform on both sides.

Medicine Ball Shotput Toss

Key Points:

  • Load medicine ball at shoulder height.
  • Load back hip/leg.
  • Quickly drive off back leg and twist through hips/thoracic spine.
  • Perform on both sides.

 

Breathing and Core Training

Implementing breathing with core training is very important.  If we are constantly holding our breath while performing core exercises, then we are compensating using the valsalva maneuver versus training the musculature to have to stabilize throughout the exercise.

Related Articles:

*Disclaimer*: if you have heavy weight in your hands or on your back in the cases of a deadlift or squat, then I am a proponent of using the breath to brace the core and spine.  When it comes to core exercises as mentioned above, remember to breath.  

With the said, here are a couple of exercises where implementing the breath adds another component to the movement.

Anti-Rotation Press with Full Exhale

Key Points:

  • Same as before with Anti-rotation Press.
  • Complete full exhale when hands are out in front of your body.
  • Maintain proper form during exhale and inhale.

Prone Plank with Full Exhale

Key Points:

  • Same as before with Plank.
  • Complete full inhale and exhale without losing form.

 

Strength Training and Core Stability

Lastly, we can’t go through an entire article and not discuss the use of core stability and strength training.  I am a firm believer that just performing squats and deadlifts are not enough to improve core and trunk stability.  Adding some of the movements mentioned above can add another component to create a well-rounded training program.

When it comes to performing squats, deadlifts, etc., maintaining a neutral spine during the lifts is extremely important.  Yes, there are some elite level lifters out there who can sway away from a neutral position in one direction or the other.   For the vast majority of people performing strength movements such as these, a neutral spine should be maintained.

There you have it.  By incorporating core stability exercises throughout all planes of motion, it will allow your clients and/or athletes to reduce their risk for injuries as well as improve their performance.

 

Learn More About Core Training

If you want to learn even more about functional core training, check out Mike Reinold and Eric Cressey’s Functional Stability Training for the Core.  The program goes over many of these progressions and a whole lot more to help you completely understand the true role of the core and how to incorporate functional core training into your rehab and strength training programs:

 

About the Author

andrew_millettAndrew Millett is a Boston-based physical therapist in the field of orthopedic and sports medicine physical therapy.  He helps to bridge the gap between physical therapy and strength and conditioning.  Visit his website at AndrewMillettPT.com.

 

 

 

 

A Simple and Easy Hip Mobility Drill for Low Back Pain

Low back pain continues to be one of the most common health complaints that limit people, especially as we age.  Rehabilitation of low back pain has transition from simply focusing on reducing the local pain to emphasizing a biomechanical approach of how other areas of the body, such as the hips, impact low back pain.

Essentially we have done a great job moving away from simply treating the symptoms and working towards finding the movement impairment leading to the low back pain.  Sure, using something like a TENS device may have a role to neuromodulate pain, but it is now common knowledge that the improvements seen are transient at best and not addressing the real dysfunction.

One area that has received a lot of attention, and rightfully so, is looking at limitations in hip mobility as a cause of low back pain.  Much of the research to date has focused on looking at the loss of hip external rotation and internal rotation mobility.  In fact, I have an older article on the correlation between hip mobility and low back pain.

I can say that my own ability to help people with low back pain has greatly improved as I’ve learned to focus on hip mobility over the years.

 

hip extension mobility low back painHip Mobility and Low Back Pain

A new study was recently published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy that adds to our understanding of the influence of hip mobility on low back pain.  In the current study, the authors evaluated hip external rotation, internal rotation, and extension mobility in two groups of individuals, those with and without nonspecific low back pain.

While using a Thomas test to assess hip extension, the authors found the follow:

  • Hip extension in those with low back pain = -4.16 degrees
  • Hip extension in those without low back pain = 6.78 degrees

That’s a total loss of 10 degrees of hip extension in those with low back pain.

 

A Loss of Hip Extension Correlates to Low Back Pain

So now in addition to rotational loss of hip rotational mobility, it has been shown that a loss of hip extension correlates to low back pain.  To me, this has always been something I have focused on and makes perfect sense, especially as we age.

The vast majority of our society sits for the majority of the day and becomes less and less active as they age.  Among many things, this results in tight hip flexors and an anterior pelvic tilt posture.

Putting recreational activities like sports and running aside, this anterior pelvic tilt posture with tight hip flexors causes a loss of hip extension mobility and the low back tends to take the load but hyperextending.  This happens while simply walking and in a standing posture.

Think about the results above, people with low back pain have negative hip extension, meaning they can’t even extend to neutral!

As we all know, the human body is amazing and will compensate.  Hips don’t extend?  No problem, we’ll extend our spine more.

So a pretty easy step to take to reduce back pain is to work on hip extension mobility.

One drill that almost everyone that trains at Champion PT and Performance gets is what I named the “True Hip Flexor Stretch.”  I’ve talked about it at length in past articles, but I am a believer that most of our hip flexor stretches commonly performed in the fitness world are disadvantageous and not actually stretching what we want to stretch.

The True Hip Flexor Stretch is a great place to start to work on hip extension mobility:

As you can see (and feel), this gets a great stretch on your hip flexors without causing any compensatory low back extension.  And by focusing on posterior pelvic tilt, we gear this towards those with a lot of anterior pelvic tilt.

 

I really believe that the “True Hip Flexor Stretch” is one of the most important stretches you should be performing.  [Click to Tweet]

 

Next, Focus on Reducing Anterior Pelvic Tilt in People with Low Back Pain

Updated Strategies on Anterior Pelvic TiltI’m not a big believer that static posture is the most important thing we should all be focusing on when outline our treatment and fitness programs, but it’s a start.  Someone in an anterior pelvic tilt static posture isn’t always evil, and can be the result of many things such as poor core control, poor mobility, and even excessive weight.  I tend to care more about how well people move.

But based on the current evidence, it’s a great place to start.

Once you’ve started to gain some hip mobility, there is a ton more work to do.  We also have to work on glute and core control, among other things.  If you’re interested in learning more, I have a hugely popular Inner Circle webinar on my treatment strategies for anterior pelvic tilt that goes into detail on what I recommend:

 

In summary, we now have a nice study that shows people with low back pain have 10 degrees less hip extension that those without.  This makes sense, and focusing on hip extension should be one of the key components of any low back pain program.

 

 

Updated Strategies for Anterior Pelvic Tilt

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on the Strategies for Anterior Pelvic Tilt is now available.

Updated Strategies for Anterior Pelvic Tilt

strategies for anterior pelvic tiltThis month’s Inner Circle webinar was on Strategies for Anterior Pelvic Tilt.  This is actually an update on one of my most popular webinars in the past.  I am doing a couple new things and wanted to assure everyone has my newest thoughts.  In this webinar I go through my system of how I integrate manual therapy, self-myofascial release, stretching, and correcting exercises.  To me, it’s all how you put the program together.  My system builds off each step to maximize the effectiveness of your programs.

Are We Missing the Boat on Core Training?

A lot of attention has been placed on core training over the last several years, both in the rehab and fitness industry.  I recently watched my friend Nick Tumminello’s latest product Core Training: Facts, Fallacies, and Top Techniques and it made me think.

We’ve made exceptional progress in our understanding of the core and have shifted away from isolated ab training to integrated core training.  My DVD with Eric Cressey on Functional Stability Training for the Core discussed this at length and showed a nice system to effectively train every aspect of the core.

However, the more I read on the internet the more I wonder if we are still missing the boat a little bit.  I’ll chalk this up as a another pendulum swing, but while we have progressed away from isolated abdominal exercises like sit ups, I wonder if we have swung too far to an extreme and started to focus only on isometric anti-movement exercises for the core.

 

Anti-Movement Core Exercises

Realistically the core helps stabilize the body and allow a transfer of energy.

Anti-movement exercises, such as planks for anti-extension, should be the foundation of the basic levels of core training.

Plank - core training

Once your baseline ability to maintain an isometric posture with the core is obtained, the next progression is to control limb movement with a stable core.  This involves combining upper body and lower body movements while maintain a stable core.  An example of this would be an anti-extension drill with TRX Rip Trainer.

However, the core does need to “move” during normal function.  It rotates, bends, flexes, extends, and all of these at once!  Should we train this?

 

Don’t Forget the Trunk is Designed to Move

I would say we should.  I think the difference here is to train these movements within a stable range of motion.  We should be training the body to work within it’s normal mobility, but to stabilize at end range of motion.

We get into problems with core movements, like rotation, when we depend on our static stabilizers, like the joints and ligaments, to control end range instead of our muscular dynamic stabilizers.

Perhaps the goals should be to train to control the core at end range of motion.

 

End Range Core Stability

These types of drills would include chops, lifts, push-pull movements on a cable or Keiser system, and medicine ball drills.  You are probably doing these already, right?

They all involve a transfer of energy from the limbs through the core.  The core needs to move during these exercises, but you are working in the mid ranges of motion and controlling end range.  These should also progress to include functional movements patterns like swings, throws, and kicks.

In the video above, I combine the act of throwing and decelerating in the half kneel position.  This takes the lower half out of it and requires the core to stabilize.

I guess the point is that we shouldn’t be afraid to move the core.  That is not beneficial to teach our patients, clients, and athletes.  Rather, train the core to move and stabilize at end range of motion to take stress off the structures of the spine.