Sunday, 23 March 2014

Core Stability

Core Stability

Oxford Dictionary Official Definition.

“The capacity of the muscles of the torso to assist in the maintenance of good posture, balance, etc., especially during movement”

If you have ever been to a gym, read fitness magazines or purchased a fitness video you should already be fairly familiar with the term "core stability".  The core is the common name given to the group of muscles that lay deep inside the center of your body. 

The core helps support your skeletal structure and all movement. Without these muscles, which are located around your waist, hips and torso, you would flop like a rag doll. Poorly conditioned core muscles are very vulnerable to injury and a common cause of back pain; one of the biggest reasons for sick leave in the UK.  As you can appreciate having a strong core is pretty important.  

The main functions of the core are to provide:

·         Back support

·         Posture

·         Strength

·         Balance and coordination (proprioception)

·         Controlled movement support

·         Injury prevention


Gone are the days where we were taught to do thousands of sit ups and crunches. All this does is weaken hip flexors, damage lower back and stress the neck.

To improve your core stability the first thing you need to understand is how it works. Think of your core as an internal weight belt. To activate the core you must do a pelvic floor contraction (new mums are instructed to do this after child birth as it helps prevent incontinence in older age)  You do this by squeezing down below (as if you are holding in a wee) and “zip up”, pulling your internal muscles in all the way up to the navel. This does not mean doing a belly dance! It is actually pulling the inner muscles in and holding them tight. Try it. If you struggle, don’t worry as it is not easy but remember “practice makes perfect”.  Next time you are stuck in traffic practice tightening and relaxing the core. That goes for the men too as you are not exempt from incontinence in later life either.

The application of activating the core in the gym environment (or when generally lifting objects) is vitally important if you want to maximise your potential and protect your back. Once you have your core muscles contracted they will tighten around your spine giving you much greater strength and movement control, as well as protection.

The core is your center of gravity and holds the upper and lower body together. When weight training, if you have a weak core you won’t support external movement efficiently therefore limiting yourself in the weight you lift and how well you lift it. You are only as strong as your weakest point. If the core is weak your whole body will be weak.

As soon as you become proficient at activating your core muscles you will feel much greater strength and stability when pushing or pulling against a force. At this stage, provided you have good technique, it is recommended that you start destabilising yourself when training. This will challenge the core further as all the stabilising muscles around your hips and back have to work harder to hold your torso in position whilst allowing you to move / lift weight. The bosu and stability ball are amazing apparatus for this.  You can also close your eyes or execute exercises on a single leg. Unstable surfaces improve joint support and reactivity. This is also known as proprioception. (Neuromuscular messages sent from the brain aiding balance and coordination of the challenged area. The more off balance you are the more nerve endings and muscle fibres are recruited increasing strength, stability, reactivity and muscle mass. This means less risk of injury.

The Main muscles in the core muscle group are:

·         Transverse Abdominis also known as the TVA

·         Rectus abdominus

·         Erector Spinae

·         Internal and external Obliques

·         Pelvic floor

·         Diaphragm

·         Multifidus

·         Quadratus lumborum


In short, in everyday life, you are always utilising the core as it supports all body movement. This is why it is so vital that you undertake regular functional core training.



For further information or advice email me on

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Fad Dieting

Fad Dieting

In modern media there is always somebody telling you to buy into a new amazing diet plan to help you lose weight.  The fitness industry makes millions from desperate individuals buying into these fads, vying to reduce their body fat.  But. do they actually work in the long term?  In most cases, no. 

Hands up, some diet plans can help certain individuals lose weight quickly, but much of the time people just stack the pounds back on when the diet is completed. Hence the term “yoyo dieting”.  Repeatedly losing and putting weight back on is incredibly unhealthy as your internal organs and bodily systems are put under great changing stresses, constantly working under new demands.

The main reason people who lose weight quickly put it back on again is because their brain has not made a permanent habitual change.  Their mind set is still of eating too much of the wrong foods at the wrong times and simply not getting enough exercise. You need at the very least, three months to orchestrate a permanent change.  This is more physiologically and psychologically healthy and reliable.

Many social weight loss clubs, although basically correct in their preaching’s, are fundamentally old fashioned.  The whole ethos of “Lose weight by way of a calorie controlled diet” is a bit old hack.  Their customers go home and meticulously count every calorie without actually paying attention to WHAT they are eating. It is the type of sugars and fats you consume not just how many calories you take on board.  The body metabolises certain foods (natural produces) much more efficiently than others.                                        

Certain weight loss clubs even have their own line of ready-made meals! In other words; Unnatural processed food high in salt. Our bodies are simply not designed to process these options. I recommend trying organic foods, I guarantee you will feel much healthier and lose weight more effectively.

The problem with fad diets is they severely limit varied nutritional intake!  The promoters of these diets then recommend taking vitamin and mineral tablets to artificially supplement what should already be in your diet through natural means.  Absolutely crazy. 

What happened to good old fashioned healthy, whole food (natural foods) eating and exercise? This is the way the human body is designed to work at it best. You should aim to lose 1-2 lbs of body fat a week if you intend on keeping the weight off. This is highly achievable, healthier for the internal organs and gives your brain time to adjust to the new eating regime.  

For me, the best eating advice for weight loss I can give is:

·         Exercise regularly

·         Consume plenty of water

·         Eat fruit before 11am

·         Stick to primarily organic food sources

·         Eat little and often throughout the day until 6pm when our metabolism slows down). 

·         Take your time - this gives the hunger hormone Leptin  time to tell your brain that you are full up

·         Chew your food properly – First stage of digestion.

I don’t particularly like the term “diet”.  I prefer to think of it as simply eating properly.


For help and advice email me on

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Functional Training

Functional Training

Functional training is simply exercise designed to meet a practical purpose.  Usually this consists of multi joint, multi muscle group compound exercises.

The concept originated from physios and sports therapists assigning routines to help rehabilitate their clients, post injury. Now functional training is used as injury prevention to regular exercisers and athletes alike, but still in my opinion, not commonly enough.  

Functional training is best executed standing up and utilising multi joints and exercise plains. This means moving several different parts of  the body from low to high, high to low or twisting transversely or diagonally (with good posture).   It is, however, important not to lose sight of which muscles you are targeting and why. There must be a practical purpose to each and every exercise, not just for the sake of functional training.

The predominant purpose of functional training is to improve the neuromuscular system. In other words, your ability to create more messaging paths from the brain to the required joints and muscle groups, therefore enhancing their efficiency. (Proprioception)                                                                           The result of all this is increased number of  neuromuscular pathways, nerve endings and muscle fibres being created and recruited by the brain, creating better joint support and reactivity as well as stronger, quicker muscle contractions.

A few of examples of FT;

1.    A rugby player will structure her workout routine around exercises and movements that directly improve her match day performance replicating movements she will make on the pitch. Her body will react quicker and more powerfully to the sport specific movements and demands placed upon her in game situation.

2.    A man in his mid-70’s may undertake functional exercises designed to improve his mobility, balance and joint support. He will maintain better posture and reduce the risk of stumbling over / falling and generally he will move better.

3.    An injured athlete or keen sports person aiming to return to play will strengthen the damaged area by utilising exercises  that collectively incorporate all the surrounding muscle groups and stimulate the nerve ending. When they do return to play they should have improved strength, balance, reactivity and flexibility than before they injured themselves.  



Undertaking functional training, it is vital that an individual has a good practical and theoretical grasp of core stability and how to activate the core. This is a good start point:


Core Stability definition: “The capacity of the muscles of the torso to assist in the maintenance of good posture, balance, etc., especially during movement” – The Oxford English Dictionary.


How to activate your core.


1.       Squeeze your pelvic floor muscle – imagine you are holding in a wee. (Ladies post natal will be told to do this) – It is good for preventing incontinence.

2.       Continue the squeezing up to the belly button – zipping up

3.       Pull your belly button into your spine.  (not simply sucking in your gut!)

Doing this when you are lifting heavy weights or objects will improve your back support and posture, balance, coordination and strength. You are essentially locking your trunk and hip muscles around your spine. Please forget the “six pack” ideas you may have. Inner core strength only will help improve your body’s performance.

The three key groups in need of stability training are:

1. The deep abdominals (transversus abdominis and internal oblique),

2. The hip abductors and rotators

3. The scapula stabilizers. (back of shoulders)


*Functional training for sports - Michael Boyle


Exercising on machines may be a safer, comfortable start point for weight training but to truly enhance your body’s capabilities you need to venture away from fixed movements where your body is kept in one movement plain.


Think of it this way: Almost all of your daily movements, routines and undertakings require multi joint movements. Train your body how it wants to move! For example picking up a box off the floor and putting it onto a shelve. That’s a squat onto shoulder press.  Ankle – knee – hip - shoulder -Elbow.


Another positive consequence to functional training is you actually increase your metabolic rate. More muscles being worked = more calories being burnt.



Here is a relevant sports specific extract from Human Kinetics.


“As you begin to explore the concept of functional training for sport, keep an open mind about how and why athletes move in your sport. Think of your training as a vehicle to improve performance, not just to improve strength.”


On a personal note my mind and body prefer the challenge of functional training. It is much more interesting and I appreciate the increase neuromuscular response I get from it.


As with everything body related it is vital you have a good daily intake of water, 2.7 litres for women, 3.7 litters for men and a healthy balanced wholefood diet – plenty of oily fish, beans, pulses, nuts,  fruit, vegetables, roughage  and complex carbohydrates.


I hope and would love for the industry to move further towards functional training for both athletes and everyday fitness enthusiasts.  Fortunately I do foresee this happening in the main. It may just take another 10 years though.