Over the years, gym based training has had a major re-think. The major training philosophy in the past originated from the bodybuilding world. The focus was directed towards an ideal symmetry and increasing the muscular size of an individual without any attention to posture, muscle-balance or injury prevention. Today the human body is not seen just as a reflection in the mirror but more as a functional instrument with the need for constant maintenance focusing on balance, stability and specificity of movement. Core conditioning encapsulates all of these principles and is the starting point for any programme designed to increase an individual’s functionality.
The key areas involved in core conditioning and functionality are, firstly, the inner core and how it improves function and secondly, integrating a strong core with the rest of the body during movement.
A strong inner core should have two main functions; To help produce and hold a neutral lower spine position and protect the lower trunk from injury during everyday movement. Neutral lower spine position is considered the position at which the lower (lumbar) spine and pelvis are best aligned to transmit forces thru the trunk. At this position the structures of the lower back and pelvis can receive and transmit force from the rest of the body with a decreased risk of injury. Activating the inner core will help produce a neutral spine position. There are four parts to the inner core and the best way to visualize its structure is to use a cylindrical model. The top of the cylinder represents the diaphragm, the front and sides represents transverses abdominis muscles, the back represents the multifidus muscles and the base represents the pelvic floor muscles. Activating all four groups in a coordinated manner will not only help produce neutral spine but also form a strong girdle like structure around the lower back. Without this girdle in place, the lower spine and joints are at great risk of injury from forces caused by unusual or high-risk movement patterns (i.e., rotation and flexing at the same time). When the inner core is strong, forces from the limbs can transmit more effectively throughout the body. From sporting situations to everyday physical tasks ability to produce powerful integrated movements safely all starts with functional inner core. Imagine a crane with one weak section: it doesn’t matter how strong the rest of the structures are, its ability to lift is always limited by its weakest link.
An important factor that is often missed is the integration of the core has with the rest of the body. Not only must the inner core interact with the structures of the thorax (hips, shoulders and neck) but these structures must also interact with the upper and lower limbs. A strong linkage between these structures is paramount. We move in a multidimensional world and human movement will produce forces that will to travel away and towards the center of the body. When you first decide to start an exercise programme it is essential to seek help from a qualified instructor or personal trainer to teach you the basics like neutral spine posture and switching on your inner core. Many gyms now run programmes focusing on core conditioning. Les mills have a 12-week programme dedicated to helping an individual progress from a beginner level to advance core training. Like a house the human body needs strong foundations, when you first start training it is important to focus on inner core. When you gain control over your inner core change your programme to integrate the total body. Exercises should then involve the upper and lower limbs in a coordinated manner, mimicking movement used in everyday life. If you try a more advanced exercise and cannot maintain neutral spine and inner core activation, take a step back. Your nervous system will learn faster with correct posture and core activation. Slowly increase the difficulty of exercises as you gain control over your body.
The Exercise Programme
Before commencing any of these exercises, seek clearance from a medical practitioner. The following examples are advanced core exercises. You will need a strong core to attempt the following exercises. If you want to start training your core or need to improve your cores functionality, seek help from a qualified instructor or personal trainer.
The following exercises can be used in addition to an individual existing exercise programme. Try 1 or 2 of the following exercises after a 5-10 min warm-up.
Sets Reps/ time Rest
Double Swiss-ball roll out 2-3 1-10 60s
Pole Bridge 2-3 1-10 60s
Inner unit leg switch 2-3 1-10 60s
Swiss-ball side twists 2-3 1-15 60s
S/ball m/ball bridges 2-3 10-20s 60s
Do not hold your breath, breathe out on exertion. Maintain a neutral spine position and switch on your inner core on before starting exercises. Maintain technique throughout exercise, once you lose your technique -stop! Make sure you perform all exercises in a cleared area with no chance of contacting objects during falls.
Double Swiss-ball roll out
This is an extremely advanced exercise that will place great demands on balance and inner core strength. This exercise highlights the need to have a strong integration between the inner core and the thorax muscles, which in turn, are linked to our legs and arms. Mastering this exercise indicates great control over one’s body.
Place two equally sized Swiss-balls one diametre apart. Mount one ball in the kneeling position. Slowly place your hands on the other ball forming a horse stance position. Roll both balls apart so you can start in a kneeling bridge position. Make sure your forearms and lower legs are in contact with the S/balls. Maintain a neutral back and neck position at all times.
Roll both S/balls apart while maintaining a neutral back and neck position. When you start to lose technique or strength, roll both S/ball’s together to the starting position. Only repeat reps while maintaining the correct form.
This exercise is an advanced version of a rollout exercise. It will place great demands on inner core and upper body strength. Increasing the starting distance of your knees to the pole will increase difficulty.
Start with knees shoulder width apart. Maintain a neutral spine and neck position throughout entire movement. The pole should be about one and a half metres away from your knees. Start with one hand above the other just above your head height.
While maintaining a neutral back and head position, slowly place one hand below the next. When you begin to lose neutral spine position return to the starting position by placing one hand above the other. Repeat steps while correct technique is preformed.
Inner unit leg switch
Inner unit exercises are one of the foundation exercises used for improving inner core function. Performing the exercise with straight leg switch places great demands on the inner core. Before attempting this exercise the individual must have mastered lower level inner unit exercises. Failure to do this will result in the use of the superficial muscles (rectus abdominis) and the focus of the exercise will be lost.
In the supine position place both feet shoulder width apart on the floor. Begin with the spine and neck in a neutral position. Next, activate your inner core by shortening the distances between your navel and tailbone. Maintain breathing while performing the exercise. Lift your right leg up close to 90 degrees and your left leg 30 centimetres of the ground. If you lose control of your core at this stage try doing a lower level inner core exercise to build up control.
Keep your inner core switched on throughout the entire exercise. Slowly alternate legs into opposite positions. If you lose control of inner core or technique, stop the set and rest until next.
Swiss-ball side twists
This exercise focuses on rotation of the torso that is often left out in exercise programmes. This is a great exercise for sports involving rotation such as rugby, netball and tennis.
From a sitting position slowly roll down the S/ball while maintaining a neutral spine and neck. Grip the medicine ball with both hands and raise it above your chest.
Slowly lower the m/ball to the right side while keeping eye contact with the m/ball at all times. Make sure you keep your hips level and your feet in contact with the ground throughout entire exercise. If you lose technique or the m/ball reaches the horizon return m/ball to the starting position and then repeat on the left side.
Swiss-ball and medicine ball bridges
This is an advanced version of a bridge style exercise. The nature of the exercise places great demands on balance and inner core strength.
Place a medicine ball two meters away from a swiss ball. Roll out over the S/ball until the m/ball is directly under your shoulders. Maintain neutral spine and neck position throughout the entire movement. Place your strongest hand one top of the m/ball one hand width to the side. In an explosive motion, snap your other hand onto the opposing side.
Focus on maintaining a neutral spine and neck while balancing in this position. Try to build your time spent balancing.
Most women I have trained in the last 18 years have identified legs as one of their major problem areas. The cause for their concern is either lack of tone or too much body fat. One question that often comes up is, “How do I lose size around my hips and thighs?” There are three main factors to consider when your goal is toning and reshaping the legs. Firstly, what are you starting with? Secondly, what training programme is best suited towards your desired results? Thirdly, Are you looking for functional or cosmetic results?
What are you starting with? You need to get some base measurements. Use a trained professional to determine your body fat, girth (circumference) and muscle mass measurements. With these results you can determine the focus of your training. A high body fat measurement would indicate a need to decrease body fat by nutrition and training. A low muscle mass to girth ratio would indicate a need to increase muscle mass by resistance training. A high muscle mass and body fat measurement would indicate the need to decrease body fat by nutrition and exercise, but to stay away from resistance training that would increase muscle mass. Be careful when trying to change the natural shape of your hips and thighs. Every individual has their own symmetry, changing the natural balance of the body’s muscles and tendons can sometimes lead to injury. Always have a qualified instructor or personal trainer design or scrutinize your programme.
What training programme is best suited towards your desired results? Once you have worked out your specific training goals you can start training to reach the end result. If you need to lose body fat, without increasing muscle mass, I would recommend staying away from bodybuilding rep ranges (8 to 12 reps to complete exhaustion). This only increases muscle mass and unless your nutrition and cardio exercise is properly monitored you can increase the size of your legs. Use compound exercises (light loads) at 15 to 20 reps this will increase the caloric (energy) demands of the exercise without increasing muscle mass. If your muscle mass is low you should concentrate on using rep ranges and loads which best increase muscle mass. This will protect your metabolism, which is directly related to the amount of lean muscle mass that you have. If you are scared of bulking up monitor your body fat and adjust your nutrition and cardio exercise accordingly.
Are you looking for functional or cosmetic results? Functional exercises are designed to copy every day movement patterns and loads that are put on the body. Cosmetic training, which includes bodybuilding, is purely focused on results that change body symmetry without taking into account the biomechanics. If sport is a part of your life, whether amateur or professional, you should always focus on functional training. Cosmetic training can lead to muscle imbalances that can cause injury. If jumping high or running fast means nothing to you, but shapely toned legs are everything, I would still recommend a majority of functional training with some cosmetic training according to your needs.
I recommend spending some time with a qualified instructor or personal trainer. Begin by taking base measurements to determine your starting point. The next step is to plan the best way to reach that goal and finally be prepared to try new approaches, as sometimes methodologies don’t always work first time.
Lower limb resistance programme
Before commencing this programme seek clearance from a medical practitioner. A six-week conditioning programme designed by a qualified instructor should be completed before commencing this programme.
The following programme is an example of a lower limb (leg) resistance programme. The programme is best suited toward an individual who is looking for muscle tone without muscle mass gain. All exercises in this programme are compound (more than one joint used) and functional in their design. I’ve used exercises that would produce a high caloric demand by using a large amount of muscle at one time. This programme is only one example of many that work the legs. Different individuals require specific exercises to reach desired goals. If you are unsure about your requirements seek help from a qualified instructor or personal trainer. The programme should be followed for no more than 4 weeks. After completion, seek help for a change in programme.
The leg resistance programme should only be used in conjunction with a balanced full body resistance programme designed by an exercise professional. The programme should be completed 1-2 times per week with at least a 2-day rest between leg workouts. A warm-up of 5-10 min cardio should be completed at the start of the workout. A warm down and full body stretch session should be completed at the end.
Lower limb resistance programme
Walking Lunges 3-4 10-20 metres 1sec up 1 sec down 60s
Step-ups with calf raises 3-4 15-20 1sec up 1 sec down 60s
Adductor Lunges 3-4 10-15 per side 1sec each side 60s
S/ball Leg curls 3-4 12-15 1sec up 1 sec down 60s
Walking lunges with a knee raise
Walking lunges are great for toning while remaining functional. They give an athletic shape without too much muscular size. Functionally they resemble an over exaggerated gait (walking motion); they are often used as a dynamic stretching drill by sprinters and runners. The knee lift is added to the exercise to produce greater work for the stabilizing muscles of the hips.
Step 1. Starting position
Start with feet shoulder width apart. Keep feet parallel and hips facing forward throughout the entire movement. Raise your right knee to your chest while maintaining a neutral spine and head posture. Slowly lower your right leg into lunge position.
Step 2. Finishing position
Once in a lunge position step through with your left leg and bring your left knee towards your chest. Maintain a neutral spine and head posture; keep chest up and hips facing forward throughout entire movement. Repeat steps 1 and 2 using the right leg.
Step ups with a calf raise
Step-ups are a very functional exercise. Stepping up is a part of life because we use stairs you just can’t avoid them. Adding a calf raise saves time and should help improve balance.
Step1. Starting position
Place right foot on step or bench (height will affect intensity). Keep feet parallel and hips facing forward throughout the entire movement. Maintain a neutral spine and head posture.
Step 2. Finishing position
Lift your left knee up towards your chest while maintaining correct posture. As your knee reaches the top of the movement raise up on your right toes to produce a calf raise. Complete rep range on this side then swap sides.
Adductor lunges target the inside thigh and gluteals. They are more functional than the adductor machines and are very beneficial to sports requiring lateral movement such as tennis, soccer and squash.
Step 1. Starting position.
Lunge out using your right leg at a 45-degree angle. Keep knees inline with your toes without letting the knee pass over them. Keep hips forward and chest up throughout entire exercise.
Step 2. Finishing position
Pivot from your right side to your left while keeping your body position low. Remember not to let your knees travel past your toes. Keep your head and chest up throughout the entire movement. To increase intensity of exercise, use a medicine ball or dumbbell.
Swiss ball hamstring curl
If you are looking for an alternative to the leg curl machine try Swiss ball hamstring curls. Swiss ball curls not only target the hamstrings they also help increase core stability and stabilize the hips
Step 1. Stating position
While lying face up on the floor place your feet on a Swiss ball. Move arms horizontally out, palms up or underneath your body to give support. Lift hips up to produce a neutral body position. Keep your core strong to maintain position.
Step 2. Finishing position
Roll Swiss ball towards your body using your legs. Maintain correct body position throughout movement do not let hips drop. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until rep range is reached.
Human growth hormone (HGH) has been receiving a lot of media attention in recent times. You might have heard about the undetectable drug athletics are using to out perform their competition. You might of heard about the new anti-ageing wonder drug which rolls back the years.
So what is HGH?
HGH is released by the pituitary gland found in the human brain. HGH has a global affect on the body by promoting cell division. In adults, HGH promotes protein synthesis (muscle building); decreases carbohydrate metabolism and increases lipid metabolism (fat burning). Factors such as anxiety, stress and physical activity promote the release of HGH. Studies have found with an increase in exercise intensity there is a sharp increase in HGH production and secretion.
Anti-ageing clinics promote the use of HGH as an “elixir of life” preventing and reversing ageing. Caution must be used when using these services. A large number of web based clinics site an article by Rudman et al found in the New England journal of medicine as the basis to support their treatments. However the study in the article had many weaknesses including no control group. An editorial accompanying the article by Mary Lee Vance, M.D. concluded the study was only a start and further research was needed. Some clinics sell oral or inhaled HGH treatments. The use of oral or inhaled HGH products is a waste of money since HGH is a peptide and is broken down by stomach acid. HGH treatment is very costly. One web based clinic selling injectable HGH prices ranged from $600 to $3600 for one-month supply.
Resistance exercise, in my opinion, is the best option for increasing the release of HGH and its anti-ageing effects on the individual, in particular high intensity resistance training (weight training). There are a number of studies supporting this concept. Not only will resistance training increase lean muscle mass and bone density it will also indirectly help decrease body fat, factors all involved in the ageing process. Cost is a major positive, even with gym membership fees and the service of a personal trainer the cost is just a fraction of what you could spend at an anti-ageing clinic.
An effective programme should contain compound exercises (such as squats and bench press) whereby the most muscle fibers can be recruited at one time. High intensity training can be best achieved when a state of total fatigue is reached. Rest periods between sets should be kept down to 60 sec to help maintain a high level of intensity.