Category

Powerlifting

Crossfit London.It’s all in your mind!

Crossfit, as it’s taught at Crossfit London, is a devastatingly effective physical fitness regime. Interestingly while it obviously builds muscle and skill, its biggest adaption is in your brain! Are you looking to reduce stress, meditate or up your mental game, This is the place for you!

CrossFit London’s unique combination of skill development,  against a  background of general modal domain gains (strength, aerobic capacity), developed and practiced with high-intensity creates the ideal environment to begin to develop your capacity to deal with stress.

One interesting aspect of our regime is the development of flow or as Csikszentmihalyi, says “The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” . Our workouts aim to create a balance of perceived challenges and skills.  This balance is crucial in developing flow . When people are allowed unprepared into a  crossfit class the challenge is often bigger than their skill level.  This creates anxiety and stress. These are probably the very reasons why someone goes to a CrossFit class.in the first place. However, if the class is under programmed or too easy when the beginner’s skill level exceeds the size of the challenge, it becomes dull and boring.

At Crossfit London, we support our beginners by steering them through our fundamental process, which gives our clients the basic survival skills they need.

This preparation also explains why our sessions are designed to develop flow. The literature identifies numerous elements in developing flow. To promote flow feedback needs to be almost instant. Our trainers provide in the moment feedback and you can measure your progress against established standards so you know what your goals and aims are. Whilst you may have a muddle of internal aims, during the workouts we give you the targets you need to chase while making sure they are amended to your specific skill level.

Whilst in a normal gym you meander between machines, or chill out to music is a dance class, CrossFit workouts require you to merge your actions and awareness. You are there, in the moment. When pushing a weight above your head 30 times, you need to be present in the task. You don’t really have time to think about yesterday or tomorrow’s work problems. You need to be there in the room, with your weight and your skill and the challenges. The internet is stuffed full of adverts claiming that their weird mind training can give you flow. If there is one truth in mind training it’s that as a stand-alone thing, it’s worthless. Mind training needs to be coupled with challenges!

We work to make you and the movement one. We aim to build your physical and mechanical dominance. We strive to make every movement feel like an extension of your body. We get you to practice, practice because our moves are worth it. You can grapevine till the cows come home, but it’s the power lifts, the Olympic lifts, and basic gymnastic moves that boost your genuine physical capacity. We get you to focus on the process. It’s just that in flow and work and relationships, process is queen! By constantly challenging you,  your workouts and skills begin to  shape the language and the thoughts you use. This influences the way you interact with others and your relationship with yourself. Every jogger who secretly knows they cannot do a pull-up or run any faster or handstand subconsciously accepts their weakness and it often carries into real life. Many of our clients succeed in the workplace because, by coming to us, they have already been to hell and back. There is nothing to fear in a zoom presentation!

By coaching effectively we genuinely give our clients, not only a physical gym but a mind training gym too! We know this, as Crossfit London was the first-ever Crossfit affiliate in the UK ( actually the 8th anywhere in the world ) and we know our stuff. Our staff are experts, with years worth of teaching and training practice, and we know our stuff. See you soon!

Contact Page Form

How do you conceptualise multi-faceted physical qualities?

What is an easy way for people to conceptualise multi-faceted physical qualities? 🧐

It’s easy to picture how a “crystal” fits together. Multiple faces create a whole, and intuitively, this is a strong stable structure. It’s harder to digest something multi-faceted in a biological/physical setting (like tying together different hip/trunk focussed work). Models that offer ready-made and understood concepts can, maybe should, be used to help athletes understand how their training fits together and each aspect offers support to another.

This could easily be expanded into a layered model showing how stability feeds into deceleration/absorption of force and then acceleration and expression of force🚦💥

Then find a way to communicate athlete progress in a way they can easily understand.

Create a playing field where you don’t have to fight to win. Build understanding in a way that it’s harder to not get it than to get it. Let athletes win the understanding easily so you can work on the hard stuff together.

To develop your strength you need to be training at our powerlifting class. Alex, who runs the Instagram page Athlete testing is a genuine go-to strength coach!

Checkout our powerlifting classes here
.

Get involved

Contact Page Form

 

The muscle up: because its good to have a standard

Pretty well anyone, who isn’t quite ill, can jog a bit!

It’s actually, not that difficult with a bit of basic training to get almost anyone into a simplistic exercise class. I was forced to teach basic circuit classes in 1998 as part of my initial introduction into the world of fitness teaching, and its theory was to keep it really simple and really basic “as long as their heart is elevated it’s a great workout”.

It is quite correct that basic aerobic fitness is a useful thing and that it helps bring down some of the crippling costs of the NHS. However, to make fitness “walk off the street”accessible the powers that be decided to trash the moves. It didn’t matter if you couldn’t squat, or a push-up. If you could do a ‘half jack” and elevate your heart rate you were fit!

Trashing fitness standards leaves you weak and vulnerable in what is after all a very harsh world.

Jogging and spinning on a bike does not train you to pull your family from a burning house, or pick up your children and run with them to the hospital. An emphasis on specialism produces awesome endurance runners who cannot haul their luggage and superbly strong strongmen who would collapse after jogging a mile.  At Crossfit London we look for the middle road; unfortunately, it’s a hard road.

Many people embark on fitness regimes that consist of a muddled mix of sports-specific rehabilitation and bodybuilding drills. If you are injured – you need rehabilitation drills If you are developing your golf putt – you need sports-specific drills. If you like posing on a stage wearing fake tan and teeny weenie panties – body-building drills are for you.

Of course, all training should have an aesthetic output: your body should express what it can do. Is there any point in having a Cadillac chassis with a lawnmower engine? (Actually, some people think there is: and they are so very, very special)

We think it’s second-rate to embark on a core conditioning and training regime without a clear idea of what you are going to achieve. Immature goals such as ‘reducing my 10k time by four minutes’, or ‘upping my deadlift by 8%’, – while seemingly precise and accurate – are distractingly narrow for the fundamental ‘underpinning’ training that most people need (that said, we can easily get you those targets too).

We simply aim to generally prepare you for all types of challenges, by measuring and designing training against three standards.

Crossfit fitness standard 1

There are ten recognised general physical skills. They are:

■ Endurance (cardio/respiratory) ■ Stamina (the ability to effectively use energy) ■ Strength ■ Flexibility ■ Power ■ Speed ■ Coordination ■ Agility ■ Balance ■ Accuracy

You are as fit as you are competent in each of these ten skills. A regime only develops fitness if it improves each of these skills.

Improvements in endurance, stamina, strength, and flexibility come about through training. Training improves performance through physical changes.

Improvements in coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy come about through practice – which improves the nervous system.

Power and speed are adaptations of both training and practice.

Use this standard the next time you go for a spin class ( how strong, flexible, powerful and coordinated does sitting on your ass on a bike really make you?)

Crossfit fitness standard 2

We think your training should prepare you for real life. The implication here is that fitness requires an ability to perform well at all tasks (even unfamiliar ones) combined in infinitely varying combinations. In practice, this encourages you to put aside any prior notions of sets, rest periods, reps, exercises, order of exercises, routines, etc. Nature frequently provides largely unforeseeable challenges; train for that by striving to ‘mix stuff up’.

In practice you turn up to training a bit nervous, not knowing what to expect.

It helps build will and bravery.

Crossfit fitness standard 3

Whoever invented the human body was a bit of a ‘worry puss’– they felt that one energy system just wasn’t safe enough. Rather like the householder who has a real fireplace, electric storage heaters, and gas central heating. Some would call that greedy, but a cautious person would call it prudent.

The human body has three energy systems. One for fast reactive movement (diving under a car to save your three-year-old toddler), a slower, more extended, but still, a pretty snappy system (for running 350 metres, then diving under a car to save your three-year-old toddler). Finally, there is the long term ‘trickle’ energy system (the one you use while shoe shopping, running 5k, miles away from any toddlers).

For people who have little experience of toddlers, these ‘metabolic engines’ are known

as: the phosphagen pathway, the glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway.

■ The first, the phosphagen, dominates the highest-powered activities (100 metre sprint), those that last less than about ten seconds.

■ The second pathway, the glycolytic, dominates moderate-powered activities, those that last up to several minutes (400-800 metre run).

■ The third pathway, the oxidative, dominates low-powered activities, those that last in excess of several minutes (5k run, walking, shopping).

Total fitness – the fitness that Crossfit promotes and develops – requires competency and training in each of these three pathways or engines. Balancing the effects of these three pathways largely determines the how and why of the metabolic conditioning (or ‘cardio’) that we do at Crossfit. Favoring one or two to the exclusion of the others, and not recognising the impact of excessive training in the oxidative pathway, are arguably the two most common faults in fitness training.

As an overriding principle, Crossfit views the needs of an Olympic athlete and that of our grandparents as differing by degree not kind. One is looking for functional dominance the other for functional competence. Competence and dominance manifest through identical physiological mechanisms.

At CrossFit London we scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs.

In objective terms, this could mean trying and failing to master  skills like the muscle up

The muscle-up is simply a visible test. Do you really have strong arms and a  tight core? Do you have the will power to train for a move that’s genuinely hard? The advantage of a bicep curl* is that on day 1 you can do it, albeit empty-handed. All you have to do is add weight. Day 1 there’s no chance that most people can muscle up. But here is the thing. We are basically a school for adults. We teach you the functional physical literacy that you were deprived of. We have drills galore to help you learn, like this one, and expert trainers to support you.(* BTW, it’s ok, you get to do some bicep curls too!!)

We have some training drills on our facebook group if you fancy checking it out. If you want to come and train, drop us a line

Contact Page Form

How often should you train to get the best results?

The amount of Crossfit training to produce fantastic results was recently studied by Cavedon et al., in the  recent report:

“Different amount of training affects body composition and performance in High-Intensity Functional Training participants”. Click here for the full report

 It concluded ” that, in CF participants, a higher amount of weekly training improves most notably lean body mass and increases performance in association with increased skeletal muscle mass. CF participation is especially effective in reducing fat mass vs. age- and BMI-matched physically active controls”

The real thought provoker was the amount of time you probably need to invest in becoming super Crossfit  gorgeous. Our coaches will tell you that people who come 2-3 times a week, do really well.  Crossfit, at Crossfit London tramples over anything you can do in a park pretending to be a soldier, and certainly puts jogging to shame.  To get fit, you need a skill set, you need to use weights, you need disgusting cardiovascular stimulus and you need our insane programming.

This report looked at less than 10 hours a week as “low training”and more than 10 “High training”. In other words if you want to be a GREAT Crossfitter, you need to spend about 18 hours a week:

EIGHTEEN HOURS A WEEK.

The participants were chosen from people doing 6-18 hours a week. The maths works like this.  If you followed the Crossfit pattern of 3 on 1 off ,  that means 5-6 wod classes a week PLUS supporting classes, such as olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, powerlifting and mobility.

Probably 3 hours a day!

I hate to break it to you, but the super performers are above you because they put the work in. The good thing is, if you come just once or twice a week, the results can be magical. It’s just that at 18 hours a week, it’s more magical.

Make sure you talk to the training team about building in those extra classes if you want more magic, but be delighted with your skill set and fitness if you only come once or twice a week.

Never before has the need to be fit been more obvious! Get fit, get healthy.

Contact Page Form

 

Relative strength: one of many strength perspectives

In this article we visit the basic language of weightlifting and how it relates to the concept of relative intensity.

When it comes to using weight; in simple terms, people think this: lift the heaviest weight you can, that’s your 1 rep max; then based on that you can lift 90% of it 3 times (3reps), 85% of it 5 times, 75% 10 times. If you do 3 rounds of 3 reps, that’s 3 sets.

So weight lifting is a mix of percentages, sets and reps, all based on a one rep max. Simples!

This is a great place to start, but to develop your strength head,  you need to develop your knowledge and insights into the strength game.

Some time ago, Zatsiorsky pointed out there are two types of  one rep maxes you can have: a competition 1 rep max, and a training 1 rep max.

A) A competition max is  where you get hyped up and get a PB  and scream a lot.

B) A training 1 rep max

Marvellous.

However, often people skip the full definition of a 1 rep training max.

A maximum training weight  is the heaviest  weight you can lift  without substantial  emotional stress.

Damn. No screaming.

For athletes, the difference between the two is great. The example Zatsiorsky cites is that for athletes who lift  200 kg during a competition, a 180kg is typically above their maximum training weight. As a possible indicator, if your heart rate increases before your lift, that’s a sign of emotional engagement. Weightlifting is meant to stress your body, not your mind.

That’s the job of your partner and employer.

In short, if you screamed it up – it’s too heavy to use as a basis for regular training.

So, if you are calculating reps and sets using a 1 rep max, please, please use the right one; otherwise you’ll break. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon… If you want to properly test your 1 rep max, book a PT session with one of the training team.

If you have been lifting regularly for a while, you have probably begun to review strength literature and you are probably aware that lifting 80% of your 1 rep max provokes strength gain.

So, when lifting sets of 5, you’d probably like to put 80% of your 1 rep max on the bar. Everyone does that, but think about what it is you’d are actually be doing.

Let’s forget weightlifting for a moment, and talk about bricks. Imagine you are a labourer on a building site. Lets say we run a test to see how many bricks you can move in a day. For argument’s sake, let’s  say you can move 1000.

Normally in training we wouldn’t want to move the 1000, we would do 800 ( 80%) but many people want to set 5 reps of that. So there you are, lifting 5 x 800 =4000.

If you tried to do that in a day, you’d probably die.

Back to the weight room. So you can lift 100kg calmly as your 1 rep max. You’ve been told if you lift 80% and over of this figure, you are strength training. So, to keep the maths easy, if you lift 80kg, you are strength training. But do you lift that 80% five times?

As you see from my poor labourer example, the first 800 was probably easy, but the next 800, isn’t easy, the 3rd 800 is getting you to breaking point.

In short, 80% lifted multiple times, isn’t perceived by the body as 80%. It sees it as much, much heavier because of the volume. The bricklayer, is of course a silly example – but try and get the message rather than be sidetracked in the endurance aspect of the example.

In simple terms, because you are lifting in sets of multiple reps, a load of 67% of your 1 rep max lifted 5 times has a relative intensity of 79%. It feels like 79%, your body thinks it’s 79%. It is 79%

Putting 76% of you 1 rep max on your bar for 5, has the effect of being 88%.

70% feels like  =82%,

73% feels like  =  85%.

80% on the bar for 5, is like lifting 91%.

Relative intensity is the simple observation that volume, load and rest effects how your body feels and adapts to weight.

Remember your muscles are dumb, they don’t know or care about percentages. They just know what feels heavy.

here is a chart to explain

According to Mike Tuchscherer; “The body responds to things like the force of the muscle’s contraction, how long the contraction lasts, and how many contractions there were. A percentage isn’t necessarily a precise way to describe this, as different lifters will perform differently.”

In take-home terms, if today you went to  the gym and during the strength session, you only got to 68% of your (proper) 1 rep Training max for 5; you actually hit the 80% in relative intensity. That’s the 80% you need to nudge your strength along.

For now, in our general programme, we are not obsessing about percentages; but those who do know their lifts, I hope will be grateful for this insight. For the rest of you, simply work to a set of 5 that you can comfortably lift, bearing in mind these RPE (rates of perceived exertion) as guidance.

On a scale from 1 to 10:

9: Heavy Effort. Could have done one more rep.
8: Could have done two or three more reps, but glad you didn’t have to.
7: Bar speed is “snappy” if maximal force is applied
6: Bar speed is “snappy” with moderate effort

After a while, I suspect a “five” you can do in class will be at an RPE between 7 and 8.

Once you bedded this concept of relative intensity into your head, you can look forward to many years of safe, effective lifting.

From an Original article on Andrewstemler.com

Intensity Versus Volume

It’s something that’s not always recognised, but, Crossfit thrives on intensity, not volume. The secret is “ keep workouts  short and intense” and  “be impressed with intensity, not volume”.

There are those who passionately believe that the core method, and indeed most classes should be just 60 minutes that include a warm up and cool down and one workout.

Crossfit staff seminar trainer James Hobart  discussed his views in the Crossfit Journal,  on the volume v intensity  debate. It’s  an issue often raised on the Crossfit level 1 and 2 trainer course. Clearly volume has a siren call. To be an elite crossfitter you need to be able to do multiple workouts, therefore, so the argument goes, the more the better.

Before you accept this at face value, there are some factors you need to consider:

If an elite athlete adds more volume to their regime, it’s built on rock solid mechanics and ability.  So the argument goes, if you are scaling your workouts, extra workouts are not the answer.  Specific strength  and skill building  solves that. “Increased rehearsal of poor movement patterns and shoddy mechanics is a losers gambit”. The winners get to those extra  skill/strength classes,  : the ones that  fix your issues. Volume is not the cure. Effective coaching and teaching is!

Volume isn’t necessary if the goal is simply getting fitter. On a long term, athletes will  continue to build work capacity across broad times and modal domains with a single  daily dose of “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity”

Never the less, many effective athletes do add volume. Here are their secrets: No matter what extra work or volume you add, you still go “balls to the wall “ in your core Crossfit workout. You  must  still end up on the floor having a physical and mental break down at the end of that  5-20 minute workout. HOWEVER  If you you are doing your workout of the day, and you are reigning back (only say working at 60% intensity)  because you know you have 3 more workouts, a bicep session, some Zumba and a 5k run planned, that’s where it goes wrong.

You don’t need harder workouts, you need to go harder in your workouts,” Games veteran Tommy Hackenbruck quipped on Instagram.

If you really want to boost your performance, here are some  clues. Work your mobility until you move like a supple leopard.  Fix your injuries. Learn how to  eat well.  Get enough sleep, and work with our strength and gymnastic  expert coaches  to get the  skills and strength you need.

Above all, hit the workout hard!

This said, every body at Crossfit London recognises that our met-con classes  fill a need. London life can be super stressful, so for some its great to loose your self among friends in an hours sweat festival. It just happens, thank god,  that our hour sweat festivals are really, really good!

 

Powerlifting testing day.

TESTING RESULTS AND BLOCK REVIEW

Today was testing day at CFLDN  In Bethnal Green E2. Alex Miller runs a popular powerlifting class to ensure our athletes build strength. Here is his review on todays testing results.

By ALEX MILLER

Obviously there is a lot of people still to test and some numbers to fill in but here is the initial results.

Overall numbers are going up. One or two people had off days today and performed under their potential but they have also been hitting higher numbers in their training so no need to worry there.

REVIEW OF THE COHORT SYSTEM:

As most of you are aware I introduced a cohort system into the Powerlifting training this block. The idea was that if I can provide ya’ll with some more individualised program that specific addresses a key weakness then you should respond with a larger increase in your numbers. To my eyes most people put around 7-10% on their numbers in the 12 weeks with, as you’d expect, some statistical outliers at a way higher %.

A key focus of the cohort system I made was to build the address the structural weakness which may have been an underlying cause of movement breakdown or poor technique. This resulted in a slightly less than traditional feel for a powerlifting class. Feedback was, from those I spoke with, that even though they aren’t leaving each session exhausted they feel that, even under high load, technique is much better.

DOWNSIDES:

I go away and review every block of training I prescribe to find out what I can do to make it better. The cohort system for powerlifting is no different. There is always downsides and if we are to create a resilient system which creates CFLDN athletes who are stronger, injury free, and technically superb then these flaws MUST be embraced and examined.

In this case, one of the biggest flaws I made was not giving enough time for sport practice: Squat, Bench, and Deadlift. The lifters had, at max, only 2 weeks of full lift practice before testing (during the the program they only did variations of the lifts which addressed the specific weaknesses of their cohort).

The second biggest flaw I made was to not give the athletes enough time to really get strong on each weak point variation. To limit the decreased response to specific adaptation demands I applied a 3 week limit to each variation. In hindsight, whilst it achieved that as a goal, it may prove better to run each variation for slightly longer (if you have questions on this ask me about adaptation refractory windows).

CONCLUSION:

Overall I’m very happy with the cohort system thus far and believe the results speak for themselves. As such, we will continue down the cohort path (although I clearly have a HUGE bias here and if anyone feels differently I’d love to hear your thoughts) but obviously, reflection (of which this is a quick overview) is useless without implementation of change; therefore, leading into the next block of training the following changes will be enacted:

– Each main lift variation will run for 5 weeks, rather than 3.
– After the 5 weeks, there will be a single week transition block to allow for re-sensitisation to the strength training stimuli.

This takes us to a 24 week block (4 x 6 weeks)

– At the 6 and 18 week mark, there will be a X3 block run of competition standard lifts. Because the block is X3 (i.e. triple occurrence per micro cycle or a 2 day micro cyle) the rate of adaption is much, much faster. Ergo, each block will only last 2 weeks.

This takes us to a 28 week block ( 4(6) + 2(2) )

At the end of the 28 weeks there will be a X2 competition block structured as a traditional linear taper/peak. This will last 3 weeks.

Taking us to a 31 week block ( 4(6) + 2(2) + 1(3)

And then a testing week totalling a 32 week block.

EXPECTATIONS

I know this seems like an extraordinary amount of time between testing. I’m hoping that the interim competition block attenuate that somewhat. Apart from that I’m happy just to suck it and see.

This long term approach to building the CFLDN athletes 100% rewards adherence but it will, in turn, hugely reward those who make the effort.

You can find out how to get functionally strong by following this link

Olympic lifting with grunts

Little did Aryna Sabalenka realise that her controversial grunting in the 2018 Australian Tennis Open could assist Olympic weightlifters in Bethnal Green E1. A short yell or kiai has always been part of martial arts, and exertion is sometimes accompanied with a bit of a grunt. But, is it a technique or tactic you should use to improve your snatch and clean and jerk?

Damian Farrow (2018) in  ‘All the Racquet: What science tells us about the pros and cons of grunting in tennis’, put the advantages of a grunt in simple terms.

Ball velocity increases with a grunt.

In fact if you check out  “The effects of grunting on serve and forehand velocities in collegiate tennis players”. You’ll see two impressive figures.

If you grunt, you get: a 3.8% increase in groundstroke-hitting velocity and a 4.9% enhancement in velocity.

According to that report “The velocity, force, and peak muscle activity during tennis serves and forehand strokes are significantly enhanced when athletes are allowed to grunt.”

And, significantly,

“Grunt history, gender, perceived advantages, and disadvantages of grunting, years of experience, highest level of competition, and order of testing did not significantly alter any of these results”

I must confess that the exact science behind this phenomenon slightly eludes me, but  allegedly, increased force on impact lies within the concept of kinetic energy. KE is the energy of motion which is transferred on impact. KE is calculated as one half of the product of mass and velocity squared.

Grunting, so brainy people say, tightens the body core which increases the mass behind the tennis strike, thereby increasing the force on impact resulting in the increased velocity of the tennis ball.

The carry over to Olympic weightlifting at CrossFit London is obvious. If you lift quietly, the chances are you are missing out on some free energy that could move the bar to where you want it.

Try grunting  when you snatch.

by Andrew Stemler

Understanding the Mid-line

Understanding the Mid-line

The much misunderstood “core”. It might be the most misunderstood structure in the body. There is no way that I can make a real dent on the whole subject in one short post but hopefully I can elucidate you in some small way.

When the average person thinks of “core” (which is actually a great term which has unfortunately been bastardised to the extent that it actively annoys me) it’s usually just abs on their mind. Which is fine, abs are cool, they look great and the 100% have a role to play in performance and aesthetics.

BUT,

Abs and core are not synonymous.

You know that the core is way more than that. When I think of what core training involves I block it as everything above mid thigh and everything below the shoulders (abdominals in the front, paraspinals and gluteals in the back, the diaphragm as the roof, and the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature as the bottom, inside all of this there is 29 separate pairs of muscles that help stabilise the spine and pelvis (2)). Another way to look at is everything that isn’t peripheral. Whilst I like to define it as above (mid-thigh to shoulders) for ease there is a very strong argument, which I wholeheartedly support, to include the muscles of the jaw and neck into the core, the reason why I’ll cover below (way below, I can already tell I’m going to get carried away.)

Before I go any further into it though what the core is we need to define it’s role as best possible within the confines of this article.

THE ROLE OF “THE CORE”

Whilst there is no common consensus on the exact anatomy, physiology, and methods of how to evaluate a clients “core” functionality, the role on the core is undeniable in terms of proper load balance in the kinetic chain, maximising a persons functional range of motion (proximal stability = distal mobility (7)), providing a base of support for maximises force production as well as protecting the joints by decreasing/minimising joint load, shear, compressive, and translational forces throughout the body (1,2).  From a performance point of view it’s easy to see that there is a huge benefit from training “core stability” but one of the most common pathologies we come across as coaches is a client with lower back pain.

Punjabi has described clinical instability (i.e. instability when there isn’t a structural defect cause which may necessitate surgical intervention) as “the loss of the spine’s ability to maintain its patterns of displacement under physiologic loads so there is no initial or additional neurologic deficit, no major deformity, and no incapacitating pain”(3). Clinical lumbar instability in this sense has been cited as a significant cause on lower back pain (4, 5). A meta-analysis of 39 (this is good) randomised trails that investigated treatment of chronic low back pain of non-specific origin with an exercise intervention found a “beneficial effect for strength/resistance and coordination and stabilisation exercise programs over other interventions (6). It’s worth noting in the same meta-analysis that they found little to no benefit from combining the strength/resistance work with “cardio”. From a purely anecdotal point of view with evidence I’d suggest that this is down to people losing pelvo-lumbar control when one hip is in flexion and the other extension (assuming that the cardio prescribed is running, x-trainer, cycling, swimming) and the stability in around the hips and lower back, so as you’re teaching a more stable, controlled lumbar and hip complex with the strength work you’re teaching a less stable/more unstable hip complex at the same time which results in a conflict of adaptation (the adaptation being what any intervention is actually about) and no real change hence no alleviation of lower back pain symptoms. Again, complete conjecture on my part and would need further study.

Riiiiight, I’m aware that this is getting on a little bit. So a really quick round up of this so far:

  • Core means everything which isn’t arms and legs (and even then it’s a little bit of legs).
  • Building a strong core is hugely important for increasing your CrossFit performances.
  • There is a statistically significant benefit on lower back pain from consistently performing core stability exercises.

More than Sit-Ups and the Breathing-Bracing Continuum,

Looking back to developmental movements when, as babies, you first started moving, the first thing that happened was you start wriggling around like a madwomen and learning to, at a very basic level, activate and control all the muscles above. To quote directly from the work of Kobesova and Kolar,

“This allows for basic trunk stabilization, a prerequisite for any phasic movement and for the locomotor function of the extremities.“(9)

So we know that not only is core stability a prerequisite for movement (from crawling, to walking, to gymnastics and lifting) but on top of that recent research into the “mind-muscle connection” shows that by  understanding what muscles we’re trying to activate, including there position and function, can improve the contraction and activation (10,11).

To start to delve into how we might address “core training” we need to move to a slightly more global view of what the core musculature actually does. As noted above above the core consists of:

  • abdominals and accompanying fascial complex in the front,
  • paraspinals (think lats, spinal erectors (lumbar and thoracic ), traps as a whole and rhomboids) and gluteals in the back (personally I’d like to include hamstrings in here as well),
  • the diaphragm as the roof,
  • the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature as the bottom including
  • internal stabilisers of the spine and pelvis (External and internal obliques and Transverse Abdominus (TvA), Mulitfidus, Quadratus Lumbrum (QL), Psoas, Illiacus (preferably not to be thought of combined with Psoas (8)), and various ligamental structures that I’m not going into right now).

I’m our case we’ll move away from specific muscle action as soon as possible but before that we need to have an idea about what muscles are working and where they are so we can address bracing and core stiffness with some specificity as well as improved performance

*NOTE: It’s our responsibility as coaches to educate our athletes as much as will help them. I’m not saying they need to read something like this but whatever you can do to help them understand why they’re doing something is a big deal and will help create buy in and trust.*

When anybody talks about core stability a huge part of this can be perceived as “bracing”, defined as:

“anything which imparts rigidity or steadiness”

or

“to furnish, fasten, or strengthen with or as if with a brace.”

“to fix firmly; make steady; secure against pressure or impact”

“to make tight; increase the tension of.”(12)

Whilst it isn’t an exact comparison to what we’re talking about it nicely gets across the message that when we talk about bracing and core stability we are really talking about increasing rigidity,pressure, and tension throughout the body.

And here is finally where we can talk about application!!

When you ask most people who lift about bracing you get a lot of big breathes into the stomach, which is okay. It’s like having half the answer and is way better than hollowing which is, frankly, detrimental to sports performance (13). Application for you is tuning up or down the stiffness you’re creating as it’s applicable to you goal. If you’re doing a 2000m swim then maybe you don’t need to create the same tension as you would for a maximal loaded carry.

I know this isn’t super actionable, at least not straight away, but with some practice and consistent employment of the principles you can learn where and when certain levels of bracing is appropriate. More importantly you should now understand what you’re trying to achieve and why.

References:

  1. Kibler, W., Press, J. and Sciascia, A. (2006). The Role of Core Stability in Athletic Function. Sports Medicine, 36(3), pp.189-198.

  2. Akuthota, V., Ferreiro, A., Moore, T. and Fredericson, M. (2008). Core Stability Exercise Principles. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 7(1), pp.39-44.
  3. Panjabi, M. (2003). Clinical spinal instability and low back pain. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 13(4), pp.371-379.
  4. Delitto A, George SZ, Van Dillen LR, Whitman JM, Sowa G, Shekelle P, et al. Low back pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012;42(4):A1–57. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.0301.
  5. Long DM, BenDebba M, Torgerson WS, Boyd RJ, Dawson EG, Hardy RW, et al. Persistent back pain and sciatica in the United States: patient characteristics. J Spinal Disord. 1996;9(1):40–58.
  6. Searle, A., Spink, M., Ho, A. and Chuter, V. (2015). Exercise interventions for the treatment of chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clinical Rehabilitation, 29(12), pp.1155-1167.
  7. Mattacola, C., Kiesel, K., Burton, L. and Cook, G. (2004). Mobility Screening for the Core. Athletic Therapy Today, 9(5), pp.38-41.
  8. McGill, S. (2009). Ultimate back fitness and performance. p.78.
  9. Kobesova, A. and Kolar, P. (2014). Developmental kinesiology: Three levels of motor control in the assessment and treatment of the motor system. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 18(1), pp.23-33.
  10. Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M., Sundstrup, E., Brandt, M., Jay, K., Colado, J. and Andersen, L. (2015). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 116(3), pp.527-533.
  11. Critchley, D. (2002). Instructing pelvic floor contraction facilitates transversus abdominis thickness increase during low-abdominal hollowing. Physiotherapy Research International, 7(2), pp.65-75.
  12. Collins, W. (2011). Collins dictionary. London: HarperCollins.
  13. McGill, S. (2009). Ultimate back fitness and performance. p.75-76.