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Programming

Remembrance weekend 7th/8th November 2020

It is a Crossfit London tradition to stage a special workout on Remembrance day ( this year 8th November)

This year we will be doing something slightly different. Whilst the arrangements are not set in stone, the challenge for that weekend will be to workout every hour, on the hour for 24 hours.

This is inspired by the run 1 mile every hour on the hour for 24 hours challenge.

Whilst there will be lots of detailed arrangements, we thought you’d like an advanced warning of this challenge so you can have some thinking time of how you will do it.

At its most basic level, you can simply, from home, run (walk) one mile (1k, 400m?) every hour, on the hour starting at either 9, 10 or 11 am on Saturday 7th November. This means you will have either 1 or 2 hours after the challenge ends to get breakfast, shower, and get to a memorial near you for the 11 am silence.

If running isn’t for you You may fancy 100 burpees every hour on the hour., or 20 squats, of 10 minutes of cindy, Whatever. Obviously, please don’t disturb your neighbours and make sure its Covid safe!!

In our original plan, we had hoped to open the gym, but with the 2nd lockdown, you’ll do this as a personal thing!

You may fancy 100 burpees every hour on the hour.  Obviously, where ever you do this, don’t disturb your neighbours and make sure its Covid safe!!

 

For now, that’s a date for your diary!

 

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.

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Muted Hip Function

Effective exercise can generate powerful  huge forces  if they are initiated controlled and dominated by the hip. Many untrained athletes  have a muted hip which  creates postures and mechanics that reduce power output, promotes postures and mechanics that are considered by  many  to be unsound. In simple terms the Muted Hip Function (MHF) results from the legs  compensating for the failed of the hip, in effect using leg extension  to compensate for non existent hip extension. According to the Crossfit Journal the causes and consequences of MHF include but are not limited to: • structurally disadvantaged spinal posture • low glute recruitment • low hamstring recruitment • pelvis abandoning the spine and chasing the legs • centre of gravity shifting dramatically backward • centre of balance shifting toward toes • knee experiencing unsound shear force • leg extension being the only productive effort • hip extension not being possible with low hip angle • pelvis rotating the wrong way The cure is deliberate and focused training.  Thats what Crossfit London is for!

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!

 

Physical Adaptations from Crossfit London

Much of the magic of our Crossfit regime is understanding how the human body, well, your body to be exact, adapts to exercise to make you fitter

Else where we will discuss in painful detail, what being fit means, for now, I hope its ok if we use one of those cute Crossfit definitions. We want you to be able to move large loads, quickly over distance. Obviously we then want you to have the body that looks like what you can do

To do this we set your body challenges to make it adapt. Adaption really isn’t a new concept. Nietzche’s famous quote  “that what does not kill us, makes us stronger” . comes to mind. We have known for quite a long time  that “sub lethal” doses of physical exercise prepares the body to  handle and cope with  more of the same. If you get your door kicked in most nights, eventually, you break down and get a better door (and maybe a pick axe handle).

This general  adaption observation was eventually packaged up by endocrinologist Selye in the late 1930’s into the catchy title of “general adaption syndrome”. In 1936 Selye published ” A syndrome produced by Diverse nocuous agents” where he reviewed the structural and physical changes to organisms brought on by Stresses.

He produced this model

  1. You survive the first exposure, and your poor shocked astonished , horrified body mounts an acute response  to try and survive the experience.
  2. It then designs a  chronic adaptation. This allows  you to survive a more intense exposure, on the simple principle that, if its happened once, its bound to happen again

Stage 1 or the alarm stage is where the body is treated to  a new stress You have a  massive selection to choose from: a change in movement, a change in weight, and change in length of time. This stress is enough to disrupt the internal equilibrium of the cell. A cascade of physiological events it unleashed . The effected cell puts the call out  and gets the body to divert all resources to help it survive. Normal biological house work is put on hold while stress proteins are created to stabilise your cells and the inflammatory response gets to work. Its utter panic!

During stage 2,  some call this the resistance or adaptation phase,  the stressor has gone: maybe your workout is over or the person trying to kill you is on their lunch break. This heralds the cell trying to get back to normal, to restore homeostasis. But it returns to a new normal, which means it’s now trying to prepare for a repeat stressful event. In recovering and adapting , the  cell has  made a fitness adaptation.

To drive this adaptation, the stressor must  continually increase. Otherwise there is no alarm  stage and no  adaptive phase.

Progressive overload has been built into mythology by Milo, the  greek chap who missed out on getting a kitten, but was given a  lazy pet bull instead. Every day, allegedly,  he lovingly carried it around and as it got bigger,  Milo got stronger.

It should be said though that the adaptations this system brings are quite specific. Most would agree that Milo was good at bull carrying  and by implication  he could carry other large animals or heavy house hold objects well  especially if he put the bull down first) No one, I think,  would argue that  simply carrying a heavy bull would  mean you could run distance.

There is a rule of specificity.

There would be, wouldn’t there!

Running 10 miles wont  improve your or deadlift ability or your pull ups  to any decent extent because running wont make the cell change that way, and vice versa.

The name of the game is finding those stressors that  will disrupt the homeostasis of the cell . We need to effect our body on a molecular level. We need to influence our genes, those bits of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) . There is a cute  molecular  flow that goes “DNA makes RNA ( ribonucleic acid) that makes protein that makes function” This need a tune then we could sing it.

So you get to Crossfit london  and we set you a novel exercise , (stressor). Your cells  “down regulate” their housekeeping activity and “up regulate” their survival gene ( Selye stage 1). After your session, your cells probably stay in survival mode for a while, but over the next few days, the normally active genes will become unrepressed  and probably make more copies driving an increased efficiency and function.This process also wakes up other lazy genes that have, presumably, been chilling out and watching telly.

The changes this provokes can be seen in  new protein structure such as extra  actin and myosin (they produce muscular contraction) and  metabolic proteins such as enzymes that control energy production. The reality is that each exposure produces very small adaptations, so an ongoing regime of  stress/adaptation opportunities is what will drive visible fitness gains.

There are of course, temporary draw backs to be faced. Each time you confront a stressor like exercise, you’ll feel tired.. It is often this  sensation that tell us we have  disrupted homeostasis. Put another way we will  have become fatigued. It’s by managing this fatigue that programmes like those at Crossfit London, progressively build your fitness.

You can expect a drop in function while your cells recover , then they “bound back” and come back stronger in a condition called super compensation. Week, by week we build on your super compensation to raise your baseline capacity

If you’d like some more information on how to build the ideal you,  we will be delighted to chat to you. Click here and lets get moving

The Art and Science of Programming, Part 1

Part 1 of 3:

Programming plays an important role in your health and fitness. A program that’s built on sound principles of strength and conditioning can help guide you a lifetime of fitness. Neglecting these principles can lead to plateau, injury and a decrease in performance. Whatever is programmed should always be explained with the “why” behind it. There’s always a purpose to training, and the answer is always more than just intensity. Thus the purpose of these articles is to explain this “why”, so that you can get a better of idea of how to structure your WODs.

At CFLDN, our programming is guided by three ideas:

  1. Scientific principles of strength and conditioning.
  2. The GPP methods that Crossfit is founded on.
  3. The philosophy and vision of CFLDN.

The scientific principles of strength and conditioning:
It’s said that “methods are plenty but principles are few.” This can easily be seen in the fitness market where we’re flooded with different methods to get to the same goal. Some methods are highly effective and are backed by research, while others are new and shiny but not necessarily effective. At CFLDN, we choose methods that have proven to be effective, and are backed by established principles of strength and conditioning.

The GPP principles that Crossfit is founded on.
In Crossfit, the goal is General Physical Preparedness, or GPP. GPP aims to prepare you to tackle a wide range of physical tasks, and be fit across a series of modalities. Founder of Crossfit, Greg Glassman reflects this in his definition of Increased Work Capacity Across Broad Time and Modal Domains. This is a fancy way of saying, get more, different stuff done.

The philosophy and vision of CFLDN.
At CFLDN, we want to make you fit for life. We want to teach you not just how to sweat, but how to move, and to draw the lessons you learn in the gym to make you a better person outside of the gym. And, taken from our mission statement: CFLDN is held up by our powerful pillar of individuals that unite over a common goal for higher order health.

We believe that this approach works, and makes you better, fitter human…. Want to run 5km? Easy. Can you help me move this couch? Absolutely. Can you keep up with your kids? Sure, can they keep up with me? Can you keep your cool in traffic? Well I just did that WOD so this is easy. We believe that this style of training is the most effective for all round fitness, and it creates a greater way of life.

Adding to the Intensity Paradigm…
At CFLDN, we have our own spin on Crossfits original ideas set in the mid 2000’s. While we believe in Glassman’s mantra of Constantly Varied Functional Movement performed at High Intensity, we acknowledge the pitfalls that constantly working at high intensity can bring. We emphasise the need for planning, periodisation and prioritisation within the programming to ensure sustainable improvement.

Likewise, training should vary in terms of intensity – gone are the days of going as hard and as fast as possible, all the time. Training, like life, should incur cycles of intensity, from low, medium and high. Want to run be a bull in a china shop every day? Have fun with that. Want to unleash the bull sometimes when you’re really ready for it? That’s a game worth playing.

High, Low and Reload Days:
Though high intensity training has its merits, we need to create space for intensity to flourish. This being so, an effective program should include re-load days and weeks to let the body recover, grow stronger, and be ready for the next workout. Many fitness programs neglect this fundamental biological principle in an effort to GO HARD ALL OF THE TIME, but we know from years of experience and research, that reload days and weeks are critical for lifelong health.
Reload days will look like gymnastics EMOM’s or longer aerobic workouts. These days aim to achieve a few things… refine motor patterns, promote blood flow through staying in the aerobic zone (avoiding lactic threshold), nourish the nervous system, enhance recovery from training and life stressors. You should feel GOOD after these sessions. You should leave energised, sleep well, and be ready to hit the next day.

Why we move the way we do…

Crossfit is not defined by a repertoire of movements, rather, it uses a variety of exercises to get better at a wider range of activities.
This being said, we do follow the key functional patterns of:

  • Squatting
  • Bending
  • Lunging
  • Gait
  • Rotating
  • Pushing
  • Pulling

A typical week will involve an a mixture of these primal patterns, as we look to achieve balance in the body.
We use these exercises as this how how you move your body in the real world. Eg. If you need to pick something up, you’re not going to perform a bicep curl, you’re much likely to perform something that resembles a deadlift (bending).

Focussing on functional movements has been proven to help build lean muscle mass and promote fat loss. This is due to the metabolic stress, muscle tension and damage that takes place when you do these movements. Everyone knows the feeling after lifting a heavy deadlift…. There is substantially more work being done that doing bicep curls.

Variation is critical to keeping the body and mind growing, it truly is the “spice of life!” Crossfit makes use of this idea and ensures that every day you’re facing a new physical challenge. Not only does this keep things interesting and engaging, it ensure that you’re given access to a wide range of movements that leads to a well balanced body and General Physical Preparedness.

Variation is not gospel! We still acknowledge the need to have planning, periodisation and prioritisation within the programming (we’re not drawing workouts out of a hat). So every workout has a purpose or a “why” that’s supported by the overall goal at that time.

 

Stay tuned for part 2 of the Art and Science of Programming!

Steve Hennessy-Maia is a Senior Coach at CFLDN. You can find him working the floor at Crossfit London, and helping clients. if you want effectiove help fill out the contact form

Getting through the team series: Elbow pain + tendonitis rehab protocol

With the team series in full flow now and everyone’s work volume going through the roof the coaches are starting to see a bit of an increase in elbow and wrist pain. The key preventative here is not exceeding the acute to chronic work ratio. In other words if you’re raising the amount of work you’re doing more than 10% over each four week block. For more info on this look at the work of Tim Gabbett.

At CFL the most common manifestation in this is golfers elbow (inflamation of the tendons and other connective tissue around the elbow).

Tendons are a dense type of connective tissue that connect muscle to bone. They are found at each end of the muscle where they attach to the muscle at what is called the Musculotendinous Junction.

Here the muscle fibers start to become intertwined with the tissue of the tendon which ultimately attaches to the bone. The opposite end of the tendon attaches to the bone at what is called the Osteotendinous junction (“osteo” means bone) and this is what allows muscular contraction to exert force on that bone to generate movement. Tendon can become injured in a variety of ways with tendinitis being perhaps the most well known.

This is just inflammation of the tendon (“itis” means inflammation). Tendinitis can occur acutely but is probably most commonly caused by chronic overuse of the tendon that causes it to become chronically inflamed. In recent years this type of chronic inflammation is more commonly called a tendinosis.

The research on fixing tendinitis is very much pointing towards eccentric work:

– Maffulli N, Walley G, Sayana MK, Longo UG, Denaro V. Eccentric calf muscle training in athletic patients with Achilles tendinopathy, Disabil Rehabil. Advance access published 2008
– Sayana MK, Maffulli N. Eccentric calf muscle training in non-athletic patients with Achilles tendinopathy, J Sci Med Sport , 2007, vol. 10 (pg. 52-8)
– Rees JD, Lichtwark GA, Wolman RL, Wilson AM. The mechanism for efficacy of eccentric loading in Achilles tendon injury; an in vivo study in humans, Rheumatology , 2008, vol. 47 (pg. 1493-7)

In fact in a study on soccer players with adductor tendinitis loading was around 13 times better than rest and ultrasound in facilitating return to play.

So to implement a successful (and pain free) RTP we need to find a way to load you without pain. The adaption we are looking for goes like this:

initiation of movement under load -> chemical signalling -> increased protein synthesis.

This works with the cells in the tendon responding to tension, shear, and contraction. The stimulus from this forces creation of at these new tissue:

• Intervertebral disc (Setton, 05)
• Articular cartilage (Knobloch, 08)
• Tendon (Arnockzky, 02)
• Muscle (Durieux, 07)
• Bone (Turner, 1996)

Practically the Rx looks like:

1) Reduce pain (NSAIDs) and protection of injury site
2) Reducing pain through activity
a) Iso-metrics at ROM with no pain
then
b) Iso-metrics at mid range
alongside
c) reduced compressive loading

3) Improve Strength – Heavy Slow resistance in a non-compressive position

4) Build “funtional” strength – as above in more “normal” positions. Here you would address movement patterning issues.

5) Increase Power – Shorter duration lifts.

6) Improve Stretch Shortening Cycle – jump progressions building up to plyometrics or psuedo-plyos

7) Sports or sports specific drills

Sooooo this is A LOT of info but please feel free to ask me to clarify anything that isn’t totally clear

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.