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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Archive for 'Core'

I like to include exercises on this blog that are useful for rehab and fitness professionals as well as fitness enthusiasts who visit. This is a cool exercise that a colleague taught me.  I also recently shared this as part of my ‘Functionally Fit’ column for PFP Magazine.  It works great when doing partner workouts or if coaching a client.  We used it during our off season training for the Carolina Hurricanes and it is much harder than it looks on the surface.

Training clients to maintain core stiffness in athletic functional positions will improve performance and reduce injury risks for the spine and lower extremities. This exercise is an effective way to address postural stability, increase core strength and enhance kinetic chain proprioception

atlas-split-squats

Execution

Begin in a split squat position holding a stability ball overhead. The client maintains an isometric split squat while the coach/trainer provides directional perturbations in an attempt to disrupt balance and stability.

You may opt for several quick rhythmic perturbations or elect to use more sustained pushes (1-2 seconds in each direction) to challenge the client. Allow the client to reset to the desired position if he/she does lose balance in order to facilitate optimal motor patterning. Perform 30 seconds with the left leg forward, rest 30 seconds and then repeat with the right leg forward. Complete two sets on each side.

Be sure to observe asymmetries or deviations specific to either side as this will allow for better cuing and reveal energy leaks. Marking the desired distance between the front heel and rear foot toes with tape will ensure consistency for each trial side-to-side.

Application

This exercise is very effective in training kinetic chain stability and proprioception. Holding the ball overhead allows the trainer to challenge clients to resist movement in the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes through upper body driven loads and feedback. Additionally, the client must focus on maintaining an upright posture while the lower body musculature remains engaged.

Regression

For those with difficulty holding the ball overhead, consider holding the ball at shoulder height at first. Keep in mind the perturbations should be graded and not designed to push the client over or completely off balance.
One additional note to consider: you may opt to instruct the client to remain rigid throughout the drill or allow them to be relaxed and then respond with reactive rigidity when the perturbation comes.  Experiment with your clients and programs and see what you think!

I readily admit I have had an aversion to abdominal exercises that involve straight leg lowering since my days in pee wee football where we were forced to do lifts and holds a few inches above the ground.  Some will relate to a modern day version of this exercise known as “six inches.”

As someone with tight hip flexors and who has personally suffered from sciatica in the past, I am NOT a fan of abdominal training that exposes the lumbar spine to large loads and undue risk related to exercises that involve long levers (e.g. throw downs, scissors, etc) and place high shear force on the spine.

I was reminded of why I feel this way in a fitness class this past week.  I take a cycle/core class at my local gym and have done a traditional spinning class twice per week for 3 years.  After 45 minutes of cycle, we move to a fitness room for core.  I have done this new format for three weeks. This week we were asked to do a series of exercises which included “banana rolls.” If you are unfamiliar with this move, check out You Tube for some video demos.

While this exercise may be effective for core strengthening, I can honestly say as one who has never done the move before that trying to execute it as part of a continuous sequence of movements without rest between the moves was very hard to do with proper form.   The fatigued state encouraged using momentum and straining to simply get the movement done (not to mention the fact my greater trochanter was sore from the rolling on the hard aerobic floor).

The next day I woke up with low back pain.  My back has not hurt like that in years.  In light of the role the iliopsoas plays by virtue of its attachment on the lumbar spine, we must consider the impact of reverse muscle action and how it creates shear on the lumbar spine during movements that rely on stabilization with the legs extended against gravity.  Additionally, for those clients like me with muscle tightness, increased lumbar lordosis and a history of low back disorders, health and fitness professionals must consistently evaluate safety and efficacy as well as trying to challenge clientele in a workout session.

For all of these reasons, I increasingly rely on neutral spine anti-extension and anti-rotation training exercises in my programming for athletes and clients of all ages and abilities.  That is not to say I never do rotational or active movements.  They are appropriate given the right order, progression and demands of the respective individual. I just think we must consider form and risk versus reward in exercise programming.

The exercise video below illustrates how to use sliders in a tall plank position to accomplish great core activation and hip/shoulder stability without stressing the lumbar spine with long lever movements. Keep in mind that quality should override quantity in terms of deciding repetition schemes. Do not let the desire to fatigue clients cause form to suffer as this may increase injury risk.

For more specifics on the execution and progression/regression of this particular exercise, click the link below to read my most recent exercise column for PFP Magazine.

Tall plank shoulder circles

Suffice it to say I will not be doing banana rolls again. While I am not completely discarding the exercise, I do think it should be done in a non-fatigued state and taught incrementally if done at all. Most importantly, we as fitness professionals must always remember to program exercises based on fatigue and skill level, while carefully weighing risk versus reward in group or individual sessions.

I utilize bridging as an assessment and exercise tool in my training and rehab programs.  Posterior chain/hip stability is poor in many clients.  The ability to maintain a neutral spine, engage the glutes and fight rotation is NOT an easy task by any means. So, coaching and cueing proper bridging is a great way to enhance pillar strength and reduce injury risk, while facilitating better movement patterns in sport.

I wrote a recent column for PFP magazine entitled iso bridge with alternate knee extension.  Click here to read the column and the application, regression and progression of the exercise.  In addition, I have included a short video below showing double leg and single leg bridge exercises that can be used to work on the hips and core.  The second exercise is the dynamic version of the iso alternate knee extension bridge I write about. I show you some of the single leg progressions that come after mastering the iso bridge as well.

I hope this video and article is useful to you.  I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading my blog and wish you a very Happy New Year!

Below are two videos demonstrating some sliding exercises I like to use in training and rehab.  The first video reveals one of my tougher hamstring exercises I prescribe, while the second video displays some shoulder/core stability variations using sliding discs.  I have included links to the PFP columns that better explain the set-up, execution and application for each exercise.

Click here for the Functionally Fit Column on sliding hamstring curls.

Click here for the Functionally Fit column on sliding shoulder raises.

I work with lots of patients and clients who consistently demonstrate inadequate hip and core stability.  I see this show up routinely as asymmetrical 1’s for the trunk stability push-up, in-line lunge, hurdle step and rotary stability movements on the FMS. Unfortunately, this has been a recurring them in many of my females recovering from ACL reconstruction as well as runners with persistent pain/dysfunction in one lower extremity.

I am always looking for better ways to train the body in whole movement patterns as well as functional positions.  One of my preferred positions is to test and challenge my clients in a split squat position.  I begin with an isometric split squat cueing proper alignment and muscle activation.  As clients master isometric postural control, I will allow them to add an isotonic movement by squatting in the position.

As they progress, I will add in perturbations to stimulate changes or challenges to their center of gravity.  Often, you will see them struggle much more on the involved side.  But to be honest, I find most people have an incredibly hard time maintaining proper alignment for long without cheating or falling forward or to the side.  Allowing clients to lose form is okay provided they are cued to fix their alignment or they naturally self correct.

An additional wrinkle I throw in for this training is using the BOSU Balance Trainer.  Below is a video that shows how I use this progressing from shin down to just the toes as a support on the trail leg.  The second version will burn up your clients’ thighs and quickly become one of their least favorite exercises.  The great thing is that you do not have to offer much resistance to create a significant perturbation.

For more detail on this exercise and application, click here to read my PFP column featuring it this week.