Advanced Core Training Notes

from the Perform Better Functional Training Series

Core training and neurostabilization training are extremely popular but as professionals we must understand the science and technology behind current trends in exercise.  Core training can be just another fad or it can be a scientifically-based methodology that involves a functional and progressive approach to movement re-education and performance enhancement.  It is important that you understand the necessary steps to develop a core training program.  It is also important that you understand many variations of training and many opinions will be presented to you; however, there is a neurological framework and musculoskeletal structure that require a special sequential approach. This lecture will discuss the sequence and the philosophy behind building a practical model for training the core.

  • First, you must understand that the brain recognizes movement patterns and not simply muscle groups.  Yet, many professionals are still stuck in isolation training or muscle group training.  Understanding movement patterns is a little more in-depth and complicated than simply understanding muscle groups.  You need to understand the role of stabilizers and the role of movers.  You need to understand the most basic patterns of human movement and how they build upon each other in a neuro-developmental sequence starting in infancy and developing through childhood.  You also need to understand that the most fundamental activities of the human body revolve around simple and basic movements of running and climbing. Running demands that a spine be stable and transfer energy from one leg to the other as well as deal with the counterbalance movement of the arms as they swing whereas climbing requires that the spine be mobile, adaptable and dynamic.  These are two fundamental movements of the human body; yet, in contrast in their demands of the core.
  • You must also understand that the core runs on a reflex base. This means that the core musculature is engaged by reflexes in response to your actions and reactions.  Or as many of your movements involving the limbs are structured, controlled, planned out and trained, the movements of your core are reflex driven in an attempt to stabilize the spine so that more efficient movement patterns of the extremities can be produced.  When the core is not functioning properly, you should first look for things that would limit this reflex behavior – significant limitations with respect to flexibility as well as asymmetries between the left and right side of the body. Imbalances in muscle groups including agonist and antagonist can all create a need for the core to compensate.  When the core must compensate, the effectiveness of the reflex with its natural sequence and timing is interrupted and a less efficient core that is more susceptible to injury is the result.  Since most of us do not have high-tech equipment and EMG to check the core musculature for its efficiency in demonstrating perfect sequence and timing, we must approach training from a different aspect.  If we can establish that there is minimal reason for the core to compensate, then we can assume that the appropriate amount of training will produce the desired result with respect to core stabilization and core strength.
  • Screening fundamental movements will demonstrate significant limitations and asymmetries and also help to narrow the focus of problem areas within the human body. This will open the door to more involved assessment and evaluation practices that can produce effective exercise techniques, that refine mobility and stability, as well as rehabilitation strategies that will reduce asymmetries and limitations.
  • Once adequate mobility has been demonstrated and the need for compensation has been reduced, it is important to understand the distinct difference between stability and strength.  Many assume that doing crunches and increasing the strength of the abdominal musculature will produce a stable core.  This is a simplistic approach and it fails to demonstrate the difference between stability and strength.  Stability is the use of muscular timing, control and sequence to maintain a relatively stationary or stable spine in the presence of extremity movement whereas strength would demonstrate or reflect the need for movement.  Doing more crunches demonstrates greater endurance and greater strength of the core but still does not guarantee that the core will stabilize in a striding or squatting movement.  It is important to establish spine stabilization prior to core strengthening.
  • Stabilization techniques should be grouped by functional foot position and requirements of spine stability. Good examples are the first 3 foot positions taken from the Functional Movement Screen.  They are:  squatting, stepping and lunging.  The squat movement is a double leg stance that is symmetrical.  The legs perform the same tasks and the same role within the same range of motion.  The hurdle step is single-leg stance requiring one leg to move freely and be a mobile segment while the other leg supports the weight of the body and is a stable segment.  The lunge is almost a combination of the two above positions in that both legs remain on the floor like the squat but they are in complete opposition of each other as in a stepping motion such as the hurdle step.  These very different foot positions place different demands on the core and, when combined with diagonal movements of the upper extremity, represent a complete array of functional and athletic movements that provide opportunities for appropriate stabilization.  Key equipment and communicating stabilization through proprioception include slide board, medicine ball, stability ball, cable column and core board training.
  • Since the core functions on a reflex base, it is necessary for initial stabilization training to be at that level.  This means minimizing verbal and visual input and allowing exercise to communicate to the core what is necessary.  This is a science called Reactive Neuromuscular Training and it is based on exaggerating the mistake that the individual performing the exercise is currently making.  By exaggerating this mistake through weight shift or reduced control, the individual exercising has a greater proprioceptive awareness of poor timing, coordination, movement sequence, posture and joint position.  This will also allow the exerciser to slowly correct the problem accelerating motor learning.  Once neurostabilization training has been implemented, core strengthening can be performed through isolation or functional movements.
  • In closing, it is extremely important that you identify and isolate the important statements within each one of these bullet point paragraphs.  They build an appropriate case for core training and will help you evaluate the many protocols and exercise techniques that will be coming your way in the future as a trend of core training and neurostabilization training are popularized.  No doubt, many will jump on the bandwagon of core training but few will endure the criteria laid before them.  The future of our profession lies in our credibility and attention to detail.  It also relies on our creativity and openness to new concepts and philosophies.  I hope this lecture has given you food for thought and the desire to learn.

Early Perspectives on Functional Movement Systems

Excerpted from the nine-page Appendix 7 of Movement: Functional Movement Systems—Screening, Assessment & Corrective Approaches. Gray discusses the perspectives that produced his interest in screening, assessing and training movement patterns. This short excerpt summarizes the insight provided in the unique research project that started Gray on his path, as explained in the book, Movement.

The physical therapy education at the Univer­sity of Miami prepared me to ponder movement and exercise from many different perspectives. My orthopedic education was straightforward and it applied the basic principles of kinesiology and biomechanics. My learning regarding the neuro­logical system further broadened the scope of my understanding and reasoning as I started to con­sider movement and its many unique problems.

Studying proprioceptive neuromuscular fa­cilitation (PNF) and developmental movement patterns triggered a recognition of how intercon­nected our dynamic functional patterns really are. Movement pattern study provided perspective of the sequence of growth and development, and I became interested in movements like rolling, creeping, crawling, and kneeling and the way one movement pattern could serve as the stepping stone, an actual foundation for the next.

Rolling

Rolling

Neurological techniques are rarely employed in corrective exercise and orthopedic rehabilitation. They provide better perceptual opportunities for movement-pattern correction and facilitation than conventional exercises focused on an iso­lated approach. The addition of neurological-based thinking allows us to make perception, balance, timing and muscle tone more appropriate and to facilitate the way fundamental patterns can create functional patterns.

Neurological techniques use manual interaction and movement to adjust the volume on input and output. PNF and other techniques use passive movement, assist­ing movements, tactile stimulation, body position, light resistance, breath control and other forms of subtle stimulation. We must embrace ways to incorporate these methods into corrective exercise even when the neurological system is con­sidered normal by medical standards. However, we must not apply these methods randomly. We need a standard to gauge when these techniques are most beneficial and when other methods might offer greater progress.

Based on natural perspectives of movement and movement control, many of these perspectives are so common we ignore them. We watch babies go through the progressive postures of growth and development in which they develop command of one mode of movement and then tinker with a more challenging pattern. We watch them use different parts of their bodies for locomotion, not realizing they are stimulating better support and movement with every point of weight bearing.

We watch sports and fitness movement without considering the many spiral and diagonal move­ments that go into each athletic form. We fail to note the subtle torso rotation or reciprocal arm action of an elite runner, but when these move­ments are absent in the less-polished runner, we immediately sense the awkwardness in the move­ment. We note the awkwardness and yet cannot identify what is lacking.

This is why the movement screen is introduced as a non-diagnostic tool. The FMS identifies fundamental and functional movement problems in a rating and ranking system and first seeks agreement on what should be acceptable and what should not be acceptable before suggesting  corrections.

There is no reason to assume the neurological system is functioning efficiently or optimally just because a neurological injury or disease process is not present. Orthopedic protocols often treat poor stabilization as a strength problem, exercising muscles associated with poor stabilization waiting for strength to occur—assuming strengthening would somehow improve timing and coordination.

Most exercise and performance programs assume the current level of physiology and metabolism limits power, but what about the neuromuscular system? Maybe that could be the limiting factor. Could each of us be walking around with untapped power? Power could also be limited by the way we breathe, or by poor postural alignment. Our power could be limited by increased tone in muscles where we hold tension, or by reduced tone in muscles associated with patterns we fail to use. Power can be equally associated with the neurological state and physical state, we can make a case for formulating a more practical exercise perspective.

Without this neurological perspective, common corrective exercises are not correcting anything. These exercises simply rehearse move­ments that are awkward or faulty with the hope that arbitrary resistance loads will somehow create strength, integrity and competency. Are the corrective exercises designed to create a physiological demand or a neuromuscular demand? What is the weakest link? What is the most limited system?

Much corrective exercise targets tissue physiology and not motor control. It’s all highly coached verbal and visual two-dimensional move­ment, and does not fit the definition of function. Often, it doesn’t make anyone react to anything, doesn’t challenge the sensory motor system. It rehearses exercises that fit the simplest application of local kinesiology. Common corrective exercises often don’t enhance perception and provide the mistakes necessary for learning.

Some rehabilita­tion professionals provide activity at or around the dysfunctional region, and assume motor control will spontaneously reset. These activities are not so much causing a reset, as they’re creating greater opportunity for compensation behavior. We now know that pain affects motor control in unpredictable and inconsistent ways. This coupled with poorly planned and poorly reproduced exercises give the average patient little chance of reestablishing authentic motor control. It might also speak to the research implying that previous injury is the most significant risk factor for a future injury.

It’s common to classify problems by a patient’s diagnosis or by the site of the pain. In the new model, we may use corrective exercise on regions of the body far from the site of pain. It’s possible for two patients with low back pain have completely dif­ferent exercise programs. They might receive the same pain control treatments, but their movement dysfunctions may require completely different cor­rective exercise approaches.

This new approach to corrective exercise works well and accelerates progress. However, two major rules are clear determinants of ef­fectiveness. The first rule requires consideration of movement patterns alongside other parameters like physical performance and diagnosis. These considerations are the basis for the Functional Movement Systems documented in the Movement text.

The second rule is an acknowledgment of natural law. Mobility must precede stability. These new reactive drills are only effective if mobility is not compromised. This means we must address mobility before expecting a new level of motor control. If there is no mobility problem, we expect the RNT drills and exercises to improve motor control and improve movement patterns. If mobility is limited, we address the mobility first.

As long as mobility is compromised, the stiff­ness and increased muscle tone are providing the requisite stability needed for function. If mobility is not addressed in any way, the system will not need a new level of motor control. However, if mobility is improved, a window of opportunity is opened. For a short time, the body cannot rely on stiffness and inappropri­ate muscle tone.

Within this window, motor control exercises that engage both the sensory and motor systems will call on primary stabilizers to work, since tightness and stiffness are temporarily not options. Dosage is everything in this window. If exercise is too stressful, the individual will default back to old patterns, and if exercise does not challenge the primary stabilizers, they will not become reinte­grated into posture and movement.

The system simply requires the user to improve mobility in a region where a limitation has been identified. The patient or client is put into a posture of challenge, such as like rolling, quadruped, kneeling or half-kneeling. The person might perform movement or simply be challenged to hold the position. From the stable posture, the individual is then progressed to less stable postures, and then into dynamic movement patterns.

Babies enter the world with uncompromised mobility and follow this progression naturally. Our best efforts in exercise and rehabilitation replicate this gold standard when movement patterns are dysfunctional. Movement: Functional Movement Systems will help you learn to discern dysfunction and build a corrective strategy for healthy, authentic movement.

For Your Own Use

Functional Movement Basics

This information is designed for those interested in more functional ways to assess and train themselves. Although this information is popular with exercise and rehabilitation professionals, it is written and produced is a user-friendly format that does not require an exercise or rehabilitation background.

Kettlebells from the Ground Up DVD
Club Swinging Essentials DVD
Kettlebells from the Center DVD (forthcoming)
Athletic Body in Balance Book and DVD
5 Mistakes in Core Training CD

Bretzel stretches, video compliments of Men’s Health

A New Look at Movement

More than three years of work has finally made it into print, and as I look back on the project, I still cannot believe the journey. Although the methods we use in Functional Movement Systems have been known for a while, our understanding and explanations have improved greatly over that time. The book, Movement: Functional Movement Systems, brings all of that work together into one text, a culmination of our efforts to date.

Gray Cook lecturing in Scotland

Explaining the complexities of human movement dysfunction and correction is much more involved than reciting terms of biomechanics and kinesiology. We specifically wanted the reader to have a command of the key concepts of movement learning alongside fundamental principles that separate the work of the elite exercise and rehabilitation professionals from the average.

Today’s professionals need to understand the risks and implications of dysfunctional movement patterns. They must also understand the preferences of the human brain regarding movement-pattern learning and relearning. Ultimately, each professional will arrive at a crossroad concerning the correction of faulty movement patterns. This book will force an answer at that pivotal point.

Do we correct faulty movement patterns by simply repeating correct movements, or do we look deeper into movement perception and behavior to find the weakest link.

Although the second choice seems more complex and difficult, it parallels natural growth, development and movement acquisition. Used systematically, the second system is more efficient and effective.

Even though the functional movement screen is more than 10 years old and some of my assessment and corrective ideas are even older, the information in Movement is my first comprehensive stab at the movement big picture as it relates to exercise and rehabilitation. When I say comprehensive stab, I mean this book identifies fundamental errors in our exercise logic, presents systematic methods to improve problem-solving, and offers an in-depth perspective into corrective movement strategies.

The book starts by presenting a case for why we need to screen and assess mass movements and how as a population our fundamental movement patterns are eroding. We may think we have a cultural fitness problem, but we actually have serious movement problems that can compromise fitness strategies and increase risk of injury in active individuals. Exercise and rehabilitation professionals value standardized evaluations of movement quantities, but as a group we have failed to establish a qualitative standard for movement. We all have opinions of movement quality, but without a standard operating procedure, we will not be able to constructively discuss or research movement-pattern quality at a deeper level.

New research is demonstrating that if we first establish a qualitative standard, we might provide greater effectiveness with exercise program design as we reduce injury risk. The first three chapters of the book build the case for movement-pattern screening and assessment that supports a standard procedure for a movement quality baseline.

In the next section of the book, both screening and assessment systems are presented in the most thorough detail to date. This is the methods section of the book in which I specifically took time to address the most misunderstood components and frequently asked questions regarding movement screening and assessment.

The final segment of the text involves movement correction, and is presented in a surprisingly different format. My own personal studies and professional development pushed me further into how the human brain likes to receive and dispense information. The new perspectives I’ve learned and applied helped broaden my understanding and became the theme for the corrective section.

It is common for books regarding exercise and rehabilitation to have a primary focus on the anatomy and to disregard the brain and central nervous system. Ultimately, the brain controls most of our perceptions and behaviors regarding movement patterns as it works through the anatomical networks. Therefore, we must consider the learning systems that appreciate both perception and behavior alongside measurements of anatomical structure and physical capacity.

In Movement, we present the most current references and research to support screening and assessment, but we also realize new information will continue to emerge. To better serve our readers, we created the website movementbook.com to update information and provide expert commentary specific to each chapter.

From beginning to end, the book is dedicated to establishing time-honored and tested principles of human movement-pattern behavior. Fundamental principles are the foundation of ancient wisdom as well as modern expertise— they are timeless. Principles can often be overlooked in modern fitness and athletics, and even in rehabilitation. Without fundamental principles, we migrate to popular methods and flashy programs and it is our nature to defend these. In reality, popular trends, methods and programs should be principle-based and justify their existence.

We are the professionals and our programs and methods are simply tools to maintain a standard level of quality. We should strive to agree on standards even though we may differ on the way we address them. A systematic approach can guide us and improve our consistency without restricting individual creativity. It is our hope that movement can be our common ground as we serve our clients, athletes and patients.

Videos at MyTpi

Golf Combine?
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Turkish Getup
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Kettlebell Deadlift
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Chop & Lift
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Power Development
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