You know them right? The world is full of them and the fitness industry is no different. Here are a few you’ve probably heard at the gym. Ready?
Don’t tell me you’ve NEVER been to a class and not heard at least one of these words tossed around like a cheap. . . Bottle of wine ;) “Tighten your core” Thats what instructors started cueing in the 90s and still do. I remember when that term was new. Yes I’m that old. But what is it? Where is it? What does it do? And why are we holding it so tight? For each of these questions you’ll get a slew of answers from different trainers that we consider to be experts. And that only means one thing, THEY DON’T KNOW! Mainly because it is a buzz word with no basis in reality. (More on that later.).
The terms ‘Functional’ and ‘Posture’ take a close second to ‘Core’, and I’ll be dissecting them all in this blog. First I want to explain why it is so important to remain informed and discriminate when you hear buzz words like this. Because the people who use them, more often than not have no idea what they really mean. Wouldn’t you want your instructor, trainer and doctor (yes even doctors use terms with uncertainty) to know what they’re telling you? I hope as you read on, you’ll gain more clarity on the terms.
Some say its your abdominals, others say its your back and your abdominals, I say. . . Stop using that term! Why? Because it has become so confusing, overused and dangerously MISUSED! Perfect examples:
You’re in a cardio kickboxing class throwing some punches towards the mirror, JAB, CROSS, HOOK, UPPERCUT, FRONTKICK. . . Instructor says “Keep Your Core Tight!” What do you do?
You’re in a free weights sculpting class setting up for plank. . . Teacher says “Tighten Your Core”. What do you do?
You’re in a kettlebell class doing some crunches with a 15lb weight. . . Trainer calls out “Engage Your Core”. What do you do?
I hope you realize that your idea and their idea of ‘tight core’ is engaging your abs or sucking your navel to your spine. So does that mean core is your abs? Not hardly.
Abdominals in general are on the front and sides of the body. They create the movement of flexion among other duties. So doing a ton of crunches would strengthen them, but to what end? Flexion, flexion, flexion. Does that mean doing back extension exercises would counteract all that flexion work? Not necessarily.
You see there is certain amount of musculoskeletal compensation we bring to our workout. It can not be avoided completely, but when we do not address that, we just continue strengthening the misalignments. Then the muscles fall further into compensation and dysfunction (not working the way they were designed to). That is when they signal us via PAIN.
So getting your body into proper alignment is key. A compensating body is NOT going to benefit from planks or crunches or back work if its done in a compensatory fashion. Strengthening your ‘core’ doesn’t fix posture, and your POSTURE is the reason your back, shoulder and neck might hurt. Make sense?
Speaking of posture, what do YOU think that term means? What is wrong? What is Right? Does it mean keep your shoulders back? Does it mean keep your head in line? Does it mean hold a neutral spine? Even these descriptions are confusing, aren’t they?
(By the way the cyclist pictured here trying to demonstrate the ‘right’, posture has their heart in the right place, but is missing the mark. Notice how smoothly she spins when using the bike as it was designed. Notice the chain reaction through her hip, back, shoulder and head as she fights to display ‘better posture’. It looks unnatural, unsustainable, and uncomfortable BECAUSE IT IS!)
Lets settle this right here. Posture is how your body demonstrates the relationship between your joints. Thats it. Now speaking in terms of good and bad, right and wrong will throw a lot more into the mix. But in my opinion, I’d rather think in terms of good, better, BEST.
Lets face it, our body will adapt and compensate, and we should be GLAD that it can.
for Poor Posture
You don’t agree?! Your body can adapt. Your car can not. Your body can improvise. Your car can not. Your body can still run from a tiger if your foot was lopped off. Your car wouldn’t get far on 3 wheels. Comprende? Adaptation to a different posture is necessary to keep you going. You’re not doing it on purpose, your body’s wisdom is beyond our simple-minded concepts. It knows what to do. Even if you don’t know why its doing it. Trust it.
The problem occurs when it can’t do what it was designed to do anymore. When it forgets how to access its muscles for creating efficient motion. When it compensates so long that it becomes dysfunctional (more on that later). The posture displays misalignments, and certain movements may no longer be possible to execute. Do any of us have perfect posture? No. Can we? Who cares?! If we are living lives without pain, without limitation, it shouldn’t matter. Its when the signal of pain kicks in, that we seek answers, and most of the time the answer can lie in a misaligned posture, which is easily addressable. Set up a Consultation to find out how.
This word is tossed around a LOT in the past 10 years. Especially at the gym. Trainers tout themselves as ‘functional’ trainers offering ‘functional workouts’. WTF does that mean? Well I actually asked a ‘Master Trainer’ (it said so on his shirt) at a newly opened gym, 24 Hour Fitness in Massapequa. This is what I was told (see video)
So just because he didn’t know what Functional Fitness meant, doesn’t mean you can’t know. FUNCTION is something’s ability to perform an action as per its design. In regards to the body, its things are muscles, bones, organs, fascia etc.
So apply that to fitness. To some confused trainers, it means completing actions you do everyday. So getting out of a chair, reaching for a jar of jelly etc. would be daily movement. Training you to be better at that movement is considered functional training. . . To them. So if you don’t get up and down off the floor every day, do we skip that exercise? If you don’t do back bending daily, should we avoid that movement?
How can we make daily movement better by doing it the same way? Answer: We can’t.
To me, functional training restores the function that your muscles were designed with. That means reducing compensation, then getting the right muscles to perform their required actions. If you’ve worked with me, you know how we accomplish this and its outcome. If a stooped over human can NOT extend their spine, their function is reduced. They now have to compensate through multiple movements to create an action that a more aligned (functional) person can. In fact some actions may be impossible for certain postures. And why? Because compensation, misalignment, and eventual musculoskeletal dysfunction will render certain muscles, muscle groups and movement patterns inaccessible.
This isn’t necessarily permanent, and can often be remedied quickly. But if compensating factors are not addressed, all you are doing when you train, is strengthen your compensations, which will lead to injury and pain down the line.
I hope that gives you some more clarity on these overused and misused terms. So now when you hear those buzz words dropped, you can insert a correction and educate rather than go along with the stale trend.
I’m glad you took the time for a little critical thinking. Being led by your nose sucks, and makes you less of a human being. To get the changes we want in life, we often have to bust out of self-imposed molds. It can be uncomfortable at first but the results are REWARDING! Are you in the drivers seat? Ready to pilot your own life?