Every person moves in a way that is unique to their body; Isn’t it time to treat them like it!

To keep up with the latest from Zig Ziegler, follow Zig on twitter @zig_ziegler

I received the following comment on Linked In and I felt the need to address it to a larger population. As a result, I am answering it in the contents to follow as a follow up to my previous article on squatting found here: Article on Squatting from January 2013

Ray A. •states:   Zig you’ve touched on so many points I’ll only address a few.
First, your baby squat comparison is poor at best since babies are born without patellas and don’t develop them until 2 -6 years old. Also their center of gravity is very low.

Second, in performing a squat the superior part of the scapula should stay in vertical line with the center (arch) of the feet. In this way the weight distribution is 50/50.The glutes HAVE to fire to come up from the end of the eccentric range.

Third, In performing a lunge if you push of the ball of the foot and the toes, you are overloading the quads which is worse for women since they are quad dominant.

Finally, lifting the heels with support during a squat will shorten the soleus and lead to and abnormal movement between the calcaneus, tibia and femur, during walking and running which in turn will cause discomfort or pain at the weakest part of the kinetic chain.
I didn’t squat until I was 35 years old because no one could explain how to perform it to my satisfaction. Finally, Vern Gambetta and Paul Chek explained it in a very comprehensive way.

Ok so here is what I have to say:

#1 The points I made were based off my evaluation of over 6,000 athletes performing a squat, using 3D motion capture technology, so I want to be clear that my findings are not my opinion or the result of trying to prove or disprove a theory or hypothesis.  They are based upon the objective findings of full body biomechanics data (which are not perfect by anymeans but better than visual or video).

In addition, my findings are merely based off the result of what people are actually DOING combined with an understanding of kinesiology.  Now let’s make one fact clear that we all agree on.  “Based on Kinesiology, every joint or segment of the body has a specific task to perform.” However, unfortunately because of neurological deficiencies, learned motor patterns, and muscular imbalances, every joint in the average person’s body does NOT function properly. So if we evaluate what 100 people are doing and make a blanket statement that “if thats how the best do it, then that’s how it should be done”, you are incorrect.  Tiger Woods once said, “Don’t try to copy my swing, because I am constantly trying to make it better, so by the time you get down my old swing, I’ve got a new and improved one.” Now Tiger may or may not have perfected his swing, who’s to say?  Its not wins and losses that tell you if his swing is the best, it is a swing efficiency test that will allow you to see how efficient it is.

Now back to lifting.  Even the best squatter or weight lifter is not necessarily the best technically or most efficient example of how to perform a lift.  They just achieved the goal better than the competition.  And if the sole focus was performing the lift or moving a certain amount of weight, then technique doesn’t matter, achieving the goal matters.  The human body is a great machine. It will find a way to perform whatever task we ask it to perform.  It may not be done biomechanically correct, or efficient but if it can be done, the body will find a way to perform the task.  In the world of fitness, physical medicine, and sports performance, the task or focus should be on developing the body from the ground up, not lifting the weight.  If your goal is to lift weight, who cares if your body is balanced as long as you can complete the lift. But remember, at some later date, you will ask your body to use muscles or joint that have not been tested and that is when you will see an Achilles rupture, low back, or knee injury.  So keep the task in mind but empower your entire body not just your mind a a few muscles you have overcompensated with in training or normal activity.

So here’s a thank you to Ray and his points which inspired me to write this follow up.

#2 Ray stated that, “First, your baby squat comparison is poor at best since babies are born without patellas and don’t develop them until 2 -6 years old. Also their center of gravity is very low.”

In response I have to state that you sir are incorrect.  Babies ARE NOT born without patellas, except in rare cases of a birth defect.  The patella begins to develop around the fourth month of the fetus as cartilage.  The patella is present in most new-borns but only begins to ossify (harden) Experts GUESS that the patella, which is a sesamoid  bone, begins to develop between the ages of two and three years old.  It is weight bearing activities in the TODDLER (pictured in my previous blog) that contributes to the ossification of the patella.  So to clarify, before a toddler starts to walk and bear weight, the patella is mostly cartilage.  As they bear weight it hardens and become more of the patella that we see as older humans.

Today, some children begin to bear weight at between 8-10 months old, contributing to earlier ossification than previous studies from the 70’s 80’s and early 90’s.  This is because parents are pushing the children to walk at an earlier age. This push can be harmful to overall bone development and cause abnormalities in walking or movement patterns later in life.

As for Ray’s reference to the center of gravity? A baby’s center of gravity is low compared to the ground. But compared to their leg length, it is not low. As a toddler develops into a taller person, the center of gravity does not change relative to their body, only to the ground.  An adult shorter person squats more efficiently than a taller person not because they are closer to the ground.  They do so because WE use cues that are meant for people who are 5foot -6inches  to 5 foot -8 inches tall.   A toddler doesn’t need to be told where to place their feet when they squat, their brain naturally seeks the place where they have the greatest amount of balance.  Its natural for them.

#3 Ray’s statement about scapula position relative to the feet in the squat is almost true but only in a perfect world where the upper and lower body segments are the same length and weight.  Since people come in all different shapes and sizes, this is not 100% true. However, it is another cue that is used improperly in the world of fitness and even physical medicine. It’s about as accurate a cue as telling every person who squats to stand with your feet shoulder width apart.  That cue is incorrect because some people have long legs, short torsos, and narrow shoulders. How should they stand? The answer is….It depends on the person.

#4 Ray stated, “Third, In performing a lunge if you push of the ball of the foot and the toes, you are overloading the quads which is worse for women since they are quad dominant.

I hate to say it Roy, but you are again a little bit incorrect.  First, all men are not the same and neither are all women.  So a general statement like that is not supported by all women nor men. From my research, 90% of men and 93% of Women are “quad dominant” because we live in a quad dominant world. Here’s an example, the next time you are standing, notice which muscles you are using the most. Try to contact or squeeze your glutes.  Notice how much you had to think about it.  However, when you look at quadriceps involvement in basic standing, the quads are the muscle group that keeps you on your feet.  Not the hamstrings and glutes. Its the quads that keep your knees extended which is what keeps you standing.

As for “kinesiology of the exercise”: A walking lunge, step up, and even a squat involves both pulling and pushing, not just a push.  A forward lunge with push back is just that a push.  In a normal lunge, “Rotational” forces are always at work while performing any ambulatory movement.  But as a society, we have a tendency to only coach what we THINK we see to justify our expertise.  I stopped thinking about what I see a long time ago and began to measure instead that way, my opinion would be eliminate and all I had to do was read the numbers.

In the picture to the left walking lunge with med ball extended(which is not meant to be an example of perfect technique), the lifter is preparing to step forward in a walking lunge.  If she pushes, she goes backwards.  However, if she pulls, her body goes over the top of the front foot, then she completes the lift by finishing with extension of the quads AND hips (glutes).

In doing so, the lunge will engage the big toe, plantar fascia, ankle (achilles), soleus, gastrocs, anterior/posterior tibia for lower leg stabilization, hamstrings, glutes, quads and lower abs in that order.  In ideal firing order, the squat and lunge are an exercise for the entire lower body.  Starting with the feet.

Done incorrectly, the quads are dominant and this becomes a knee extension exercise which is done by the quadriceps, not the hamstrings and glutes. Some people scoffed at my analogy of sprinters vs. distance runners in the previous post on squatting.  However, now is the perfect time to clarify.

Sprinters are the only athletes who are NOT AS quadriceps dominant as the average person, but only while they are sprinting. In normal ambulation, they are just as quad dominant as the person next to them in terms of muscle recruitment in everyday activities.

Sprinters, however do not push themselves down the track…they pull and push and the push only comes as they leave the ground in finish knee extension. however, the glute contraction comes in the form of a pull as they repositioning the pelvis for loading and absorption of forces.  Sprinting is the only non-quad dominant exercise done while upright on both feet.

Ray also stated that

“Finally, lifting the heels with support during a squat will shorten the soleus and lead to and abnormal movement between the calcaneus, tibia and femur, during walking and running which in turn will cause discomfort or pain at the weakest part of the kinetic chain.”

Nowhere in my article did I advocate lifting the heels off the ground. In the image of Arnold squatting with a 2×4 under his feet, it is done to maintain full contact from toes to heel. It is NOT done to shift the weight to the toes or forefoot.  They did it to achieve a solid stable foundation while squatting to COMPENSATE for a lack of ankle mobility.  However, you are incorrect again in your assessment regarding “abnormal movement between the calcaneus, tibia, …”  But rather that shoot it down, I’d have to ask what would be considered abnormal movement? And most importantly, how do know that it is abnormal?    Before shoes, man ran around barefoot and developed enormous density in the lower leg muscles, hamstrings, and glutes. It is excessive and improper “upright” posture that has changed our physiological development and contributed to an increase in body dysfunction like low back pain and more.

Here is a graph of a male subject doing an overhead squat. 

Screenshot of a 3D Overhead Squat Functional Movement Screen, with poor knee flexion.

Screenshot of a 3D Overhead Squat Functional Movement Screen, with poor knee flexion.

Notice the yellow (left knee) and bluish (right knee) lines as the vertical green line intersects them.  That point is at the bottom of the squat (maximum knee flexion) for a male subject  who is squatting through their heels.

The Red line represents the pelvis anterior/posterior tilt, and the green line going across the graph illustrates the Torso or Trunk Flexion/extension. For starters, at the point when the green vertical line intersects the yellow and bluish lines, they should all be nearly identical.  The white line represents pelvis height during the series of squats.  You might also notice how in the three consecutive squats, even the knees to not stay the same and stress is moving demonstrating more instability.  However, it is the instability of the male subject’s right ankle which allows for more internal rotation of the tibia allowing it to achieve greater flexion.

This is not a good thing for the lifter.  The internal tibia rotation causes medial knee pain, lateral knee pain, lateral right side hip pain, and shuts down the glute medius.  This only occurs when the gastroc/soleus (calf muscles) are not capable of firing because the weight is in the heels.

Now Roy said, “The glutes HAVE to fire to come up from the end of the eccentric range.”  However, here, in the graph, the (pelvis) represented by the red line bends forward slightly on the way down, loses the posture half way through the descent phase of the squat, then at the bottoms begins to tilt forward again.

Now just so you know, the pelvis should begin to tilt backwards from the bottom of the squat if the glutes are firing to assist.  In this graph, we see the quads taking over the get up to knee extension not the glutes contracting to get the pelvis extension (vertical).

(In the graph, notice how the red line does not follow the same curve as the other lines.  The Red HORIZONTAL line is the zero point or completely vertical.  Above the line is forward bend, below the line is backward bend.)

I could go on for hours about this particular graph but in the interest of not boring readers with things I get excited talking about, I have to come to a conclusion of this post. I have thousands of these graphs which I’ve been looking at for over 12 years while applying corrective exercises and re-assessing. I experimented with every cue and technique you could think of using with my clients.  And now I share what I’ve learned with each of you in hopes that you will leave behind the use of words like “the average person does this” or “everybody should do that”.  Other people who may be perceived to be experts may truly believe what you’ve learned from them, but we should trust in data not in reputations, and when it comes to technique the data is in the actual biomechanics of the motion not the result.  A person who develops their body from the ground up is that much more effective when the ask their body to perform a task. As I stated before, the body will find a way, but if you empower every joint and body segment to do its job, it sure does make it easier.

I learn something new everyday from my clients.  But I’m open to allow their bodies to teach me how to help them not to share what I think I learned from someone else’s body. We are all different even when we present the same symptoms.   I am sure many trainers like Ray get great results based upon what they believe. And Ray is not alone in his thinking.  I am sure we have probably not studied the same things. I’ve spent my life studying my clients not text books. I stopped following the “experts” because they all started to try to find their own unique niche or trick they could teach people to improve their brand.  Oh don’t get me wrong, I read other peoples books and listen to what they say, but it has to pass one simple test.  That test is….knowing what we know about how the body truly works, does it make common sense.  If it doesn’t throw it out. If it eliminates one joint or another, throw it out.  However, if your goal is task specific, you may accomplish the task with that tip or cue but you do it at risk to yourself and your body’s health in the future.

My hope for every reader today is that each of you gains an understanding of the following….

Each person moves in a way that is unique to them. This is based upon their own strengths, weaknesses, injuries, repetitive activity history, and neurological deficiencies, coaching cues, instructions, and much more.

To our profession or any exerciser: I know its easy if you are an expert or working with clients or patients to refer to techniques that are based upon the average person, but we must get into the uniqueness of each individual in an effort to get the most out of their bodies and help each person develop as an individual.  I love the feedback and appreciate the comments. It is the questions and comments that stimulate more questions and can ultimately lead us to the truth about health and fitness.  Be encouraged and know that your questions and thoughts will only lead you closer to unlocking the key to your body’s success.

Be sure to look for my upcoming book Absolute Kinetix: Fitness From the Ground Up!  Follow me on twitter @zig_ziegler

Have a positive day!

Squat with Heel Push. Over-emphasized Cue from Trainers and Strength Coaches Contributes to Achilles, Knee, and Low Back Injuries

Are you an athlete looking to increase your leg strength, power and explosiveness? Are you mom or female exerciser working out in the gym and hoping to firm up your legs and improve a jiggly butt and reduce the visibility of cellulite on the back of your thighs and butt?

To keep up with the latest from Zig Ziegler, follow Zig on twitter @zig_ziegler.

If you look around the internet at various training websites including youtube videos, you will hear numerous experts explain proper squatting technique touting squat technique as the answer to your dreams.  The truth about fitness is that there is only one squatting technique. The best technique for squatting is the one you were born with and used until a fitness expert tried to instruct you, you read an article in a fitness magazine, or followed the advice of a friend.

If you watch children up until the age that they begin organized training, their bodies develop at a rate in which we perceive is balance between strength and flexibility. Coordination, however, takes a while to catch up for those children of all ages who experience a growth spurt or constant changes in activity.

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A child playfully squatting without fear of damage to knees and squatting perfectly through the body’s full range of motion without regard to injury to the knees or back.

In fact, a developing toddler to adolescent is capable of demonstrating strength and flexibility while constantly battling coordination mainly because they have no perception of failure or understanding of instructions given to them on how to walk, run, squat, or throw. They just do it.  In fact, the first signs of struggle we see from children while performing physical activities is after their first words of instructions.

Recently i began to instruct my teenage daughter on how to play a new sport. The more practice and instruction I provide, the more she struggles. The more I allow her body to do what she does naturally, the better her performance and the better the result. My goal is to provide her with the strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility to assist her body in performing the task and allow the skill to benefit from her body having the strength, coordination, and flexibility to perform the skills necessary to play the sport. With those things, I am instructing around one weakness or another.

Have you ever heard a strength coach or a fitness professional say, you’re going to struggle until you learn proper squatting technique. I’m glad no one sad that the kid in the pictures. Who knows how long it would have taken him to get up and move on to the next toy.  Over the next few minutes I hope to shed a little light on a topic that has finally started to negatively impact, sports, fitness, and life.

I wanted to keep this post brief with the idea of making several points. Here’s how the body works when you perform a squat or for that matter any task on your feet:

1. The first segment of the body to store absorb, and transfer forces absorbed from the ground is the big toe on both feet while performing any activity while standing, walking, running, jumping or lunging.  That force is transfer through the joint between the big toe and the foot (the interphalangeal joint). This is the first joint to store and release energy into the entire foot as it passes through the foot and ankle. As forces pass through the toe, it is the bottom of the foot (not the top) that must properly absorb the force and pass it on to the ankle.As a result of forces applied to the ground, the soft tissue of the bottom of the foot contracts and releases efficiently in order to properly move the forces out of the foot or injury may occur.

2. The next segment of the body to absorb, store, and transfer energy is the entire lower leg.  The muscles which must first absorb the force as it comes out of the ankle is the gastrocnemius/soleus complex (posterior compartment of the lower leg also knows as the calves) but only after the force passes through the Achilles tendon which connects the ankle to the posterior (back) lower leg muscles.

3. The gastroc/soleus provides the necessary muscle contraction to transfer the forces properly out of the lower leg and next segment, the femur and the muscles of that segment which begins with the hamstrings and glutes. The glutes and hamstrings help to stabilize the pelvis and put it into position to complete the entire squat.  The quadriceps act as a stabilizer and help to extend the knee during when elevating the body from the squat position.  The quadriceps are triggered to extend the knee and are stimulated by any other anterior muscle contraction in the lower leg or foot.

In the 1960s/1970s/1980s and even the early 1990s, weightlifting was done primarily by body builders including Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The legendary body builders focused on squatting through the forefoot.  In the mid 1990’s some so called expert (no one will ever take credit for it now) began to instruct people to squat, lunge, leg press, etc while pushing through the heels of the feet. In fact, if you watch just about every fitness video, or so called expert in glute training, every one stresses pushing the the heels.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger squats in the gym with a 2×4 under his heels. This action forces the weight into the forefoot forcing increase gastroc/soleus/hamstring/glute contraction when standing from the squat position. This also disables internal tibia rotation (lower leg rotation), while enabling external rotation of the thigh at the hip. (While his base is narrow contributing to overload of the hip joint (scientifically referred to as the acetabulofemoral). However, there are no glute medius issues present here.)

Here’s a test for you to run through your common sense meter.  Perform a toe raise by shifting the weight towards the heels. In performing toe raise, notice the increase intensity in your quadriceps contraction and some contraction of your glutes.  Shift the weight into your heels by raising your the entire front part of your foot off the ground, step, or where ever you are doing this test. In doing so you may feel a some contraction in the glutes.

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However, you should notice that the more you try to squeeze your qlutes, the more you squeeze your qaudriceps (thighs)  instead.

Earlier, I mentioned the role of the big toe. If the weight is in the heel, what happens to the big toe?  It lifts off of the ground as the top of the foot and toes extend upwards, initiating the front side contraction of the entire leg.

Now try this test.  Perform a standing calf raise (heel lift). As you lift your heel, try to contract your glutes (squeeze your butt).  Were you successful? If you were, your kinetic chain and kinematic sequence are correct.  Your kinetic chain and kinematic sequence are easily explained as the flow of energy and order (sequence) of muscle contraction.

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Perform a calf raise by elevating your heels and pressing through the front of your foot. increase the intensity in your glutes by turning your feet and legs outward a few degrees.

What you feel here is the muscles contraction and areas of intensity you should feel when are at the top of your squat. While in performing the heel raise, you should have noticed a significant difference in muscle contraction on the calves, hamstrings, and glutes.

But is the contraction greater or less than the Toe Raise (heel press) rather than the Calf Press (heel lift).

In Biomechanics and Kinesiology, in order to push through the heels a person must first shift the weight backwards.  To do so, requires a contraction of the muscles on the front of the lower leg. In EMG research testing in my lab, the entire anterior compartment of the lower leg (shin) contracts once the weight shifts behind the mid point of the foot.

The gastroc/soleus complex also contracts but only acts more as a stabilizer than a primary mover. This means the calves neither receive nor deliver any force to the middle of the foot or the big toe when pushing through the heels.  In other words if the weight is in the heels and the lifter pushes through the heels, the entire front of the leg contracts to help with the squat.   NOT THE BACK OF THE LEG!

As a result of the single exercise cue “Push through the heels” sports and fitness professionals have inadvertently contributed to an increase in Achilles tendon injuries, knee injuries, low back pain and injuries, tight hips, and numerous other injuries.  It’s time for a change in the industry and it starts with exercise professionals. I have come to that conclusion based not on opinion but after evaluation of the Biomechanics data of over 50,000 athletes and exercisers over the past 18 years.

By the repetition and migration of injuries to different parts of the body, it’s easy to conclude that many professional athletes like Greg Oden, Tiger Woods and others were instructed to push through their heels while squatting and lunging during rehab.  Because it is clearly a cue given as an industry standard, I can imagine  that even Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose, as he rehabs in hopes to return to play this season has been repeatedly instructed to push through his heels.  Even though Adrian Peterson had an incredible 2012 NFL season, he still exhibits signs of a weakened left foot and left ankle demonstrating that he may have been pushing through his heels while training.

Here’s the problem:  When you apply force back into the heels, you disable the foot and ankle’s ability to resist internal tibia (lower leg) rotation.  In doing so, the athlete’s body is inadvertently ENABLING that same rotation that the foot could be preventing. It is that rotation that cause stress in the Achilles tendon and may cause medial and even lateral knee pain.   In addition, the same rotation is what contributes to patella femoral syndrome and can lead to patella tendon ruptures. In previous chapter, I discussed Greg Oden’s injuries and what could have been done to prevent all of his injuries from 2008 to present. It is this simple cue that may have contributed to his repeated injuries. I am able to conclude this because of the presence of rotational stability issues in while he performed running and squatting Biomechanics tests. Brandon Roy, currently signed to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves also exhibited signs of rotational instability. And in numerous exercise videos on the internet Roy can be seen showing those same signs of knee rotational instability due to weight in his heels in various youtube videos.  Later in this book, I will share research data from over 1,000 individuals performing squats and other exercisers in evidence of my findings.

Personally, I used to recommend pushing through the heels, as well. In fact, in my early days in the industryI used it as a common exercise cue believing what at the time made sense. However, looking back, my reason for suggesting it didn’t make “common” sense and as I began to apply more of the principles of Kinesiology, I knew I needed to change many of my exercise cues which came from the still evolving fitness industry.  From 1997 on, I advocated mid-foot striking while on long distance runs and mid to forefoot pressing while performing strength training and conditioning. I switched to this cue as a way to allow the body to develop and utilize the foot as it was intended: a shock absorber. In order for the foot to assist in absorbing shock with high, low, or no impact activity, the forces start at the segment nears the end (distal) part of the foot, not in the heel.zig hurdle

As a former hurdler, I NEVER ran on my heels.  However distance runners (more in the US than other countries) were instructed to run with a heel strike. Here’s a common sense question, if pushing through your heels help increase glute muscle contraction, wouldn’t distance runners have large glutes and strong hamstrings? In addition, would sprinters (who incidentally run on the balls of their feet) have small glutes and stronger quads when compared hamstrings?  Instead, its just the opposite.  Distance runners have large quads and non-existent glute muscle development when compared to sprinters.

The bottom line is time for a change in this simple cue. Please stop instructing clients to push through their heels unless you are trying to develop strong anterior (front side) leg muscles. Because as a cue to develop more glute strength or get rid of cellulite on the butt, it’s just not gonna happen.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book: Absolute Kinetix: Fitness From the Ground Up.  To be added to the list to receive a copy of the book, post a comment or reply to this article or send a tweet mentioning Absolute Kineix: Fitness From the Ground Up! @zigSports.

Zig Ziegler, The Sports Kinesiologist can be followed on Twitter @zig_ziegler and on http://www.facebook.com/iwannabeaworldclassathlete

http://www.aworldclassathlete.com

Core Training Myths: The truth about core training in fitness and sports

Around the turn of the century, a new buzzword began to circulate among experts in the fitness and sports industry–“Core” was the buzzword and a new revolution was born in sports and fitness training.  Article after article appeared in journals and magazines touting the core as the area we need to focus on the most to lead healthier, “pain-free” lives.  The media picked up on the buzzword.  With so much exposure, just about every issue or injury from low back pain to poor sports performance, which we had previously attributed to other issues, were now believed to be miraculously cured by targeting the core.

In the 1990’s, the industry claimed low back pain was primarily affected by the hamstrings. Today, the industry and the media blame back pain and everything else on a weak core.  This was and is 100% incorrect.  Back pain can be caused by any one of hundreds functional issues.  Experts in sports training, fitness, and even physical medicine (yes this includes highly respected doctors) also blamed many injuries and poor sports performances on poor core strength.  With so much exposure and demand for improvement,  every “fitness and medical expert” began creating exercises and programs targeting the core.  The physical ailments and sports performances people seek to improve are also affected by many factors including learned behaviors or techniques which create imbalances (but that’s another post all to itself).

It is my belief that because the hundreds of thousands of professionals who work with people on their sports, fitness, and health goals placed too much emphasis on this one particular area of the body, we are now seeing the results of the failure of the industry to properly educate consumers on how to truly balance their bodies and lead a healthy lifestyle.

Many experts, and as a result, fitness seekers and athletes all around the world have over done it with “core training”.  It was believed by some “so-called experts” that almost every problem in the body stemmed from weak core muscles.  And according to those experts, if you could just strengthen your core all your problems would be solved and fitness goals attained.

Well… I call BS!.  And over the next 1,000 words or so, I intend to explain why.

The body is divided into three planes. Sagittal, Coronal, and Transverse.

The “core muscles” and what it takes to train them has begun to cause an epidemic that needs to be undone.  Why is it that while the industry has focused on the “core”, the number of people suffering from back pain around the world has increased. In addition, we have seen a rise in other “core related” injuries?

The “core muscles” have been incorrectly identified by the average person.   In fact, I’ve searched the web, and most experts define the core as the abdominal and lower back muscles.  Most people believe the core can be trained by performance exercises on a stability ball; adding resistance to abdominal exercises; and by performing numerous other activities we now call functional training.  In truth, the core muscles are made up of all the muscles which meet in the center of the body’s planes.

In reality, the best way to define the “core muscles is “all muscles which affect the position of the pelvis”. This includes muscles originating and inserting at the pelvis and all of those muscles which affect pelvis position.  This also includes some muscles of the lower body which are neglected when “training the core”.  The pelvis moves in multiple directions and is essentially the first indicator of true stability (which is what we are trying to accomplish with “core training”).  Now keep in mind, pelvis movements can be and are affected by movements of all the segments and muscles around it. This means, the core is affected by both feet, both legs, the spine, and the arms (because the arms are attached to the spine via the trunk).

The ideal pelvis forward tilt is 7 and 10 degrees in men and women. some experts would say that a desirable forward pelvic tilt is 0-5 degrees in men and 7-10 degrees in women.  Those are desired averages, but we are not striving for average, we should be working towards ideal.  Based upon my research of thousands of people from all walks of life, the actual average is greater than 17-20 degrees of forward pelvic tilt. This is more than twice the ideal.  And the majority of participants in my research are athletes who supposedly have the best fitness levels and training.

While I do want to make it clear that training the core is important, I want to clarify that “core muscles” previously targeted through isolation and functional training are no less important than any other muscle in our body. In fact, what has happened as a result of the over emphasis on the core muscles is the following:

1) Any muscle when focused on as the muscle group to target can be OVER-trained and as a result, OVER developed.

2) Any muscle group when targeted can be exercised improperly, negating any real benefits that would have been gained had the exercises been

performed properly.

3) Compensation injuries can occur as a result of over-training or over emphasizing any muscle group.

In truth the core is the center of the body where forces cross the mid-point of the body splitting the into multiple planes.

For simplicity, the body is split into halves from upper body to lower body (Transverse plane); Front side to back side (Coronal Plane); and left side to right side (Sagittal plane).  In order for the body to become balanced, exercises must target all areas of the planes in some cases through multi-planar exercises (Functional and rotational movements in all directions).

The X-Plane divides the body diagonally from left hand to right foot and from right hand to left foot.

One aspect of multi-planar training that is rarely taken into consideration is the fact that in an effort to seek balance, those planes are affected by work that is done diagonally from left to right and right to left, from upper body to lower body.  What does that mean?  The body is divided into the three (but really four) planes. However, the left arm does its job in conjunction with the right leg.  The right arm, works with the left leg.  So the new, “X-Plane” has to be trained as well.

A muscle is over trained and over developed when it is targeted more than its opposing muscle group (in all planes).  If I only work on my right bicep and not my left, its obvious that my right arm would be stronger, more dense, and heavier than my left when doing activities that require both arms.  If we spend time isolating the low back and abdominal (which the average person defines as the core), we end up with abs/low back that are significantly stronger than our feet, lower leg muscles, glutes, hamstrings, possibly even quads.

As a result, instead of strengthening the body’s ability to transfer energy and have support from the  “core” to perform functional movements, we are actually weakening, the core and its ability to perform true functional movements.  What is an indicator that the core has been over-trained or improperly trained?  That’s the easy part.  We will see people suffer more injuries to hamstrings, the groin, chronic low back pain, and a the presence of a severely forward tilted pelvis (anterior pelvic tilt).

This negative pelvis posture can lead to an increase in ACL/meniscus knee injuries, plantar fascia injuries, patella tendonitis, groin pulls, hamstring strains, shoulder injuries, low back/spine injuries and pain, abdominal strains, neck pain/discomfort leading to surgeries of the cervical spine, and hundreds of other physical issues.

So let’s stop isolating the core and begin to work on developing balance in the body, in all planes, not just at the “core”.  Fitness should be achieved by working to develop the entire body…From the Ground Up! 

In future writings, I will address some key exercises, which if done properly will provide more true benefit to the “core” than the road the industry is currently taking to a healthy core.

Follow Zig Ziegler, the Sports Kinesiologist on Twitter @zigsports. Zig is the author of he soon to be released book, Absolute Kinetix: Fitness From the Ground Up.