In all my years I never understood why clients had lost weight and still looked fat. As their fitness professional, we conducted post-program assessments including hip/waist, bodyweight, and fat percentage and the numbers were all clearly changed. Those numbers had always lowered, but the client was still pointing down at their abdominal area and stating they were not happy. Standing and viewing themselves from the side, they still looked overweight. They looked like they had a “mini beer gut”…or looked 5 months pregnant! Let’s see…we modified calorie intake, we educated and made aware of choosing better foods then others, and we increased calorie expenditure through intense exercise utilizing full-body routines and compound movements, and yes…we performed some core exercises. Wait…. did do some core work? Or did we?
So many fresh new fitness professionals believe that the “core” is simply building stronger abs and a stronger lower back. That is the most common misconception that is made in exercise programs and depicted in exercise videos, info-commercials, and magazines. What is failed to be unveiled is the proper performance of the transverse abdominals and lumbo-pelvic floor muscles. Yes, the erector spinea, multifidus, and other muscles constitute the “core”, but in order to have your client actually SEE the effect of strengthening these muscles we need to focus our attention on these two muscle groups.
Are they intrinsic muscles? Yes. Do they function to stabilize and dynamically stabilize prime movers? Yes. Are they “show” muscles? No. So would I consider them “core”? Yes. But not in the global perception of core as I mentioned earlier. These WILL become “show” muscles, after we understand their role in helping posture, perfecting joint skill, and fighting gravity day in and day out.
What is gravity? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “gravity is defined as a force manifested by acceleration toward each other of two free material particles or bodies or of radiant-energy quanta. It is an attraction of the mass of the earth, the moon, or a planet for bodies at or near its surface”.
As children, we have always thought of gravity as floating around like the astronauts do when they fly in space. And that was the extent of our perception of gravity. What we fail to understand is the effect gravity has on our bodies here on Earth. The constant pulling and weighing down on our body mass. The constant battle that is fought from rising to just before lying in bed. The constant battle is fought quietly and everyday takes a toll on our body’s posture, equilibrium, immunity, muscular system, and every process the body goes through. This battle is very subtle, until the day our bodies have weakened and “give in” to gravity. When this happens, our body has reached the beginning of its descent and defeat. How do you know when you are losing the battle?
So how do fight and win this battle? Well if you perform all abs and lower back exercises, you haven’t done enough. The transverse abdominals (TVA) are an intrinsic muscle group that “wrap” around the torso and form a belt. The common job of the TVA is to help keep you (torso) erect. Along with the TVA, the internal and external obliques aid in this basic function. With action and movements, the TVA and int/ext obliques serve as stabilizers and decelerators for the hip and all muscles attached above and below. In the past, some ACL injuries of the knee were thought to have originated and localized only in the lower leg (body). Not till a few years ago, some smart physical therapists, including Gary Gray, began focusing their attention on the abdominals and action of the TVA in response to the ACL injury.
With gravity pulling on our bodies indefinitely (having no limits), a manifestation of problems begins to occur with a weak or neglected TVA. The pelvis begins to rotate anteriorly (front) and the lumbar vertebrae begins to excessively curve (lordoctic). This results in dysfunction. Usually, this dysfunction is not identified until pain or abnormal weakness is present. By then gravity is up by about 20 points. There is still a chance you can win this battle. For the keen eye, signs of gravity’s toll are evidenced by an anterior pelvic tilt, most notably. This is characterized by the stomach drooping, head falling forward, and shoulders rounding forward. What the client will describe are the aforementioned signs including pain, weariness, and lack of cosmetic appeal.
How can we win the battle? As a fitness professional, I have always prescribed some hip mobility exercises to lengthen muscles that become tight in the lumbo-pelvic area so we can have efficient production without any reciprocal inhibitions or synergistic dominance. My hip mobility exercises include:
Then we turn our attention to the abdominals:
Then this is followed with 2 sets of 12 reps or 10 seconds for timed holds on:
With strengthening the obliques (Triple Extension Ab Curl and Posterior Reaches), your client will begin to see a difference in standing posture. However, true “wins” in gravity battles are observed when TVA activation and strengthening is maintained in exercises utilizing an external load. This is key, as many individuals rush into advanced movements without properly knowing how to maintain a “strong core”—even when fatigue sets in agonist muscles under loads (bodyweight or resistance).
So as your client begins to “straighten out” and see his/her feet, continue to incorporate mobility and core work in the beginning of your workout. Activation/mobility drills should not take longer than 8 minutes and core work should not take longer than 7 minutes. These 15 minutes serve as a warm-up. Then I advise choosing 5-6 compound movements that incorporate TVA activation standing or supine. Seated work is only performed for varietal purposes and never staples in our exercise program.
Win the battle and continue to fight it. A strong TVA and “core” musculature will ensure that you are always ahead of the battle and will help deter the negative effects of gravity.