“Core” FAIL! How NYT article and in particular video gets the information WRONG!

Hi all,

While cruising the internet, I found this article on the web with a video...


I invite you all to have a look at the article and watch the video but make sure you have a read of what I say about afterwards!

The scary thing is that this is how your personal trainer and Sports Scientists are taught...

Some issues with the article/blog post...

1. The truth is that you can't rely on just the little muscles in your spine to prevent injury, you really do need the larger muscles (just like Professor Stuart McGill says) - AGREED - no problem with this

2. Also recognised by most people I meet who are Personal Trainers, Pilates Instructors and Sports Scientists is that those little muscles are important but the bigger muscles are more important - DIASGREE - I will explain a little later

3. Even though most people think they know how the "core" works, most people don't actually know how to exercise it or check if it is working properly!

4. Lastly, the author didn't bother to check with those Australian authors of the study to see what they think...most people think Australian physios love to do the small muscles only but if you read all of their work including the book they wrote, you will see that they advocate doing the small things, integrating it into functional positions and activities (like sitting, standing, walking) and then into high level activities (sports activities, gym weights etc).

On to the video...

These exercises are prescribed by Professor Stuart McGill as great exercises which will protect your back. He even says that the motion should be coming from the hips and not to back.

But did anyone see that "Emma" was doing the exercises WRONG? She was moving in her back during the "modified sit up", "Stir the Pot" and "Birdog".

In the modified sit up, she pushes her back down into her hands - it is hard to tell properly but I am fairly confident it is happening. When she relaxes, she "hinges" or extends through her thoracolumbar junction which causes her ribs to "pop up". Keep this in mind...

In the "Stir the Pot", she arches her back too much. If he bothered to ask her how she felt, she would have told him that she can feel pressure in her spine - this is from the bones compressing from bending back too much. Also, when she "stirs the pot", her back moves all over the place - how is this stable?

In the "Birdog", he specifically mentions that the motion should be from the hip but Emma can't do it. She bends forwards and backwards in her lower back. She also moves excessively when she tries to "draw squares". Again, how is this stable and safe for your back?

The Real Myth of Core Stability

The real myth of core stability is that you can bypass the preparation stage - the little muscles that organise everything to take load properly. You really need those little muscles which go from bone to bone to control the pressure of your tummy and prepare the spine for loading by moving the bones into the right positions.

The big muscles that are advocated in Professor McGill's exercises are great and we actually teach all those exercises...BUT we make sure that our clients can do the little things right first.

You need to be able to know how to control your spine so you can "dissociate" your hips and arms from you trunk and pelvis. "Emma" in the video couldn't do it. Those exercises were too strong for her. She may have been able to persevere and learn how but in my experience, you just get bigger muscles, not better control.

What Should You Do?

In short, you need to find someone who can teach you how to do this properly. I know have spent hundreds of hours on my staff teaching them...and we are all still learning!

With the advent of iPhones and video on smart phones, get someone to take a video of you doing your exercises. If you can't do them without moving your back, it is likely that the exercise is too strong for you...this applies to weights as well!

What is your story?

I would love to hear about your story or your thoughts on the above - please feel free to email me at antonylo@myphysios.com.au or comment on this blog.


2 Responses

  1. Andrew

    Interesting. I’m sure your highly trained eyes were seeing a lot of things that most other people would miss (including other fitness professionals and physios/chiros/etc which is scary) but it is pretty obvious that Emma was struggling in all those exercises and has not been taught the correct way of doing things.

    My thoughts on the matter are to keep it simple and master the basics before trying more advanced exercises (I would classify the stir the pot and the modifications on the bird-dog to be advanced). But even doing the basics incorrectly is going to lead to problems in the future.

    I’d love to see an article about your thoughts on swiss balls and unstable surface training. My opinion is that these things are mis-used far more often than they are used correctly, and as humas we evolved to be in contact with the ground when moving, not trying to do an overhead squat while balancing ontop of a swiss ball in which the risks far outweigh the benfits (unless your goal is to hold the world record in overhead swiss ball squats!)

    Thanks Antony!

    1. I couldn’t agree more Andrew.

      I will get onto the unstable surface training but briefly, it is good to vary the training surfaces as being able to handle many environments and situations is what is desired.

      As for squats on a swiss ball, I think it is fairly obvious that it isn’t very functional but it is very challenging! If it makes you feel better, I have been able to demonstrate to very “strong” people who can do squats on swiss balls that they don’t have good control of their spine quick easily – but they are quite advanced in their exercises and they cope with the change quite well and quickly – if they are willing to listen 🙂

      Thanks for your comments! Don’t forget to RSS me!

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