CORE TRAINING PART III – Anti- Lateral Flexion
As we discussed in the previous weeks when developing core strength, we need to take into account what happens not only with the muscles, but also at the vertebral body, intervertebral disc, intervertebral joints, as well as the spine as a whole. Through research from Canadian and world renowned expert on the spine, Dr. Stuart McGill, it has been shown that excessive compressive forces are not good for the spine and can actually lead to injury.
You may already be familiar with some examples of core or “ab” exercises that create excessive compressive forces on the spine and which should be avoided (recall an early blog post about “Exercises to avoid at the gym…”, by Allie Dennis, CSEP) – for example, some of the more obvious ones may include: performing a full sit up with both knees bent, loaded crunches or back extensions on an ab machine at the gym, and/or loaded oblique twists on an ab machine at the gym. Let’s discuss another that may be less obvious!
The loaded side bend. The exercise below puts excessive compressive forces on the muscles,, joints and discs of the spine on one side. This exercise is commonly used to develop the oblique muscles on the sides of the abdominals. Although it can target the obliques, it comes at sacrificing the integrity of the spinal column.
In order to keep the spine healthy and still be able to focus on the core muscles we need to keep the spine neutral. A healthy and safe alternative to the above exercise is a side plank (below).
In the side plank, you should be able to feel your obliques, lower back (quadratus lamborum) and glute muscle work all at the same time (highlighted in diagram below).
If you are supported on your right arm, you should feel your right shoulder, right quadratus lamborum (lower back muscle) and right glute muscle all work at the same time. It would be the opposite with the left arm. A more advanced version of this exercise would be a suitcase carry or farmer’s walk (pictured below). Pick up a dumbbell or a kettlebell with one hand, maintain a tight core and straight body position (as if you did not have the weight in your hand). Walk 20-50 yards while maintaining a tall position, while resisting side flexion – maintain a neutral spine position at all times. The exercise can be challenged by adding more weight.
If you still feel that these exercises are not challenging enough or have any questions regarding anti-lateral flexion exercises, feel free to email our therapists and strength coaches at Lawrence Park Health Clinic in North Toronto. We can challenge your core’s ability to resist side flexion, all while having fun and preventing injury! Continue to follow our blog at Lawrence Park Health Clinic, as our next Core Training series will be on anti-rotation exercises.
Author: Khanh Vy, BPHE, CAT(C), CSCS
Toronto Certified Athletic Therapist CAT(c) | Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Reference: McGill SM. Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance (4th ed). Waterloo, Canada: Backfitpro Inc, 2009. pp. 167–293.