Work the core without the bore.

Don’t be confined!

Core workouts can be a bit boring or confined. OK, you might be one of those people who love the core burnout (I also fit that particular bill) but the movements in many a core workout are limited to floor exercise or lateral movements that focus puerly on the “core” with a seemingly limitless different type of crunches. The problem with this is that your core works hard all day long but most of that time is not lying down and movements are complex and composite. So if we want to explore the core and really improve its functionality then we should be working it in many different ways so it is developed to meet your personal needs.

What is the core?

First of all what is the core? Well, it isn’t just your abdominals – they are the set of muscles that are often mistaken for being core but the abdominals are just part of the story. The core is range of internal muscles such as the transverse abdominals, multifidus, diaphragm, pelvic floor, amongst others that are used to help stabilize and help transfer power as well as being a major factor in nearly every movemnt and posture we do.

How to work your core?

This bit is easy to say but not so easy to practice – just think about it! Literally just think about using your core during your exercise routine to improve its functionality. You can still add in a few isolation exercises making sure you hit the forward / backward folds (e.g. crunches and torso raises), the side bends (e.g. oblique crunches) and twisting (e.g. russian twists)  as well as static holds (e.g. the plank), but let your routine focus more on core. Deadlifts, push ups, pull ups, kicking, jumping, crawling, bench pressing; reagrdless of your exercise make the core a focus for controlling the movement and you’ll improve your performance in your chosen field as your core becomes stronger and more dynamic.

A tip to maintain core control is using the same muscles you use to stop yourself from urinating, just lightly contract them instead. The hips should pulled up and forwad, the belly button pulled in to the spine, the lower ribs pulled down into the your front pockets and the shoulder blades weigh heavy down the back. Don’t tense though, suybtle and comfortable is the key!

Why bother?

You might want to be the best you can be in your chosen activity, or you may want to decrease your chances of injury, it could be you are fixing ailments such as bad backs or you may want a six pack to show off. All these goals neeed a lot of work to attain them but one thing is for sure; your core is essential to reach these heights.

Conclusion

Let’s not ditch the crunches but it is possible to work the core harder by focusing on the role your core has to play in your workout or sport. It doesn’t stop there either, your core is used all the time even when you are standing up and sitting down. So keep the core tight, maintain good posture and you’ll be less prone to injury, ailments and have increased performance!

THE GAUNTLET Pull Up Challenge

So the Gauntlet has been thrown down from a fellow TrueSapien. My challenge is to complete 20 consecutive pull ups. Considering I have only ever really been able to max out at 10-12 per set at this exercise means that it is a considerable challenge, effectively doubling my current capability, one that will require pushing myself in order to achieve. This is an excellent challenge for me as functional bodyweight exercises and calisthenics align to my main interests of martial arts and triathlon.

As with most exercise or fitness related challenges the first step is to set the baseline and see how many I can currently achieve. This is effectively a specific fitness test which can then be repeated to determine improvement and ultimately success.
Next stage is to set a timescale that’s both realistic but not too lengthy. I decided on 6 weeks, commencing on May 4th which gives me a deadline of June 15th.
Next is to determine the best way to increase my muscular endurance to achieve the required reps. As pull ups are an exercise I can currently do its not necessary to progress  to that exercise from easier variations such as assisted pull ups or suspended pull ups. If I were unable to complete pull ups then there is a wealth of information out there on progression exercises. My plan of attack will be to repeat my max number of reps every day. By Max I mean stopping short (1 rep) of failure as this may take too long to recover from than the 24 hrs. I will perform 3 sets of my max with a 2 min rest period between sets.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress, I’m planning weekly updates!

Vegetarian diet. The step to Plant Power!

I’ve always believed that spur of the moment lifestyle decisions are often the ones that are most reliable, in tune with our inner self and less likely influenced by someone else’s agenda or that of the masses (the sheep factor). So when, three weeks before Christmas, I decided to eliminate meat intake from my diet and become vegetarian, I wasn’t at all daunted by the annual turkey and pigs in blankets festive binge period looming large on the horizon.

Why the change?

I didn’t go into it feeling like I was going to be denying myself anything. I had recently watched a short video on global livestock farming practices which had set my mind to work. I won’t divulge any information  from it as I don’t believe I am in a position to preach on the subject (I’ve spent over 40 years eating meat compared to 4 weeks not!) but it brought the subject from the area of my mind filed ‘taken for granted’ into an area more open for debate.

So how has it gone?

Someone asked me yesterday this very question and on reflection I have to say I have only missed eating meat on one occasion. Yes you’ve guessed it, Christmas dinner.
This fact alone suggests that it has been quite plain sailing. I do the majority of my own and my families cooking and have found it relatively straightforward to replace my meat with fish or extra vegetables rather than going down the route of meat substitutes like Quorn. I’m still cooking meat for my family.

How do I feel?

I was warned that I could feel weak or lethargic adopting a vegetarian diet. Far from it. I have stepped my sport training up over the period (swimming, cycling and running) and if anything have found myself more energised than ever. I also feel less bloated after meals.
There is a wealth of information now available to those looking at alternative diets,  for the health benefits or ethical beliefs, whether that includes meat or not. It’s not necessary to go down the full Vegetarian or Vegan route either, as I still eat fish and eggs my diet is currently that termed Pescatarian.
This change to my diet has certainly pushed me to broaden my intake of a wider variety of fruit, vegetables, pulses and nuts which can only be a good thing even if I decide to start eating meat again (although I have no intention of this at this point in time!)
My advice is to try alternative nutrition programmes and see if they work for you. Listen to your body and your gut instinct, the only way you’ll know is by trying.

Get Your Bike Set-Up Right!

Professional Bike Fitter Dan, of Midland Bike Bit discusses the importance of setting a bike up correctly, injuries and ailments it can otherwise cause and tell tale signs that your current bike set-up may need adjustment.

“As a bike fitter, I see a slightly ‘skewed’ cross section of cyclists that come to visit the studio – at least 75% of the clients that visit are suffering to some degree when they ride their bikes. We hear about all kinds of aches, pains, niggles and quirks during our pre-fit interviews that are causing you to feel uncomfortable on your bike.”

If you are experiencing serious discomfort on the bike that seems to only occur when you ride, then chances are something is not right with your positioning. When talking about pain it may be acute discomfort in a specific area, or a chronic ache / niggle that builds over time. It is a common misconception that riding a road racing bike means putting up with a sore neck or numb hands – these are signs that that bike position isn’t right. Below are the most common issues we come across;

1. Back Pain
This is the number one bike fit related complaint we hear in the studio, and I would say as many as 1 in 3 riders suffer from it (although we do see a slightly ‘skewed’ cross-section of the cycling population). Anything from a slightly sore lower back after a longer ride, through to acute pains that force the rider off the bike – we have heard it all! The static nature of a road bike position is prone to cause problems if your bike is not set up correctly – being hunched over for long periods of time requires either a reasonable amount of flexibility and functionality to maintain, or some work off the bike in the form of stretching and core strengthening.
One-sided pain is also very common. This is usually the result of rider asymmetry, such as a leg length discrepancy or a difference in flexibility between the left and right sides of the body. If left uncorrected these issues will not usually disappear on their own (unless you do a lot of work off the bike) and must be dealt with so as not to cause problems in the future.

2. Knee Pain
This can be the most debilitating bike fit issue of all. If you have ever suffered from knee pain you will know what I am talking about, and when it does happen there is no getting away from it due to the repetitive nature of the pedal stroke. The causes of knee pain vary so much from one rider to the next, that it can be very hard to find the exact root cause of the problem. Usually the location of the pain in relation to the knee joint can give an indication as to possible solutions – for example a pain down the outside of the knee is often related to the iliotibial band (ITB) being stressed, and common causes for this are incorrect cleat rotation, too much saddle setback, a saddle that is too high etc etc….. But it is not always this simple to diagnose. There are more often lots of layers of compensation resulting from a problem somewhere else which finally result in knee pain. I read about a bike fitter who had a client that was suffering from knee pain, and after months of trial and error they found that the cause of the pain was misalignment of the lower jaw – the tiny compensations resulting from asymmetrical jaw alignment eventually caused the knee to hurt! Fair play to them for spotting that one….!

3. Numb Hands / Tired Arms
Numbness in the hands is usually the result of having too much weight on the front of the bike. Correct weight distribution is key to a good bike fit, and anyone that has been in for a session here will know that one of the things I focus on during the fit is ensuring that the upper body is largely un-weighted, and that there is not too much tension in the arms. Not only will this reduce pressure on the hands, it will also make you more efficient at higher intensities as you are not supporting your torso weight on the handlebars!

4. Saddle Soreness
Some riders will get lucky and find that their perfect saddle is the one that came on their bike. Other riders may not be so fortunate. The best way to find a saddle that is right for you is to try a few, and use the one that feels most comfortable and supportive. Some fit systems measure sitbone width to determine saddle selection – this does provide a good starting point but there is no guarantee that the saddle you then choose based on this will feel right. At our studio we stock a rang of Fizik and Prologo saddles which are available to test out and take away for a few rides to see whether it feels right after a few miles on the road.

5. Neck Ache
I tend to find that most riders suffer from a bit of upper back / neck ache especially on longer rides, however for a number of you this problem is more than just a bit of a pain in the neck (ahem..), it can get to the point where even on shorter rides the pain is causing you to stop riding and stretch out your neck muscles. The most common cause is the handlebar position – too low / too far away will cause you to crane your neck in an effort to look up the road, giving you that ‘chin forward’ posture that results in discomfort.

If you want further information or have specific questions you may need answering please use our forum.