Aerobic Exercise Isn’t Evil?

As I mentioned in my post about Functional Training, trends in the fitness industry seem to come and go, swinging back and forth like a pendulum.  Aerobic exercise is no different.

In recent years, traditional aerobic exercise, also known as “steady state cardio,” has come under attack in the fitness industry.  Numerous articles have been published with titles such as “Regular Cardio Will Make You Fat,” and everyone has jumped on the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) bandwagon.  There are several things wrong here.  First, the research claiming that “cardio will make you fat” is sketchy at best.  Second, what most people call “HIIT” is actually more like moderate-intensity short-duration training, which misses the benefits of high intensity training as well as the benefits of long duration training.  We’ll go into greater detail on these topics at a later date, but for now suffice it to say that aerobic exercise is actually a good thing for your health, and the article below provides evidence as to some benefits of cardio that may surprise you:


The Twists and Turns of your Rotary Core

The final chapter in our exploration of core function is my personal favorite, the rotary core.  It’s my favorite piece to the puzzle because there are so many wonderful variations of rotary exercises out there with fantastic risk-reward ratios.

We’ve already covered:
The Anterior Core
-The Posterior Core
The Lateral Core

Through our discussion, we have already come to conclusion that your core musculature is capable of producing trunk motion, but it’s most essential role is PREVENT motion of the trunk.  The anterior core resists trunk extension.  The posterior core resists forward flexion, and the lateral core resists lateral flexion of the spine.  The more often we take our lumbar spine outside of neutral, the more we are asking for problems in the discs and surrounding structures close to the spine.  This point is not debatable and might be even more important in the case of rotation.

As world-renowned physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann states, “during most daily activities, the primary role of the abdominal muscles is to provide isometric support and limit the degree of rotation of the trunk…A large percentage of low back problems occur because the abdominal muscles are not maintaining tight control over the rotation between the pelvis and the spine at the L5- S1 level.”

So, the job of the core is to prevent lumbar (lower back) rotation in order to keep the spine neutral.  Why?  Well, remember back when we looked the anatomy of our spinal column.

We learned that the area of the neck is referred to as the cervical spine, the area of your spine from about the top of the shoulders to the bottom of the ribs is known as the thoracic spine, and the area from the bottom of the ribs to the top of the sacrum is known as the lumbar spine, as shown below:


As you can see, each vertebra is named (C for Cervical, T for Thoracic, etc.) and numbered starting with C1 in reference to the proximity to the skull.  C1 is the closest vertebra to the skull, T1 is the uppermost thoracic L5 is the lowest lumbar vertebra, etc.

How does this play into our discussion about rotation?  Each segment of your spine is capable of a certain degree of rotation range of motion.  Attempting to surpass this range of motion can and will result in serious injury, such as a tearing of the annulus of the disk, if performed repetitively over time.  This annulus tear, if left untreated can eventually lead to a disk herniation.

The lumbar spine, or lower back, is the most common site of back pain, and lumbar rotation is one of the most common causes.  The reason for this is pretty simple.  Each segment of the lumbar spine is capable of only 2 degrees of rotation.  Rotating just 1.5 degrees further than this range of motion, repetitively over time, has been shown to create the annulus tear that I just mentioned.  That is an incredibly small window with which to work and because of this, using exercises which create lumbar rotation are almost always forbidden when you see a PT for back pain, and should be completely removed from all exercise programming as a preventative measure.  There are SO MANY wonderful exercises that we can use to challenge your rotary core without creating lumbar rotation, that the use of lumbar-rotating exercises make zero sense.  Remember, people with sedentary jobs sit, often with a flexed lumbar spine, all day long and add rotation for things like answering the phone, opening drawers, etc.  This is an extremely common mechanism for back pain, and adding more rotation at the gym is a bad idea.

On the other hand, the hips and the thoracic spine are capable of wonderful amounts of rotation, and are both highly mobile joints.  Rotation of the upper body should occur almost entirely through the thoracic spine, and people should learn how move with their chest.

Stop Doing This:

Russian twists, scorpion stretch, seated trunk rotation, full range of motion window wipers, or any other motion which produces repeated rotation of the lumbar spine.  The russian twist is an incredibly common exercise meant to strengthen the rotary abdominal muscles in which you are seated, essentially balancing on your tailbone, taking a medicine ball or other object side to side.  I’ve even seen this exercise advertised online as a way to “reduce your waist.”  Since we already know that spot reduction is a myth, I’m not going to go too far into that detail. What happens with the russian twist is essentially the same thing that happens when people sit in their chair and rotate for something at work, except they don’t do that at work for 3 sets of 40.  The hips and lumbar spine flexes and excess rotation is seen at the area of the lumbar spine.  This, again, is a primary cause for annulus tearing in the disk.

The Scorpion involves lying face down and then bringing both legs over one side of the body, then the other, without moving the upper body.  So here, we prevent thoracic spine movement (the place we actually want to move) and create it in the lumbar spine (the place we want to keep still).  Same goes for the seated trunk rotation and full range of motion window wipers.  Partial range of motion window wipers, when executed slowly and properly, can be safe and effective.  The knees should move only 15 degrees or less to each side of a vertical line, as this is the summation of the range of motion that each lumbar segment can go through.  These must be done with great care, but can be an effective trunk stabilization technique.

Start Doing This:

Birddog, Palloff exercises, chops and lifts.  The birddog is a great starting place for rotational stability training.  Get down on all 4’s, keep a neutral spine, and start moving things around.  Kick a leg, reach an arm, go slow, go fast, etc.  This is an exercise that a HUGE range of people are capable of doing, and can be made extremely challenging for the more advanced exerciser/athlete.  As you create range of motion in your extremities, your core musculature is working to resist rotation in your lumbar spine.

A Palloff Press or Palloff hold is simply attaching a band, tube, or cable pulley to an anchor point which is set to be about chest height, holding that implement in front of your chest, and extending the arms directly in front of the chest to create a rotary challenge.  The band, tube or cable is trying to pull you into rotation, while your core muscles work to resist it.  This can be done in a hold for a certain amount of time or for repetitions (pressing in and out).  This is another exercise which can be done by almost anyone, and can be made brutally hard.  You can do this standing, on your knees and even lying on your back.

Chops and lifts create a diagonal pattern of movement, either going from one shoulder down towards your opposite hip (a chop), or going from one hip up towards your opposite shoulder (a lift).  This can be done using a cable, band, med ball, rope, etc. and can be done standing, kneeling, or lying on your back, again making this a very useful exercise for many populations.  The key with these exercises, as with the birddog and palloff press, is that the movement comes from the arms and shoulders, NOT the lumbar spine.  From the bottom of your rib cage to the top of your pelvis, zero motion should occur.

This concludes our exploration of core function, so let’s sum up:

Stop Doing: russian twist, scorpion, seated trunk rotation, full range window wiper, sit-ups, curl-ups, crunches, side bends or side crunches, superman, or traditional hyperextension.

Start Doing: Birddog, Palloffs, Chops/Lifts, Loaded Carries, Side Planks, Planks, Front-Loaded movements such as squats, deadlifts, rows.

As always, thanks for reading!

Adam Reeder

Carries and Love Handles- The Lateral Core

Today we pick up our core training series with the lateral core system.  We’ve already talked about the anterior and posterior aspects of core training, and after today we will be left with only the rotational aspects.  The muscles of the lateral core are involved with a ton of movements, including many found in the anterior and rotary systems, but they are really isolated by a movement called lateral flexion.  This is the action of side-bending the spine, bringing one arm pit closer to the pelvis.  As we’ve talked about in previous posts, the name of the game in core training is to resist movement, so today’s post will be all about anti-lateral flexion.  When trained properly, the lateral core musculature acts to keep the spine neutral when there is a force (gravity, a weight) trying to create lateral flexion of the spine.

What muscles are involved with anti-lateral flexion?

transverse absQuadratuslumborum

Several muscles are involved in the act of resisting lateral flexion.  The two most noticeable are the internal (IO) and external oblique (EO) muscles, but also involved in the process are the transverse abdominis (TVA) and quadratus lumborum (QL).  The IO, TVA, and QL muscles are all deep muscles which lie underneath the more superficial rectus abdominis (RA) and the EO.

The External Oblique (EO)

The external oblique runs from ribs 5-12 down to the crest of the hip bone.  The EO is innervated by the thoracoabdominal nerves as well as the subcostal nerve. One extremely common complaint among women exercisers is the desire to get of their “love handles.”  This area of abdominal fat, found above the hip and under the ribcage, lies right ontop of the external obliques.  Because of this, many people attempt to side-crunch their love handles away, thinking that by working their external oblique, they will be reducing their abdominal fat.  Unfortunately, there is no amount of side crunches or ball twists that will reduce the body fat ontop of the muscle.  If you want to lose your love handles, the vast majority of your work must come from cleaning up your diet.  This is obviously a topic which can and will be it’s own post, but you will absolutely never out-exercise your nutrition.

The Internal Oblique (IO)

The Internal Oblique muscle lies below the EO and just ontop of the TVA.  As you can see with the picture above, the EO must be removed in order to see all of the IO.  The IO originates on the Inguinal ligament, Iliac crest and the Lumbodorsal fascia and inserts into the linea alba and ribs 10-12.  Like the EO, the IO is innervated by the thoracoabdominal and subcostal nerve, as well as the iliohypogastric and ilioinguinal nerves.  This is important to note because things that are wired together tend to fire together– meaning that when two muscles share common nerves, they tend to work together.  In this case, the IO and the EO work together to stabilze the spine.  The IO also plays a very important role in breathing, which is a topic that we will also cover in a separate post.

The Transverse Abdominis (TVA)

I spoke at length about the TVA in my post about anti-extension stability.  Check that post out for a more thorough explanation of the job of the TVA, and also know that it helps support the spine laterally as well.

The Quadratus Lumborum (QL) 

Ah, the poor QL muscle.  It gets some really bad press for a lot of things that just aren’t the QL’s fault.  One of my favorite therapists, Dr. Kathy Dooley, has a great write up on the QL here:

The QL is a muscle that is meant to help other, larger muscles stabilize the spine.  It’s meant to help the erector spinae and multifidii support the spine and keep it from flexing forward.  It’s meant to help the obliques support the spine from side to side.  When erectors, obliques, or rectus abdominis aren’t doing their job, the QL is your body’s last resort to maintaining an upright spine, and as such, the QL gets over-worked…a lot.  If you sit a lot with poor posture or if you don’t strengthen the other hip and core muscles around the QL, your QL will have to do a job it’s not designed to do.  An over-worked muscle often becomes a painful muscle, and this one of the very common reasons for lower back pain.  Since the QL plays such an important role in spinal stabilization, we certainly need to strengthen this muscle.  However, we also must make sure to strengthen the muscles of the hip and the core around it, to make sure it does not become over-worked.

Stop doing this:

side bend

Side bends, side crunches, or anything where you’re repetitively taking your spine out of neutral as you try to isolate your obliques.  I don’t care how many side crunches you do, your love handles are only going away if you change your nutrition.  Similar to the traditional crunch or sit-up, a side crunch or side bend takes the spine out of neutral and repetitively doing so can lead to back pain, disc damage, etc.

Start doing this:

side plank musclessuitcase carry

Side planks and loaded carries.  The side plank is simply holding a plank position, except on your side.  You balance between your elbow and your feet and you maintain a neutral spine with gravity attempting to pull your hips down towards the floor.  Holding this static position is the very definition of lateral core stability.  Once you can hold this position for roughly 30 seconds per side, you can start to add various movements to the side plank, or move into loaded carries.

Loaded carries are a group of tremendously beneficial exercises that just about anybody can do.  One of the most basic forms of a loaded carry is called a suitcase carry.  Simply hold a weight at your side and take a walk.  We usually carry for 50-100 feet per side set.  The weight on one side of your body attempts to pull you into lateral flexion, while the core musculature of your opposite side works to keep you upright.  The great thing about loaded carries is that they have the added benefit of improving grip and shoulder strength, while also getting the exerciser onto their feet.  This is an exercise that almost anyone can do in some capacity and has a great tendency to improve multiple areas of fitness.

Thanks for reading!


My Story

head_adamMy name is Adam Reeder.  I generally cannot stand it when people flaunt their accomplishments or credentials, but for the purposes of an introduction I think it’s important for you to know who I am and why you should feel comfortable taking advice from this site. I am a certified personal trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).  I live and work in the Cleveland, Ohio area.  I’ve been in the fitness industry since 2007 and I have a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology.  I’ve worked with a wide variety of clientele, ranging in age from 7 to 87 years old, including high school and collegiate athletes as well as cancer patients, pre- and post-surgical patients, and patients with dementia.  The goals of my clients range from improving athletic performance to reducing body fat to regaining function in a surgically-replaced hip or knee.  I take great pride in the work that I’ve done with my clients and look forward to helping many others in the future.

As you will come to find out, I am a huge proponent of movement-based strategies to help achieve health, wellness, and optimal performance.  As such, I am certified through Functional Movement Systems (FMS) and Neurokinetic Therapy (NKT).  I will go into much greater detail about both the FMS and NKT at a later date, but for now suffice it say they are incredibly power tools used to help improvement movement quality to help a client achieve their goals.

I hope to use this site to help share as much information as possible, including:

  • Sample exercises and workout routines
  • Nutritional guidance
  • Healthy recipes
  • Training and fitness strategies
  • Motivational tools

This site will be useful for anyone in or around the fitness industry, whether you are looking to start an exercise program, have been on an exercise program for years, or are a trainer yourself.

If you live in the Cleveland area and feel that you could benefit from my services, please do not hesitate to contact me using the information below.  If you do not live in the Cleveland area but feel that you could benefit from my services, check back here soon as I will be creating an online personal training opportunity that I am very excited about.

Thank you for reading!

Adam Reeder

Hello and Welcome to Made for Motion!

My name is Adam Reeder.  I am a personal trainer and strength coach in the Cleveland, Ohio area.  I have started this blog in order to help as many people as possible achieve their health and fitness goals through movement.  As the title of the blog suggests, our bodies are made for motion.  Whether you are interested in losing weight, increasing your strength, improving your body composition, improving your performance, or anything in between, this blog will help get you moving.

Much more information will be coming soon!