Functional Fitness and Core Strengthing for a Purpose

We can all agree that it is important to be strong. We live in an era in which technology and machinery have replaced tasks that once required muscle, time and physical effort; we have washing machines, lawn mowers, tractors, cars, elevators, and chainsaws. We don't challenge our bones and muscles with functional, weight-bearing tasks during our daily life as often as we once did (this includes squatting down to use the toilet!). Manual laborers, fitness instructors, and professional athletes, among other occupations, are required to have a certain level of physical strength and movement. Unfortunately, many of these individuals often have extremely strong and overly-contracted muscles. Because their muscles cannot release and relax they are likely to experience muscle pain caused by sensory motor amnesia; they need to learn to relax their muscles before strengthening them any further. (In this Strong Core blog post I discuss what "the core" is and how excessive strengthening of the core can contribute to Sensory Motor Amnesia and muscle pain, thus inhibiting free and efficient movement.)

For many people, however, active movement isn't a required part of one's profession. You have a choice to either incorporate strength training and movement into your daily life, or not (and your decision will leave you with respective consequences). Motivation to move can be a big hurdle to overcome if you're not being paid to do it at work every day! The key is to make movement and strength training fun and purposeful.

Ask yourself: what do you want to be strong for? What is your motivation?

Do you want to be able to run a marathon? Climb a mountain? Bring your blood pressure down? Play with your children? Perhaps you want to just "be in shape." Think about what is important to you and what you want to accomplish. As Dan John, strength and conditioning coach, and author of Never Let Go, says,

"If it is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all."

Do every day what you want to be able to do in the future. Work toward your strengthening goals by incorporating functional and enjoyable movement into your routine. If you want to be able to climb a mountain, ditch the treadmill and walk a mile through your neighborhood or in a local park to get you started. If you want to play on the ground with your children, practice getting up and down off the floor. Every. Day.

Most of my personal fitness goals focus on the long-term. My biggest goal is to be able to walk up and down the stairs briskly (unaided) as my 87-year-old mother still does, so I make a point to walk an incline (stairs, a hill, etc.) every day. I want to be able to squat to the ground, carry my own luggage or groceries, and play "tag" with my grandchildren in the playground. Some of my favorite strengthening and movement practices that help me to work towards my goals are: Exuberant AnimalNia, and hiking. These movements will keep me strong and strengthen my brain in the process.

Martha's Tips for Motivating Your Movement:

  1. Find your "purpose for moving." What is important to you?
  2. Do your Somatic exercises before and after your chosen strengthening routine. Your muscles need to "reboot" in order to be fully functional.
  3. Enjoy your new routine and keep moving! This takes strength. It also takes a belief that it's possible.
Now get up and move!

A Strong Core is a Core the Brain Can Control

I recently received this email from a woman who purchased Move Without Pain and my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD:

We are often told (by doctors, exercise experts in the media) that it is good to strengthen our "core muscles" - and often Pilates or Yoga is recommended for that purpose. We're also told that soft muscles and ligaments make us vulnerable to low back pain. Do Hanna Somatic exercises help strengthen our core, such that we don't necessarily have to add another type of strengthening exercise routine to our already busy lives?

"Core strengthening" is often considered a panacea for low back pain, and a lack of "core strength" is often blamed for low back pain! Neither one is accurate. In reality, most people with back pain, limited movement and poor posture are suffering from Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The muscles of the core respond involuntarily to stress reflexes by twisting or rotating  to avoid pain or injury (Trauma Reflex), slumping and drawing inward (Red Light/Startle Reflex) and contracting the back (Green Light/Landau Response) to move forward. If you continuously repeat these actions, the muscles of the core learn to stay tight, short and overly contracted. Strengthening muscles that have habituated to stress reflexes is a recipe for more pain. It simply doesn't work and can sometimes cause harm.

What is "the core" anyway?

"The core" of the body comprises the front, sides d5c71e70ed10d57c667d879908bb48ccand back of the body, from the skull to the pelvic floor and out to the hips. It is not just those abdominal muscles that we are told to suck in and draw up in order to support the back. The core includes the deep muscles of the back that flex and extend our spine and the muscles of the waist (which strap our ribcage to our pelvis) that allow us to laterally flex as well as twist. It is like a girdle of muscles that strap the upper and lower halves of the body to each other.

Repeatedly contracting your abdominals (as one does with sit-ups) creates excessive muscle tension that can prevent fluid, efficient and pain-free movement. Overly contracted abdominal muscles contribute to back pain, neck pain and pelvic floor dysfunction. When the muscles of the back, waist and abdominals are supple, relaxed, and fully under the brain's control, movement is easy and efficient. The trouble is, most people can tighten their core but cannot fully relax it. This poses a problem when it comes to strengthening for long term health and fitness.

Hanna Somatics helps strengthen the core and relieve low back pain by restoring full brain control of the muscles.

Hanna Somatic exercises do not intentionally teach you to strengthen the muscles of the posture pillow excore. They teach you to regain voluntary control over those muscles of your core which are, for most people, in a state of Sensory Motor Amnesia. They restore full muscle length at the brain level through slow, aware movement, and pandiculation so you can regain balance and have a supple core whose long muscles can flex, extend, side bend, and rotate voluntarily. Hanna Somatics doesn't take the place of the movement you love to do; it prepares you to do what like, only better.  Hanna Somatic Exercises teach you to find your own comfortable, neutral posture for support of your spine as you learn to sense and control your muscles from the inside out.

Is it important to strengthen the core?

Yes, it's important to be strong and it doesn't have to be a burden - one more thing you feel obligated to do in your busy life. It all depends on how you do it and what you choose to do.

We all need to be strong. Being strong stresses our skeleton in a good way, and can prevent osteoporosis as it aids in bone density. Strong muscles that the brain can control support and stabilize you in any given task so that you can maintain your physical independence as you age. Somatic Exercises improve your sensory motor awareness so you can self-monitor and self-correct your movement and posture in response to the stresses of life.

In another post I will discuss some ideas for functional daily strengthening that will be less of a burden and can be integrated into your life.