One reason I think lifting heavy things in the gym is important/ The Core Cylinder

I’ve noticed a few things recently with my clients.

  1.  My male clients seem to have a better innate ability to use their WHOLE body to move in the gym.  Specifically they tend to more naturally engage their core, glutes, and other major muscle groups.  It’s as if growing up wrestling, playing outside, or being a bit more reckless when playing has carried forward into more of a functionally moving body (this is just one hypothesis I am contemplating).  To use an example, if I have a female perform a movement like a squat, they tend to drive with their legs, but don’t seem to connect all the structures of the body together to perform the movement.  If I gave my male clients a heavy weight and told them to squat they seem to naturally engage that fundamental core cylinder a little better to perform the exercise.  Please don’t think I am trying to be sexist here, this is just a generalization and there are obviously examples against the norm.

2.  In general people who are not trained in sports, or properly trained in weight lifting don’t seem to understand the rhythm of coordinating your breathing with engaging your core, and performing the exercise.  For example (using real life), if you were going to get set up to move your couch so you could vacuum behind it it would be highly unsafe and ineffective to just rush over, grab the couch and yank it out of the way.  I am sure as you read that you can imagine your back hurting!!  Instead the proper way to ensure you are safe would be to get close to the couch, get a bent knee athletic stance position, ensure your spine is straight, inhale while engaging the core, glutes (butt) and lats (side back muscles), then move the couch using the major muscle groups surrounding the couch.  The same goes for deadlifting in the gym.  You shouldn’t be just walking up to the bar and trying to lift it.  If I just walked up to a barbell and tried to yank it off the ground I could maybe lift 80 pounds, whereas if I get set up properly, inhale to engage my core cylinder, get my muscles tight and lift properly I can lift closer to 200 pounds.

Why is this so important for me to be writing a blog about?

  •  Knowing how to use your breath and treat the entire midsection of your body as a powerful functional unit makes EVERYTHING IN EXERCISE SO MUCH EASIER!!  (and effective, and safer)
  • In every exercise from a plank, to a push up, to a squat, to a tricep dip, if you can master the feeling of using your breathe as the cue to coordinate the engagement of your core cylinder absolutely every exercise gets easier.  Maybe you often hear me in the gym yelling the same things to my clients all day “engage your glutes, engage your core, shoulders down your spine, BREATHE”.  It’s all the same cue to start to teach your body to move as one functional unit.  This translates to injury prevention, efficient movement, as well as transfer of functionality to everyday life.

A visual example

I saw a picture online of the concept of a pop can as your CORE CYLINDER.  The top of the pop can is your diaphragm (breathing muscle under your ribs), the front is your “abs”, the back of the can is your lower back muscles, and the base of the pop can is your pelvic floor muscles.  Try this right now, take a big breath in right into your belly and see what happens to the muscles in your “cylinder”.  Maybe you felt your abs tighten?  Pelvic floor muscles tighten?  What I want you to try to do is take a big breathe in (always into your belly) and while you do that engage your abs, slightly create tension in your low back and pelvic floor.  Now you can imagine a big inflated pop can in your belly.  This is the strong foundational support you need inside your core unit when performing every single exercise.  I would also include making sure your glutes and engaged as well as your lats.  Your “core” isn’t just your midsection, your butt and your back muscles play a HUGE role!

How does heavy lifting tie into all of this?

When we lift heavy things we HAVE TO engage our core cylinder or you will 100 % tweak your back, fail in your lift, or fall over!  When we practice lifting heavy things and use our breathing sequence in conjunction with our core cylinder then we are teaching our body how to create tension when we lift and move in every day life.  Injury prevention people!!!

Should you inhale and engage everything in your core with every rep?

When I am doing a heavy deadlift, squat, overhead press, or bench press I am going to go through the breathing sequence of “inhale, tighten all muscles in my core cylinder, exhale without disengaging and repeat”.  This is because the smallest lapse in tension in my core can create injury.  I will also follow this breathing sequence when I am doing a core stability exercise (like my favourite plank around the world).  This is because the purpose of the exercise is to be stable and not move, so I am going to do my breathing sequence to make this happen.  Down the line when you have practiced breathing like this for months and years you won’t need to be as particular in coordinating your breathing with engaging of the muscles because eventually it will start to happen naturally!  It is still very important to practice this when lifting heavy things though, to be safe.

I want your body to MOVE better

I want you to move more without injury

I want you to start to get an idea of how your body works together, how it’s not a series of interconnected muscles, but instead one large functional unit!

Balance and Stability comes from this strong centre unit.  Preventing falls means preventing injuries and prolonging life.  

What do I want you to takeaway from this article?

Try this next time you go to the gym.  Before you do your push up, inhale, tighten all 4 corners of your core cylinder, as well as engage your glutes (butt).  Lower into your push up and exhale at the bottom as you drive up off the floor.  See how much stronger you are, how many more reps you can get in, how much better your technique is.  Start to practicing this breathing and engagement for every exercise you do in the gym.

Stop rushing through exercises just to get them done, instead be slower, more purposeful, think more about what’s happening, and use your breathing sequence.  When you have mastered those things you can speed it up!

Hope this helps 🙂

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