Updated: Aug 23, 2022
It is very concerning to me as a sports massage and injury therapist that every time I go into my local gym I can witness people attempting the most advanced workouts that require the highest level of functional core stabilisation. Through a trained eye I can see there is not nearly enough stabilisation present within their bodies to perform these movements and both injury and pain are a ticking time bomb for these individuals.
I can't talk about every single poor movement I've seen, so I'll just talk about one as an example... perhaps this is actually you - so let me help.
I'm on the stretch mats and I look across to see a person who has just walked through the gym door, their preparation for activity has involved a chat with a friend whilst stretching their pectorals against a machine... perhaps they stretched before they got here?!
They lay on the floor mats and it begins. They perform one of the highest level core workouts for the floor, raising one straight arm up and the opposite leg up at the same time and then alternating between body side (alternating arm/leg raises). They are hitting a large number of reps and as their body fatigues further their' spotter' shouts encouraging words to attempt 2 more completely inefficient reps.
Here's the problem
As they perform each move their lower back arches quite significantly and as the set progresses the arch becomes greater and greater. What is actually happening within the body is that the core stabilisation muscles needed for this exercise (TVA, internal/external obliques, lower abdominals, diaphragm) have little to no awareness of what they should be doing and clearly do not have the basic stabilisation strength to support the body through this movement pattern.
As a result of the muscle weakness the spine can't be held in a stable position and it shifts forwards, significantly changing its' angle of alignment. At this point the spine is 'hanging off' ligaments and tendons instead of being 'held' by muscles. Shearing forces are then sent through the spine with every rep which causes increased 'wear' on the joints of the spine itself. And as the body is screaming out to stop, we've still got 2 more reps to perform under the guidance of our shouting friend to really ensure that the vertebrae take a good hammering.
You can only imagine what the knock on effects for the body are over time. I know, I see it in my sports massage and injury rehabilitation clinic every day and I'm not going to list them here. What I am concerned with is people having knowledge about their own body and how to use it. Core workouts are the cornerstone of all movement patterns and are necessary for a functional life. But you've got to earn it, you have to progress through the stages of core development and gain the knowledge of how to train effectively and most importantly, safely!
In the first instance you've got to understand how to activate the correct muscles. You've also got to learn how to breathe properly to achieve this, the two are linked. You then need to know how to start, which involves changing the base of support - keep it very big at first; and the neurological demand of a movement - keep it very low at first.
Once you can perform these exercises competently and to an appropriate volume without hitting fatigue, you can then ascend/progress onto the next level of exercise. Alternating arm/leg raises are a highly advanced movement - you have to earn the true strength to be able to perform movements like that without sacrificing your own body.
So what do I recommend?
Get training advice from a highly skilled professional with a 'clear' understanding of what I have described. If you are using a personal trainer, injury rehabilitation therapist or someone with a sports massage background, have they assessed you to know what your body is capable of before constructing your training program? Have they taught you how to take diaphragmatic breaths and charge the 'inner unit' of muscles to protect the spine during movement? Do they know the moment your body has 'crossed threshold' and has gone into a faulty movement pattern causing excessive joint stress and wear?
If the answer is yes, then you've got yourself a great trainer, hold onto them. If the answer is no, perhaps you want to rethink what you are doing to your body... find someone who has taken the time to study and really understands how to effectively and safely help you reach your goals.