Today we’ve got Carl Reader, our in-house functional movement coach back on the podcast to talk about core strength, the reason we want to have good core strength for our entire lower body and also ways in which we can improve it.
We discuss in this interview:
- Why developing core strength is important for the whole body
- Exercises to improve core strength
- Isometric exercises
- How posture and mindset can influence core muscles
- Tuning exercises to different strength levels
- Modifications to basic exercises
Clint – Today we’ve got Carl Reader, our in-house functional movement coach back on the podcast to talk about core strength. The reason we want to have good core strength for our entire lower body and also ways in which we can improve our core strength at home without doing laborious numbers of sit-ups and being uncomfortable. So, Carl, thanks for joining us again.
Carl – Oh, it’s always a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
Clint – For those who are unfamiliar with Carl, he’s been on the episodes I don’t know which numbers, but many in the past talking about knees, ankles, overall strength, elbows. So he’s been a frequent guest on our show. And he also does private coaching with many people who are in our community. He’s very, very good when it comes to knees. So if you’ve got really uncomfortable knees, reach out to Carl and I’ll get him to provide his details in just a moment on how to reach him. If you’re a member of Rheumatoid Support, that is our support forum, our coaching platform, you get access directly to Carl. It is an incredible benefit among access to other coaches, and so take advantage of that. If this inspires you and you want to ask more questions, jump into the support forum and hit up Carl. He’ll answer you inside the Carl coaching thread. Carl, Where can people find you who aren’t part of Rheumatoid Support, who want to reach out for a free discovery call with you?
Carl – Yeah, I’ve got my website, which is www.CarlReadercoaching.com. And then my email address is email@example.com.
Clint – Good man. All right, let’s get into this. So let’s talk about core. Tell us why core strength is so important. Because it seems separated from knees and hips and so on, so why should we pay attention to it?
Carl – It’s a great question, and I love the way you separated it in the sense that what I’m really discovering is this part of the whole body movement is that the core is actually got to be seen as like the body’s battery pack. It’s one of those like if you imagine like a torch, those big torches where you have batteries stacked on one another, that’s like the core. And it provides power not only, like you mentioned, to the lower body, but actually to the upper body as well. And so what I’m picking up, especially as I work with elite athletes and people with arthritis and these autoimmune diseases, is that once you get their core stronger, it actually provides power to the legs or to the shoulders or to the elbows. So it’s played quite a key part in recovering and helping people get stronger? So, you know, we always think about core often with people who’ve struggled with back pain because you’ve got to get your core stronger. But this is actually really interesting and fascinating how it actually provides power to all the muscles. So that’s why I’ve been down this whole core getting people’s core stronger.
Clint – Yes. Ellen, who’s inside our Support Forum, talks about all the benefits that you’ve provided with her. And she comes to mind because she’s talked of core strength and the building of the core strength. Have you observed this connection between improved core strength and increased or improvements in the lower body?
Carl – Well, I’ve got a lady that I work with from one of the members in the Paddison Program, and she’s struggling with walking. She’s got a very weak left leg and when I started seeing her, she was dragging it along the floor, she could barely put weight on it. And so I said to her, we’re just going to focus on core strengthening exercises. And every time we did the core, she would say to me, the legs gone from being really heavy to feels really light. She could lift the leg up and swing it and walk. And when she got tired, I made her sit down with do some breathing exercises. And I’d go, she said, Are we going back to core exercise? Yes, we’re going back to core exercises. And we’d do a couple of core and then she’d get up and then she’d walk and she’d say, my leg feels light again. And. And I just explained to her that the connection between doing even the upper body exercises and core how it provides power, it’s all got to do like the body’s actually like a battery pack. So if muscles can’t hold a charge, then you feel weakness. And, and we see that across the board from elite athletes to people struggling with rheumatoid arthritis. They say it just feels heavy and I feel weak. And then when you do core, it says, I don’t know why all of a sudden I have power, it feels easier. So light is the word I’m looking for. Yeah.
Clint – Okay. Well, we love it. We don’t need any more convincing. Let’s talk about some exercises that we can do when core. First of all, just before we do the exercises, can you just define exactly what we’re talking about here when we’re talking about the core?
Carl – Okay, great question. So essentially, it’s the muscles that are around the trunk. So you’ve got all the big large muscles. But I’m focusing on just the muscles between the rib cage and the pelvis, so mainly the abdominal muscles. And also your waist muscles, the muscles that actually rotate the body called the obliques. And it’s really just working them in what we define as isometric work. So when you think about like a bicep curl, you get concentric, which is a shortening of the muscles, and then we have eccentric or negative loading where the muscles actually doing work but it’s lengthening. Where isometric is the muscle is doing work, but it’s not changing. So there’s no movement involved. And a great example of that is if you have to carry a box around the house or pick up a child or carry a weight, you’re not actually doing any movement you’re just walking with it. And so the muscles are stabilizing. So isometric core strength is huge in the sense that it’s there’s no movement involved but you are you’re generating a lot of energy and power. And so this is good news for especially for people with RA, is that the traditional functional or conventional methods are exercises like sit-ups and doing legs out in front of you, like cycle movements, Pilates-based stuff. And for members or people who are struggling with lower back pain or who are not able to do that, then they kind of feel hopeless. And so we’ll get into that just now, like we’ll dive deeper into just some of the other ways you can get into that.
Carl – But another thing that’s important to just mention is what causes the disconnect from the core muscles. So often people are doing core exercises, they just don’t feel their core muscles working. And one of the biggest things are is poor posture we know that. So if you’ve got poor posture, especially in the lower back and upper back, then that tends to think of it like Wi-Fi. It’s like it drops the Wi-Fi so you don’t get signal or you have one G, two G, you’re not getting the five G through the body. And the other thing is strong emotions, so people who struggle with fear or anxiety, and worry. A lot of those kinds of emotions also tend to block that core. So it’s a very interesting to have that sort of mindset as well. Be aware that those are things that can play a role in core strength. Very often, especially in my sporting or medical background, is overlooked and not really talked about, but it plays a huge role in disconnecting the core muscles.
Clint – I love it. I can totally attest to the strength-building capacity of isometric exercises. Having done a lot of them in lengthy yoga classes over the years. The entire sequence of Bikram yoga, which is the one that I’ve done the most of, is entirely isometric exercises. And your legs and shoulders are just shaking throughout the class trying to hold these positions, just using your own body weight and gravity as the resistance. And so I’m fully on board, I fully can attest personally to the results of isometric exercises. I can say with personal history of damaged arthritic joints, that isometric is a tremendous way to go when a joint is clicky and imperfect because rather than running it through lots of repetitions under tension or under resistance, you can just get into a position throughout somewhere in that range that feels comfortable and just hold the heck out of it and that muscle will grow. It is true that at the extremities or away from that particular point in the range, those areas won’t be quite as strong, but you will still grow strength in the muscle, which is crucial. So let’s talk about the exercises.
Carl – Yeah. So, you know, some of the if you think about the planking where people on their elbows or on their hands, they’re doing like a push-up plank for obviously for many people that’s just not even you can’t even go there. Obviously, the wrist, the fingers, the elbows. So what I have the guys do is first of all, just get them connected. So you’re wiring like we talked about the Wi-Fi if you think about the central spinal cords like your Internet service provider, we want to loosen up the part of the spine between the thoracic, we talk about the T5 thoracic T5 to T12. So basically your middle to just above your lower back. So exercises where you maybe it’s flexion or it’s extension or rotation, that’s obviously part of the coaching. That’s my job is to try to isolate where you’ve got this sort of disconnection. And once we mobilize that, people straight away will say often say, I’m not even doing anything, but I can feel my tummy muscles engaging. And so that’s what we’re trying to like switch on your core. And then from there we go to depending on what you can do. So if you’ve got like resistance bands, we want to hold it. And if you’ve got the arthritis, we often wrap it around people’s hands or just around the wrist because that’s very sensitive. And then what you do essentially is just pulling and holding. And it’s that holding exercise is isometric. And I can also target different layers of the abs by how where you attach the band. So if it’s higher you’re going to get like upper band and if it’s low you’re going to get lower abs.
So that makes it very effective, especially for people struggling with the knees and you said there not too much repetition of movements. The other one which is very effective is just holding a light weight. If I just had like a like a weight holding it just holding it up like basically close to the body like this and just getting them to hold it for five, ten seconds. And you’ll often hear people who’ve got weak core would be like, Oh, I can feel my tummy working. And so it’s very, very, very effective for those who can’t hold stuff just standing up and gently swinging the arms or just doing movements or simply getting up and down out of a chair slowly. So obviously that wouldn’t be isometric, pure isometric. But that’s slow getting up really challenges the core because your core muscles aren’t exactly flexing, but they’re contracting. So there are many tools that I say that we can use that help people who are struggling to get stronger there.
Clint – Okay, let me repeat this back and describe it for folks who are listening to the audio version of this. So the first one you describe is arms out in front of you, arms mostly straight, standing and then pulling down from the shoulder against the resistance of a band until the sort of underside of your hands are at your sort of legs. And then we just hold in that position. Is that correct?
Carl – So this would be actually sitting down, and you’d be actually holding the band and pulling it your hands towards your belly button that activates the core. And then you hold it there for a count of 5 to 10 seconds. Yeah. Okay. Mimics that isometric.
Clint – I had the right idea except I thought we were standing, but we’re sitting, which is good. And then the next one is just to hold a weight in front of you, clasping with two hands, and then you’re bent at the elbows with elbows tucked into the waist, and you’re basically just holding against the gravity pull down on that weight.
Carl – Correct.
Clint – Okay. And then the third one, you said just very slow coming up and down from a seated position into a standing position. What should we know regarding the number of repetitions, how intense we should be aiming for? Any indication of the way in which we roll this out, the actual numbers associated with it.
Carl – So I generally get the guys to start off with, depending on what level you’re at. But I even start with three seconds and some people think that’s like ridiculously low, but you’ll be amazed at three seconds feels like an eternity when you’re really weak. So. So three seconds and then do three sets of three-second holds. So I do three seconds three times and then I take about a 10 to 15 second break and then we start again. And if people don’t feel that working or they feel their back. And you mentioned a good thing, the shaking. The shaking is the muscle trying to create voltage on your house that would be referred to as a drop in the voltage, but your muscles are trying to find that extra power so that they contracting and trying to generate electrons. So that’s obviously a good sign that I usually get people to just go into maybe two seconds and stop because you tend to find that you can you find other joints trying to provide or muscles providing power. So especially the lower back and your thighs, and so you can start to feel it can be strenuous you’ve got to stop there. Depending on the age or where you’re at in your health, longer rest periods in between sets. So if you really felt that that three seconds took a lot out of you, then we make it like a minute. I might do some shoulder movements because some people like to do that, do three seconds, three seconds and three seconds and they feel completely wasted after that because it’s too much. So the rest period in between is something that the coaching helps you, but also you’ve got to just use a bit of common sense and sort of feel like you’re going to give myself a bit of a break. The three sets of three is a good, good starting place.
Clint – I can tell the insights that you’ve gathered from working with our community because we’re not talking about elite athletes in many cases. Rheumatoid has really taken its toll on some of our strength because of the limitations that the joint pains have placed on our muscles. So, three seconds rest, three seconds rest, three seconds rest is a lot for some folks. And I think it’s a wonderful opportunity if that’s going to feel like a challenge, then imagine how much better you’re going to feel if you engage in these activities, if you’re at a quite a weak platform.
Carl – Correct? Baseline. Yeah, absolutely. And one of the ladies from the members said to me yesterday, she just said everything from hanging the washing to just walking around to just everyday life. I feel my tummy is helping me, giving me power. And I said, You’re using my terminology. There is the power. So there are tremendous benefits, and you’d be surprised at how much, as you said, three-second holds can add.
Clint – Okay, excellent. Now, presumably, some people are listening to this who aren’t at such a baseline and they’re a little bit more advanced. Um, are there some exercises that you might like to share or variations modifications so that this can scale for some people who aren’t doing too bad, but they want to improve their core as well?
Carl – So that’s a great question. One of the ones that I move away for is the elbows. It depends if clients have got really weak wrists and they cannot do a push-up, sort of like a plank, as we call it, then you can do the elbows. But ultimately, if you can get onto your hands and do the push-up plank, that’s the most effective. When I say push-up plank, I don’t mean actually doing push-ups because that’s just very strenuous. But you can do like where you do a push up on a box or a chair, you know, like if you were to just, just lean into like even onto a wall, some people just put their hands against the wall and hold that position for five-ten seconds also works the core. I like the one on a chair, obviously, you mustn’t have wheels because that could be interesting. But you know, like something that’s secure that you can just hold onto and get that core working. I must just mention those who are struggling with toes. That is a bit of a problem. Sometimes when you’ve got like bunions or sore toes that when you put your feet onto the ground, you have to stabilize. So we have to work on how we position the feet. Getting good shoes or finding a good quality mat because you don’t want to be sliding around trying to like keep your balance there. As you see, I’ve had quite a few interesting situations and experiences, but the push-up is a great one because it gets the pecs, the shoulders, and the abs. It really is a great way for those who are more advanced. Yeah.
Clint – Yeah, yeah. Good, good. Okay, so we’ve got our extension exercise there is to get down onto the ground or as you said, like a higher surface and get into a straight back push-up position and then just hold and just hold the position. Yeah. Great. Okay. Yeah. Um, can people do that plank also on their elbows? You often see that at the gym, people are in a plank position on their elbows. How is that in your view?
Carl – So, as I said, it’s not my go-to, but for those who do struggle with their wrists, it’s you can do it. It’s important just to like make sure that you push, you don’t collapse into the shoulders. You kind of have to push your mid back up a little bit like that to just get the engage the pecs. What happens is when you’re on your hands, you’ve got all the fascia and the electricity flowing through all the connections. Yeah. So when you’re on your elbows, you’re kind of going through all the bones, you’re not getting so much muscular. But I’ve got quite a few people who do the plank on their elbows for the purely because their wrists so weak or their hands are sore and they cannot put weight through there, and so I advise them to do that. So that works really well as well. But you mentioned Elena, with the pull-ups, it’s also not just hangings. Very good for shoulder the hanging movements, you know, hanging from a bar that you very, very good for the fascia and the strength and she was on like one-second pulls and we did the plank and I got her engaging and she went to three seconds quite comfortably. And was a bit worried I was like, just come back a bit. But she was like, I’ve gone from 1 to 3. But it was just the power that she could feel. It’s straight away, it’s not like you have to wait three months to feel it. It’s like instantly the power is there. So that was great, especially for people with shoulder problems now as well. You know, the core has huge benefits.
Clint – Okay, awesome. Now, do we need to stretch the abs afterwards or are we protected from developing any sort of tightness?
Carl – It’s a great question. So I think for those who are, you know, sitting a lot, you know, because you’re working isometric, we’re not actually shortening the muscles so we don’t have to then stretch them. They’re actually working at a normal resting length. But good question. And for those who sit a lot and have got poor posture, their AB muscles are normal and are going to be shortened, and so now you’re isometrically training them in a shortened position. So what I do often is if they can do extension exercises is we do we get them to raise their hands up and try to get a little bit of flexion through there. I often get them to massage the fascia on the stomach just to kind of loosen it up and then we go into that. So that’s a good question. Yeah.
Clint – Okay. So not really is the answer. If you’re doing the ones we’ve talked about, you’re going to be fine. Yeah. Okay. Let me see if there’s any other questions I had here that I wanted to ask you about. I think we’ve covered it all, I think you’ve given us some great straightforward exercises we can do at home that have been effective for others, whether it be to try and even hang from a bar or whether it be to walk around without having to drag one leg as much. And it scales as we get stronger, we can either hold for longer or we can progress into the push-up style if we want. And of course, this will enable us to therefore overall just feel stronger and have more capacity to do other forms of exercise and to, use it as a foundational tool. One thing I wanted to check with you. Do you have people use resistance cables or bands and do you attach them to maybe the upper portion of a door for some of those exercises?
Carl – I do, yeah. If you actually seen the for those who are listening who can’t see, but for those on video you can see I’ve actually got like a contraption to my door there that’s got handles that I use to pull. And for those who don’t, they can attach it to some or to a pole or you can tie it up into knots and put behind the door like you said, and you can adjust it. It’s important to adjust the level of those bands because it targets different areas of your spine and or areas of your core muscles. So that’s quite that’s a good idea. Some of the cables are obviously stronger than the bands because the bands, you know you can get to, they can snap if they’re too light. But you know what we’re talking about. It’s even the lightest band can provide adequate core strength for those who are really weak.
Clint – Yeah. Great. The ones that I recommend for our upper body workout inside our members area are the cable types. I love the different cable color types that come in the package, and I love that it has a handle on the end because you can disconnect the handle. But when you want to do sort of like any kind of punching or pulling exercises, then you’ve got the handle to hang on to so that you can take the weight through the palm of the hand without having to wrap anything around the finger section, which can irritate swollen fingers. And you can totally do those exercises you’ve just described using the colored cables. If people want to know which colored cables, again they’re actually inside the downloadable PDF, which is our upper body workout. It’s got a link to the cables that I have purchased in the past on more than one occasion, by the way, because we’ve been in different countries and there are only about $30 or something delivered on Amazon and there’s lots of different companies on Amazon and they’re pretty easy and inexpensive. So get yourself a set of these home workout cables and you can follow along with what Carl has provided us today and improve your core. If you want to take it to the next level, you can, there’s plenty of ways to scale beyond what you’ve said. And Carl if anyone wants to reach out to you.
Carl – www.CarlReaderCoaching.com. And then my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clint – Yeah okay perfect. We got ourselves around that. Well thank you very much for today. It’s a pleasure to connect again and I hope everyone who’s listened or watched this has found this useful.
Carl – Yeah. Thank you. And we’ll talk again soon.