I’ve been training with weights since I was around 14 years old and have used many weight training and core stability techniques as an essential part of my practice with clients for over 17 years. In this time I have developed an extensive understanding of how to help people achieve not only a great physique but also how to be free of pain, significantly improve their movement skill and build an empowering physique for life.
How to build a lean and empowering physique for life – Part 1
An empowered physique, as you will discover, is a physique developed and built on solid foundations. It’s a body that has excellent posture both statically and in movement, it’s a body that is radiantly healthy and free of pain. It’s a body that mirrors a healthy and empowered mind allowing us to step into our lives, confident, fearless and ready to achieve our potential … and yes, it really is possible… you just have to be ready to do the work, both inner and outer.
Posture Core stability and movement – Posture is empowering and movement matters.
Whether you want to build lean muscle to keep your metabolism high and lose weight or to build a strong pain free functional body you need to have a foundation to build that body on. To achieve an optimal muscle response with weight and stability training you need to be able to not only load the body but in time, as your tolerance to loading increases, you need to be able to load your body close to the edge of its ability.
It’s by pushing the body to the edge of its capabilities that we can build stronger muscles and develop greater stability. So consider what happens to the average body when you load it as hard as you can tolerate with muscle imbalance, a twisted pelvis and a curvy spine! That’s correct… you get a broken body and lots of pain. This is what I call “short term gain for long term pain”. And just to make sure you get the relevance of this, nearly everyone starts out with some muscle imbalance some degree of pelvic instability and a curvy spine. So yes… it really is Important to address the foundations.
This means, logically, that if we want a healthy strong body for life as opposed to a few years or even months of short term gains then we need to address the function of the body before we purely address form, thus the saying ‘form follows function’. So my tip here is to learn to stretch properly and learn to address the muscle imbalance in your body before going crazy with the weights. As flexibility is improving address your core stability and make sure that you can stabilise your pelvis, your shoulders and your spine effectively.
Finally make sure that you learn to move properly, that you are learning accurate technique with your exercise. So I can hear you saying “that sounds complicated” and “that’s allot to do” well… yes… and that is why I highly recommend you hire a C.H.E.K practitioner to asses you and develop your exercise programme for you. You may have not have come across the C.H.E.K institute and if not you should take a look. It’s a truly comprehensive training programme unlike any other and those that have undertaken the training should be able to prescribe a programme that will transform your life to the degree that you’re ready for change.
Physical Assessment – The essential intro to an empowered physique!
Assessment is the critical first step to knowing how to set up your weight training plan in a way that will work specifically for you. It should be no surprise to any of us that we are all individual, we will all too some degree have different exercise requirements and so we should all have exercise programmes that will work to help us balance the imbalanced and stabilise the instable. This is not commonly what happens.
From my experience the majority of people at some point in their lives have destabilised their pelvis. This might be from birth, it may have happened from an injury like an ankle sprain or from a traumatic impact like slipping and falling on ice. When the pelvis destabilizes it tends to twist, one side (ilium) rotating either forwards or backwards relative to the other. As the spine sits on the pelvis it then tends to respond to this by forming an S curve or scoliosis of the spine.
The issue with this common aspect of dysfunction is that it does not provide a great platform from which we can build a strong stable body. The body will be in compensation and negative adaption from the very first rep giving inadequate muscle response and significantly increasing our chance of injury.
This is why assessment is critical as it allows us to look in to the overall dynamics of the body so that a programme can be prescribed to bring about optimal function as part of the process of developing the ideal physique.
Essential home tests to build body awareness and prepare for training.
First let’s look at a very simple test for pelvic twist. Please take in to account that this is a simple test and not a specific standalone diagnostic tool. I have found, over hundreds of assessments, that when the pelvis is twisted the shoulders will not be level. If you stand in front of a mirror and look across the line of your shoulders from side to side you may be able to notice that one shoulder is higher than the other. It may be helpful to have someone else take a look and see if they can notice the difference?
If you can see that the shoulders are not level this is a key indicator that the pelvis may not be stable. If you get a positive result go and see a Check practitioner a Neuromuscular therapist or osteopath to verify your discovery and if need they may stabilise your pelvis. Once you have been informed that the pelvis is stable then you are in a far better position to stretch and start to build core stability with a reduced degree of dysfunction and compensation.
After correction you may want to re-test yourself and see if your shoulders are either level or closer to level. For those of us over 30 sometimes correction may not happen instantaneously though the spine as muscles may have adapted to hold the S curve. In this case some Sports Massage treatment or Neuromuscular Therapy alongside some key stretching may well resolve the issue and allow the spine to ‘release’ back to ideal alignment.
For more information on testing one self and stretch and exercise prescription I would recommend the book ‘Eat move and be healthy by Paul Chek’ this superb book covers a wide range of home tests, stretches and exercises to address many of the major blocks to health wellness and an empowered physique.
The home posture test
Posture is essential when preparing the body to be loaded, and loading the body is exactly what we need to do to create positive muscular adaption. Posture is also a very big part of the aesthetic gain of training, this is particularly important for women as the aim of weight training in most cases is about gaining muscle tone and balance not absolute mass. So much of the aesthetic gain in the abdominal muscles is achieved though standing correctly and learning to use the inner abdominal muscles or the ‘core’ to hold oneself in good posture.
The aim of this posture test is to be able to stand with your back to a wall with your heels, butt, shoulders and the back of your head touching the wall with the chin tucked down so that you’re able to comfortably looking straight ahead. If you then put your hands up at 90 degree angles like you were ‘surrendering’ and see if you can touch the back of your hands and wrists on the wall.
The test and the exercise are one and the same thing. Standing in the position described above with your hands up, gently lift your ribcage and so lengthening your abdominal muscles. Then bring the awareness to your lower abdominals (a couple of inches below your belly button) and very gently ‘tuck under’ or slightly tilt the pelvis backwards so activating and bringing control to your lower abdominals. The aim is to be able to build up to holding this position for 3 minutes, and yes, it’s tougher than it sounds.
If you find this challenging because you can’t get your head back to the wall or perhaps you can’t tuck your chin down or get your hands back then gently keep working with this over a period of time and see if you can improve it. You could also look in to stretching your pectoralis major, pectoralis minor and perhaps your levator scapulae and upper trapezius. Lengthening these muscles may well help you to significantly improve your posture getting you better prepared for loading the body to get optimal results!
For more information on both testing one self and stretch and exercise prescription I would recommend the book ‘Eat move and be healthy by Paul Chek’.
Build slowly and carefully
This is very simple however profoundly overlooked. When aiming to build lean muscle mass or function and stability contrary to how it might appear in the magazines or perhaps in your local gym it takes time. It is true that if you go at it like a mad person from day one and push yourself to the max 3 times a week that within a short space of time (providing you don’t break yourself too badly) that you will see a rapid change in physique however, surely what we are looking for is the opportunity to have the killer physique and pain free body for life… Not just a few months or years?
This means being respectful of your body and building load slowly over time. The less time that you have been training for, the more important this is as you need to build your ‘tissue tolerance’ (the ability of your muscular tissue to accept load without getting muscular injury) slowly.
Rapid powerful and sustained results come from a gentle considered and educated programme progression. Any programme that advertises ‘6 pack abs in 6 days!’ or ‘How to get a ripped physique in just two weeks’ or ‘ how I lost 3 stone on just 7 days’.. Is just dangerously irresponsible! These programmes may deliver what they promise aesthetically but they may also sacrifice your long term health.
Take your time and get it right first time… there is no destination; health is a journey for life not a ‘result to be attained’.