Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Training Core with Heavy Breathing

According Stuart McGill's book, "Low Back Disorders", achieving spine stability when breathing heavier is something to train for. Ever wonder why one's exercise form begins to lag in the gym? Either one of two factors are in place:

1.) load is too much (strength)
2.) workout session is long (conditioning)

Failure of the core muscles to actively brace during exercise usually is directly related to fatigue and elevated work-rate. Obviously the better conditioned one is (athlete), the easier spine stability can be maintained. For those that are deconditioned, an appropriate cardiovascular program with progressive strength training should be put into place. Core work should be included also on a progressive basis, however, once there is a substantial increase in fitness level and work-rate tolerance, clients should be trained to maintain spine stability. Dr. McGill uses one method:

1.) Place the client on an exercise bike at an intensity that elevates ventilation, and then
immediately dismount the client and place into a side bridge position on the floor.

What does this do?

In this position (side plank), stabilizing the muscles in an isometric fashion must be maintained or the bridge will falter. Heavy breathing will help program the nervous system to coordinate with the diaphragmatic muscles and muscles of the rib cage (intercostals, pec minor, serratus) to work together.

One way to look at it...hold an umbrella up in a powerful rain storm-complete with blistering rain pellets and unforgiving wind. The umbrella's long handle is your spine. Your hand, arm, and shoulders act as the muscles surrounding the spine. If you hold the handle lightly, the umbrella is sure to get away from you. If you hold it tight--even during the 'pulls' and 'pushes' of the conditions, the spine will stay intact.

Here is a video of me talking about McGill's drill. Although, I don't use bike, the treadmill run is sufficient enough for the students in the video.


  1. Hey John, I have been doing this ever since I interviewed Dr. McGill and now I added a third thing (that I saw him do at the PB Summit)- a KB bottoms up farmers walk with the humerus parallel to the ground. I put it in between the airdyne and the plank and repeat 2-3 times. It's killer.

  2. That's an excellent tip, John. Thanks for sharing.


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