Fusion Workouts: Fitness, Yoga, Pilates, and Barre - Helen Vanderburg (2016)
Part I. Foundation of Fusion Workouts
Chapter 2. Getting Started
Getting started or staying with a regular exercise program is challenging. With so many distractions and commitments it can be difficult to get and stay fit even with the best intentions. In this chapter you will learn how to get the most from your workout sessions, how to prepare for success and be time efficient. Simply putting more time into working out is not the answer to long-term success…quality of exercise is more important than quantity. We will explore the most current information regarding core conditioning and how effective breathing techniques can stimulate the training of your core more successfully in all fusion exercises. Contemporary core training methods have moved beyond simply performing abdominal crunches to improve core strength. In fact, the abdominal crunch is not the most effective means to train your core. In the fusion workouts method, you learn how to actively work your core with a wide variety of effective core-focused exercises and how breathing exercises enhance your core training for better results.
Understanding Core Conditioning
Before getting started with your fusion workouts, it is important to understand how to achieve the most effective core conditioning and how breathing techniques can enhance the benefits of your core training. Learning how the core functions will help you achieve the greatest results in the least amount of time.
Posture and core conditioning are interrelated. Understanding the function of the core and using that knowledge to effectively work it will affect everything you do and change your appearance. How you carry yourself provides nonverbal communication to others. When you stand tall, you create an aura of confidence. The ability to stand tall and move well is linked to the function of the body’s core.
Both in daily life and during exercise, a highly functioning core makes everyday activities and exercise easier. However, to understand the core, you may need to let go of old ideas on how to train it. In fact, the abdominal crunch that has long been the go-to exercise for core conditioning is in fact one of the least effective exercises.
Let’s begin by understanding that the core is more than the abdominal muscles. The core is all of the muscles that support the trunk, including the shoulder girdle and the hips. The muscles of the core interlace and integrate with the muscles of the shoulders and legs. For a highly functioning core, you need to train the core three dimensionally and include exercises for the upper body, center of the body, and lower body. To simplify the complexity of core conditioning for fusion workouts, we look at the core in three groups—upper core, center core, and lower core.
The upper core is made up of the muscles of the chest and front of the shoulders (see figure 2.1a) and the muscles of the upper back and back of the shoulders (see figure 2.1b). The muscles of the upper back in particular have a tendency to be weak, causing a rounding of the shoulders and upper spine. Not only is this posture unattractive, but it also can cause a multitude of muscular problems in the upper back and decreases the function of the core.
When the upper back moves into a slouched position, it becomes difficult to activate the abdominal muscles, and the back muscles become strained as they try to support the bone structure—the spine and shoulder girdle—in this posture. To feel the difference in posture, try this: In a seated position, slouch the upper back and notice what automatically happens to the abdominals. The abdominal wall pooches outward and the muscles become inactive. Now sit tall with the upper body lifted and notice the change. The abdominals lengthen and move inward, and it becomes easier to contract or pull in on the abdominal wall.
Figure 2.1 Upper core muscles: (a) chest and front of the shoulder and (b) upper back and back of the shoulder.
The fusion exercises strengthen the muscles of the upper core and increase overall core conditioning. Pay particular attention to the alignment techniques given in the exercise descriptions found later in the book.
To find proper posture of the upper body, stand tall and bring your awareness to the upper back. Roll your shoulders back and turn the palm of your hands forward. Keeping the shoulders rolled back, move your shoulder blades toward the center of your back at the same time pull them down gently. You should feel the muscles of the upper back work to maintain this strong upper-core posture. See figure 2.2 a and b for an example of poor posture and figure 2.3 a and b for an example of good posture of the upper core.
Figure 2.2 Poor alignment of the upper core: (a) back view and (b) side view.
Figure 2.3 Good alignment of the upper core: (a) back view and (b) side view.
The muscles of the core are layered. The deepest core muscles are made up of the diaphragm, transversus abdominis, obliques, spinal muscles, and muscles of the pelvic floor (see figure 2.4a-d). This group of muscles stabilizes the core of the body and plays an important role in supporting the structures of the spine. When it comes to decreasing low-back strain, it is important to train these deep muscles.
The center core can be thought of as your power center. When the center core is strong, you can generate power or muscular force in all movements from the core. Think of a golf swing. The power to make a long drive comes from the core rather than the arms. However, poor posture, inactivity, and reliance on modern conveniences can cause the center core muscles to become weak. And sitting for extended periods can cause the center core muscles to disengage just as it did when you slouched to experience the effect of poor posture in the exercise earlier for the upper core. Without intentional training of the center core, these muscles become weak and dysfunctional.
Figure 2.4 Center core muscles: (a) diaphragm, (b) transversus and rectus abdominis and obliques, (c) spinal muscles, and (d) pelvic floor muscles.
3D Breathing Techniques
The diaphragm is considered a breathing muscle; however, because of its anatomical location and relationship to the abdominal muscles, it is also an important deep core muscle. The diaphragm is involved in core stability, and through effective 3D breathing techniques, will stimulate core muscle contraction and ultimately strengthen the core. To learn how to use the diaphragm to activate the deep core muscles, try this breathing exercise. In a comfortable, seated position, place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your abdominals (see figure 2.5).
Next, take a deep breath in through the nose and feel the chest lift upward and the abdominals move outward (see figure 2.6a). Intentionally exhale through the nose in a long, slow, controlled manner (see figure 2.6b). Feel the sensation of the exhalation begin with the lifting of the muscles of the pelvic floor, then the abdominals pulling inward and upward toward the diaphragm. Notice how this creates tension as you exhale. Repeat this breathing pattern, become familiar with the linking of your inhalation with a releasing of core tension and your exhalation with increasing abdominal tension. Try to avoid tension in any other part of your body. Observe whether your neck or facial muscles tense. If they do, you are trying too hard. The breath should feel strong, but without force.
Figure 2.5 Seated 3D breathing start position.
Figure 2.6 Seated 3D breathing: (a) inhalation and (b) exhalation.
As you move into the fusion exercise series, use this core breathing technique to help turn on the deep core muscles to stabilize the spine, pelvis, and ribs. Each fusion exercise has a suggested breath pattern and can be performed in a seated or standing position.
The lower core is made up of the muscles of the hips and pelvis (see figure 2.7a and b). Finding a neutral pelvic alignment will decrease pressure on the low back and hips. See figure 2.8 a through c for examples of a forward-rotated pelvis, a backward-rotated pelvis, and a pelvis in neutral alignment.
Along with the deep core muscles such as those of the pelvic floor, it is important to train the larger muscles of the hips. If you understand how to use the deep core muscles, including the transverse abdominal muscles, pelvic floor muscles, and deep obliques, and then train the larger more superficial muscles, the resultant combination is a strong integrated core unit. The muscle group in the lower core that tends to be weakest in most people is the gluteals. Without adequate strength in these muscles, the pelvis can become misaligned, causing strain to the low back.
The other focus in a strong functioning core is to release the tension in the front of the hip at the hip crease. This is the hip flexor muscle group, which is often tight and pulls on the low back, increasing discomfort and decreasing core conditioning. The fusion workout exercises decrease tension through the hips and increase strength of the lower core.
Figure 2.7 Lower core muscles: (a) front and (b) back.
Figure 2.8 Lower core alignment: (a) forward rotation, (b) backward rotation, and (c) ideal neutral.
Preparing for Your Fusion Workout
Preparation is an important step for long-term success. Before beginning your fusion workouts exercise program, take time to prepare yourself physically and mentally. The time spent in preparation is important for the safest, most efficient, and most effective fusion workouts. The following information provides guidelines to assist you in preparing for fusion workouts.
Consult a Health Care Provider
Before you begin, consult with your health care provider to ensure you are ready for exercise. If you have had an illness or injury or are pregnant, some of the exercises in this book may not be appropriate for you.
Ask your health care provider about health risks you should know about before starting an exercise program or that might keep you from beginning an exercise program. Once you have approval, you are ready to begin. Modifications will be provided throughout the program to allow you to accommodate injury, illness, and general discomfort.
Allow Enough Space
As you prepare for your workout, ensure you have enough space to exercise safely. Most exercises in the fusion workout program can be done in the space of a yoga mat; however, you should give yourself room to move your legs and arms to the side, front, and back.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
Nothing is more uncomfortable when you are working out than clothing that limits your movement, is too tight, or is too loose. Make sure your attire allows freedom of movement and will not limit movement. Fabric that stretches with your body and has minimal accessories such as buttons, zippers, and heavy stitching are recommended.
For women, the best choice of clothing is short or full-length exercise tights, a workout tank top, and a sports bra. For men, fitness shorts and a sleeveless or short-sleeved breathable workout top work well. Ideally, the fusion workouts are done barefoot; however, if you need foot support, wear comfortable athletic shoes.
Fuel Before and After Exercise
Be sure to eat a healthy meal or snack before you exercise. How much and what you eat is up to you and depends on several factors. Most people need one to two hours to digest a meal. A light snack that is easily digested can be eaten an hour before working out as long as it does not cause discomfort. Within 30 minutes after exercise, refuel with a combination of carbohydrate and protein such as chocolate milk. Have water available during your workout and drink frequently to keep yourself hydrated.
The fusion workouts use minimal equipment, making them easy to do anywhere. Before beginning your fusion workout, purchase a yoga mat. Yoga mats are designed to stick to the floor, providing a safe environment for this type of training. If you find you require more cushioning, double up the mat to support the body where you feel discomfort. Other equipment that is helpful and will be used in the options and variations of the fusion exercises in chapters 4 through 7 are a yoga block, yoga belt, and a sturdy chair.
The most important consideration in any exercise program is to train safely and avoid injury. The following are a few tips to keep in mind as you get started.
Choose Appropriate Intensity
Fusion workouts offer a variety of workout formats and exercise selections to give you the opportunity to individualize your workout. When determining your exercise intensity, pay close attention to your breathing rate. Labored breathing indicates that you need to ease up. When performing strength-based exercises, make sure you can perform the movement using proper form and without straining. If in doubt, leave the exercise out.
Respect Your Body
Respect your own limitations and don’t push yourself if you experience pain. If something does not feel right, make a few modifications using the suggestions in the exercise descriptions to decrease discomfort.
Remain Pain Free
Keep the movements within a pain-free range of motion. If you experience joint pain, stop the exercise or limit the range of motion, and gradually work toward increasing the range.
Challenge yourself to improve by doing progressively more difficult exercises. When you are ready to take on the more advanced exercises or workouts, start with fewer repetitions or less time and add rest when needed.
Fusion workouts can be done daily. However, if you find you are stiff and sore from a previous workout, choose easier exercises and plan for more stretching than strengthening.
Taking time to understand how to train the core and how breath and the core are linked will improve your core conditioning. Preparing for your fusion workouts and following the guidelines provided in this chapter will give you the confidence to effectively pursue your fitness goals and help you achieve the best possible exercise experience and workout success.