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Avoiding the Traditional Pitfalls of Training - Part 2


In keeping with the primary goal of “GETTING BACK TO BASICS,” it will be important to remember a few of the fundamental concepts introduced in Part 1. (Although reading Part 1 is not a requirement for comprehension of Part 2, I encourage all to do so, as the concepts that follow will build off of what was discussed prior.)

Essentially, it is vital to remember that maintaining and improving function (i.e., integrated flexibility, stability, strength and power) are extremely important  whether the goal(s) is esthetic or performance specific. Improving and maintaining optimal function, via properly progressed integrated training, will ultimately allow for training with greater loads, which in turn increases gains in the rest of the body, thereby ENHANCING THE OVERALL TRAINING EFFECT (i.e., increased muscle mass, metabolic rate, fat burning as well as improved overall performance and reduced likelihood of injury).(11, 12, 13)

In this installment, the topic is common pitfalls in trunk training. Unfortunately, the mid-section, particularly the abdominals, are so often times viciously attacked day after day by those hoping to melt fat off and reduce the size of the waistline (i.e., spot- reduction!). To briefly re-emphasize what was stated regarding nutrition in the “esthetic” portion of Part 1, burning fat can only be accomplished by increasing, (or normalizing in many cases), the metabolism. The metabolism can be defined as all of the chemical reactions in the body.(26, 27)  It includes those that result in energy storage (anabolism) and those that result in the liberation of energy (catabolism).(26)  These processes enable cells to release energy from foods, convert one substance into another and prepare end products for excretion.(27)  In sum, the chemical and biological activities or processes that allow for and are necessary to sustain life.(25, 27)  Ultra-simplistically, the metabolism can be defined as the rate at which the body consumes fuel or burns calories. To increase one’s metabolism, there is an increasing volume of research that suggests “supportive eating” for one’s metabolic type in order to maximize metabolism, vitality and overall health.(1, 4, 15, 16, 25)  Combine this with regular resistance training (to give priority to building lean muscle tissue, which is ultimately what drives the metabolism, consumes calories and burns fat in the first place), regular moderate cardiovascular exercise and one can build an awesome fat-burning furnace within.  To drive this point home further, Chek explains...(8) 

There is no metabolic pathway from the muscle cells in your midsection to the fat cells surrounding them. For the abdominal muscles to use stored fat for energy, your body must first send it to the liver. The liver converts this fat into fatty acids and sends it back to the abdominal muscles to be used as fuel. Unfortunately, the stored fat the abdominal muscles use first may not be from the abdominal region. (In fact, it’s possible the energy to perform an abdominal exercise may come from fat stores in your arms.) This is because your body uses its fat stores such that the last place you added fat to is the first place you will lose it. This order is genetically determined and influenced by sex and age. For example, the females in one family may tend to store fat on their hips while the males tend to store fat on their waist.


(NOTE: For specific information on nerve innervation, origin, and insertion of the following muscles, please refer to references 8, 9, 12, 13, 17, 18, 24)

It is extremely important to have a basic understanding of the complexity of the trunk musculature. The result of this complexity is dynamic, multi-planar, full contraction spectrum movement. 


The primary abdominal muscles are the rectus abdominis, external and internatl obliques and the transverse abdominis (see Diagram 1). Oce again, it is important to understand that all of these muscles function eccentrically, isometrically, and concentrically in multiple planes of motion in any given functional movement pattern.(9, 11, 12, 13)  This means so much more than spinal flexion (crunches)!!! 

Diagram 1. Reprinted from "Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System" by Neumann, pp. 324; 2002, with permission from Elsevier.)

Rectus Abdominis (RA)

The fibers of the RA run vertically, from the pubis to the ribs.(19)

Being the most anterior, the RA is responsible for the motions of spinal flexion concentrically, allows spinal extension eccentrically, and the prevention of extension isometrically, depending upon the direction of resistance.(5, 8, 9, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24) When starting from an extreme position of rotation, the RA can also assist with rotation to neutral; as well as assisting with lateral flexion from neutral.(20)

Therefore, it would be most accurate to say that there is in fact an upper, middle, and lower RA - neurologically,  but mechanically there cannot be an upper versus lower.(20)

External & Internal Obliques

The TRUE Mechanical Upper & Lower Abs.

Due to the EO’s moment arm on the pelvis and the IO’s moment arm on the thorax (diagram 2), the obliques appear to be the only abdominal muscles that can be functionally (or mechanically), divided into upper and lower regions.(20)

Diagram 2. Referenced from “Muscles Testing and Function,” 4th ed., pp. 152 &156, by Kendall, McCreary, and Provance.)

The obliques’ actions are virtually impossible to separate;  when acting together bilaterally, the internal and external obliques play a major role in pure spinal flexion, while counteracting their individual rotational components.(20) Unilaterally, the internal and external of one side will work to perform lateral flexion to that side.(20) 

Pure rotation will occur as a combination of internal oblique on one side with the contralateral external oblique; hence, reducing the distance between one shoulder and the contralateral iliac crest.(18,20) In right rotation, the right internal oblique is synergistic with the left external oblique (and vice-versa).(8)  

Although anatomically thought of as two separate muscles during active rotation of the trunk, the EO and IO from opposite sides function as one muscle joined in the midline by the linea alba.(18) Demands on these muscle are relatively large during high-power axial rotations, such as sprinting, wrestling, and throwing(18)  (see Diagram 3).  

Diagram 3. Referenced from “Scientific Core Conditioning” correspondence course manual, pp. 15, by Chek.)

Transverse Abdominis (TA)

The TA is the deepest abdominal muscle and acts primarily as a stabilizer of the spine and trunk.(18, 20, 22) 

The TA increases intra-abdominal pressure by applying lateral traction to the middle layer of the TLF (thoracolumbar fascia), in a feed forward mechanism.(5, 8, 9, 12, 13)  This traction creates an extension force in the flexed position (such as when lifting a heavy object from the floor).(8)  Interestingly, when not prevented by any other muscular action, the TA will perform lumbar extension.(20)


The complexity of the spinal muscles equals that of the abdominals. Yet, once again it bares reviewing as these muscles do so much more than “hyperextensions.”

The Superficial Erector Spinae (ES)

The ES are a large and rather poorly defined group of muscles that run on either side of the vertebral column, roughly within one hand’s width from the spinous processes.(18) The superficial ES are generally considered to have three main divisions; the ILIOCOSTALIS, LONGISSIMUS and SPINALIS (see Diagram 4). These muscles collectively span 4 spinal regions, however, no single group crosses more than 3 regions.(20)  The ES cross considerable distance along the axial skeleton. This anatomic feature suggests a design more suited to control of gross movements of the entire axial skeleton rather than for control of finer movements at individual invertebral junctions.(20) The divisions are as follows... ...

Diagram 4

NOTE: The diagram above was reprinted from "Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System," by Neumann, pp. 319; 2002, with permission from Elsevier. The diagram on the right was referenced from "Resistance Training Specialist Programs," Level 1 & 2 course manual, pp. 116 by Purvis and Simon.

Bilateral concentric contraction of the ES extends the trunk.(5, 9, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24) The ES's ability to extend the spine is enhanced mechanically in kyphotic regions acting as anatomical pulleys.(20) The ES also assist with rotation to neutral and all ranges of lateral flexion.(5, 9, 12, 13, 18, 20, 22) Eccentrically and isometrically the ES decelerate or dynamically stabilize the above mentioned concentric functions.(9, 12, 13) 

When viewed from the side (diagram 5), it is obvious the ES are stabilizers first and foremost.(20) Situated against the spine, their position actually encourages spinal compression as well as spinal extension.(20) Isometric training is useful, since it improves awareness of proper alignment and enhances the ability to maintain alignment under load - one of the greatest challenges we face.(20)

Diagram 5. Referenced from “Resistance Training Specialist Programs,” Level 1 & 2 Course Manual, pp. 116, by Purvis and Simon.)

The TRANSVERSOSPINALIS (TS) (not pictured)

Located deep to the erector spinae, the TS muscles consist of those that, on average, cross fewer intervertebral junctions than the ES group.(18) This feature suggests that, in general, the muscles are designed to produce relatively fine controlled movements across the axial skeleton, at least when compared with the ES.(18)  They consist of: 

Contracting bilaterally, the TS muscles extend the axial skeleton.(18)  Increased extension exaggerates the lumbar and cervical lordosis and decreases the thoracic kyphosis.(18)  Contracting unilaterally, the TS muscles laterally flex the spine.(18) The more obliquely oriented TS muscles assist with contralateral axial rotation.(18) 

Other integrated functions of the TS include segmental stabilization, increased proprioception, as well as eccentric deceleration of the above mentioned concentric functions.(5, 9, 12, 13)

The Quadratus Lumborum (QL) (not pictured)

The QL plays a major role in virtually all functional movement patterns. Acting concentrically as a lateral trunk flexor, the QL also works synergistically with the gluteus medius, tensor fascia latae, and adductor complex as the primary frontal plane stabilization mechanism.(5, 9, 12, 13)

However, it is important to note that when flexing the trunk under heavy load (i.e. on a crunch machine), as the 12th rib passes the axis of rotation in the lumbar spine the QL becomes a flexor of the trunk with a poor mechanical advantage; this can often strain the QL leading to trigger points, spasms and shortening/tightening the muscle, causing a hip hike on one side.(8)


Knowing the individual muscles of the trunk and their functions is undoubtedly important as it displays the vast range and complexity of their tasks. More importantly however, it is vital to have a basic understanding of how these muscles function together; as muscles have anatomical individuality, but they lack functional individuality.(12, 13) 

Extensive research has developed two primary functional divisions of the CORE musculature; the INNER UNIT and the OUTER UNIT. These two divisions of musculature are responsible for the deceleration, stabilization, and acceleration of all movement in all planes of motion. For the sake of this article, only involvement of the muscles discussed prior will be covered.  It is important to note however, that several other muscles of the trunk, hips, legs, and even the shoulders are heavily involved in these two divisions and will only be briefly mentioned (i.e., the diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus maximus, latissimus dorsi and the AD/ABductors). For a more in depth discussion on this, please see references 6, 7, 12, & 13.

Diagram 6. Reprinted from "Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System," by Neumann, pp. 326; 2002, with permission from Elsevier.")

The INNER Unit (diagram 6)

This joint support system has also been referred to as the “local muscular system” or the “stabilization mechanism.”(12, 13) 

These muscles are generally considered to be “tonic” in nature (geared toward stability and support), and consist of:(6, 12, 13)

The inner unit has been shown to engage milliseconds before extremity motion. Almost in synchrony with the “thought” of motion, the brain triggers the inner unit, activating the multifidus and drawing in the transverse abdominis with simultaneous co-activation of the diaphragm above and the pelvic floor below.(6) This system works to stiffen or encapsulate the internal organs into a cylinder of support allowing effective force transfer from the big prime mover muscles of the arms and legs.(6) 

Essentially, the inner unit plays a large role in increasing intra-abdominal pressure during functional movement patterns. This intra-abdominal pressure mechanism alleviates between 12-36% of the load in the lumbar spine at the L4 & L5 levels.(8) When the inner unit is functioning correctly, joint injury is infrequent, even under extreme loads such as pushing a car, tackling an opponent in football, or lifting large weights in the gym.(6) When it is not functioning correctly, activation of large prime movers will be no different than a large wind hitting a sail of a ship in the presence of loose guy wires running from vertebra to vertebra in the mast... any system is only as strong as its weakest link! (6)

Essentially what’s being stated here is that if the inner unit is weak, training the large outer muscles may only exacerbate the problem further. There must be a strong foundation of stability prior to the addition of absolute strength to prevent future injury and pain.

The OUTER Unit (diagram 6)

This muscular system has been referred to as the “global muscular system” and is predominantly “phasic” in nature (geared toward movement).(7, 12, 13)

This group consists of the larger more superficial musculature than the inner unit, which generally attach the pelvis to the rib cage and/or lower extremities.(12, 13) The outer unit muscles are associated with movement of the trunk and limbs and also equalize external loads placed upon the body. These muscles are:

The outer unit has been further divided into 4 “sub-systems” which are beyond the scope of this article. For further information on these sub-systems please see references 5, 7, 9, 12, & 13.

The outer unit musculature are dependent upon the inner unit for the joint stiffness and stability necessary to create an effective force generation platform.(7) Failure of the inner unit to work in the presence of outer unit demand often results in muscle imbalance, joint injury and poor performance.(7) The outer unit can not be effectively conditioned in patterns of movement that carryover to function when using modern bodybuilding machines.(7) Effective conditioning of the outer unit should include exercises that require integrated function of the inner and outer units, using movement patterns common to any given client’s work or sport environment.(7)

CORE Summary

Neumann explains... ...(18) The active force of all of these muscles provides the primary form of stability to the vertebral column.  Although ligaments and other connective tissues provide a secondary source of stability, only muscles can adjust both the magnitude and timing of their forces.  Muscles of the trunk provide core stability to the trunk and, therefore, to the body as a whole.  Stability allows the trunk to hold a static posture even under the influence of destabilizing external torque.  Core stability of the trunk establishes a base for muscles to move the limbs.  During shoulder flexion, for instance, the TA muscle is shown to become active 38.9 msec before the anterior deltoid muscle.  Interestingly, for the same movement persons with low-back pain history have a threefold delay in the onset of EMG activity in the TA. 

So, now that the details of the ISOLATED and INTEGRATED functions of the trunk musculature have been reviewed, let’s examine several “traditional” exercise techniques to examine the muscles that are truly being “trained,” and the ramifications of doing so in “chronic” fashion.


Spinal flexion - it’s everywhere; and why? How “practical/functional is it really? How much do we need to be doing? There’s a common belief out there that, “You can train your abs every day.” Why? For what? Says who? We’ve already established that “spot reduction” is a fallacy at best, so what fitness/functional/performance-related goal could be accomplished through hundreds of reps of the countless variations of the crunch day-after-day? Let’s examine...

Diagram 7. Reprinted from "Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System," by Neumann, pp. 332; 2002, with permission from Elsevier.")


The traditional crunch/sit-up can be divided into two primary phases; the TRUNK flexion phase, and the HIP flexion phase.  (diagram 7)  During the trunk flexion phase, the thoracolumbar spine flexes, and the pelvis is tilted posteriorly flattening the lumbar spine.(18)  Whether performing this from the TOP-DOWN (basic sit-up/crunch), or the BOTTOM-UP (reverse crunch), in order for these muscles to concentrically contract (shorten/pull), this posterior pelvic tilt MUST occur!  In a basic sit-up/crunch, this early trunk flexion phase terminates when both scapulae are raised off of the mat.(18)  During the hip flexion phase, the pelvis and trunk rotates 70-90 degrees toward the femurs, and is driven by active contraction of the hip flexor muscles.(18)  Essentially then, the hip flexors are getting the majority of playing time in this, and many other “versions” of the crunch/sit-up; and the results can be less than desirable to say the least. 

Overtraining the hip flexors, specifically the Psoas can cause tightness, and restrict the ability to extend the hip. This results in an inhibited gluteus maximus as well as the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex intrinsic stabilization mechanism (the inner unit), which ultimately can increase translational and rotational stress as well as compressive force in the lumbar spine.(9, 12, 13) All of this can eventually lead to what has been labeled as sacroiliac joint dysfunction (SIJ), leading to referred pain in the low back, sacroiliac joint, and patellar tendon.(10) Poor posture, inadequate lumbo-pelvic-hip-stabilization, muscle imbalances (previously mentioned), and repetitive microtrauma to the joint, are the ultimate causes.(10) Please note diagram 8. Chek has found that... (6)

Those regularly performing crunches and sit-up type exercises, frequently demonstrate forward head posture (A); note that when head carriage is normal the dotted line through the cheekbone should fall in the same vertical plane as the sternum and pubic symphysis. (B) As the rectus abdominis becomes chronically shortened, it pulls the chest downward, increasing first rib angle; this is commonly associated with shoulder dysfunction and impingement of the nerves feeding the arm as they exit the cervical spine. (C) As the hip flexors shorten from chronic exposure to the sit-ups, leg extension and leg lowering exercises commonly used in abdominal workouts, the lower abdominal and hamstring muscles are lengthened, frequently demonstrating positional weakness. The postural changes demonstrated here are common among today’s athletes and can be corrected through improved control and strengthening of the inner unit musculature.

Diagram 8. Referenced from “The Inner Unit,”  pp. 2, by Chek.)

Knowing now, that abdominal training without proper pelvic stabilization increases intradiscal pressure and compressive forces in the lumbar spine,(12, 13) it seems peculiar why the crunch/sit-up has been, and continues to be a primary exercise of choice especially when considering the vast functions of the abdominal muscles. What goal is truly being accomplished here through “chronic” exposure to this sagittal plane concentrically dominated exercises?  (NOTE: This is NOT suggesting that spinal flexion exercises such as the crunch/sit-up are never prescribed. It IS suggesting however, that we have a logical rationale, progression, volume, frequency and specific goal with prescription.)


Additional research has also demonstrated that when “isolating” the superficial erectors, such as in hyper-extension training, without proper pelvic stabilization can increase intradiscal pressure to dangerous levels, causing buckling of the ligamentum flavum, and leading to the narrowing of the intervertebral foramen.(12, 13) These two structures (which can be observed in any basic anatomy text), are essentially the “gap” formed by two contacted vertebrae, just posterior to the body of the vertebra; and the ligamentous connective tissue joining them (such that can best be observed laterally).(28) It is not difficult to imagine the problems that can arise here when the close proximity of the spinal chord is taken into account!  Specifically, when the erectors become tight, overactive, or “synergistically dominant” over the inhibited glute max, they can cause an increase in lumbar lordosis which in turn can contribute hamstring strains, low back pain and referred pain to the sacroiliac joint (SIJ - mentioned previously) and buttocks.(9, 10)


As the evidence piles up, it is becoming increasingly obvious why lumbo-pelvic stabilization and muscle balance must precede intense training of the superficial prime movers. The improper training techniques mentioned above can increase the likelihood of manifesting what are commonly referred to as “UPPER CROSSED” and “LOWER CROSSED” postural distortions. (diagram 8) 

Upper crossed posture (UC), can be characterized by rounded shoulders and a forward head. Predictable patterns of injury include rotator cuff impingement, shoulder instability, biceps tendonitis, thoracic outlet syndrome and headaches.(9, 10, 12, 13)

Lower crossed posture (LC), as mentioned in part 1, can be characterized by increased lumbar lordosis and an anterior pelvic tilt. Common injury patterns include hamstring strains, anterior knee pain, and low back pain.(9, 10, 12, 13)

Look around and start noticing how common UC and LC are. From the average client to the elite athletes; most/all will have some degree of one or both of these.  If you aren’t already, perhaps start conducting a basic static and transitional flexibility assessment (standing postural assessment anterior/lateral/posterior views and an overhead squat) with your clients. Observe the frequency of which your clients will demonstrate these tendencies.

Diagram 9. Referenced from “Optimum Performance Training for the Performance Enhancement Specialist,”  pp.123, by Clark and Russell, and has been slightly modified for the sake of this article.)

Please note diagram 9. There has been extensive research that has revealed specific groups of muscles prone to becoming SHORT (facilitated), and their reciprocals prone to becoming LONG (inhibited).(9, 10, 12, 13) The muscles discussed in this article are PRIME examples of a few of these. What this tells us, is that by over use of these traditional techniques, we are encouraging tendencies toward dysfunction which already exist - that we should be trying to discourage. The point is that these trunk muscles are working constantly in all functional movement patterns (concentrically, isometrically, and eccentrically), and there is simply no need to “chronically” isolate them in this manner! 


These are only a few examples, yet the principals discussed are universal and apply across the board regardless of the exercise, position, load medium or goal.

Diagram 10: Crunch/Sit-up

As noted previously and demonstrated by diagram 7, after the posterior pelvic tilt is executed and the scapulae are raised, the sit up is primarily driven by the hip flexors (regardless of the IN/DEcline).

Diagram 11: Leg Raises - Roman Chair

Similar to the sit-up, leg raises are primarily driven by the hip flexors once the posterior pelvic tilt occurs. The moment arm of this exercise (the legs), increases in length during the lifting phase, essentially, INCREASING the load/difficulty as the legs are raised. The reverse crunch, listed next, demonstrates a moment arm that DECREASES in length as the lift is performed, making it a more realistic alternative for the average client. For more in depth information on this topic, please refer to reference 20.

Diagram 12: Reverse Crunch

The reverse crunch and its many prerequisite exercises can be beneficial in emphasizing the “neurological” lower abs (lower fibers of the Rectus Abdominis) as well as the “mechanical” lower abs (External Obliques). However, this exercise is often abused and performed with speeds and ROM’s exceeding what can be controlled causing early preferential recruitment of the hip flexors. Performing the exercise through the ROM demonstrated in A, B & C should only be performed at ROM's and speeds that can be controlled by the individual. If done carelessly (swinging the legs back and forth = hip flexion/extension), this can result once again in the hip flexors being the primary workers. Perhaps a beginning progression to encourage quality control and movement may be to encourage the ROM demonstrated in B & C (posterior pelvic tilt = lumbar flexion/extension).

Diagram 13: Throw-downs

It is very important to remember in an exercise like this, that when the legs are “thrown down,” this sudden increase in acceleration directly increases the FORCES produced at the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. (Keep in mind that the intervertebral discs in the spine have a small surface area, which ultimately means compression forces are increased exponentially at the lumbar spine.) To perform this exercise correctly, there must be optimal synergy between the hip flexors and lower abdominals. In a VAST MAJORITY of individuals, particularly new clients, this synergy will NOT be present. The result will be early recruitment of the hip flexors which goes hand in hand with increased excessive lumbar lordosis, compression, and wear & tear. 

Diagram 14: Machine Rotation

Please note available active trunk rotation in diagram A, and likewise the ROM the machine is forcing the individual into in diagram B. As can be observed here, if one is not careful, machine rotation can take the unaware user past available active ROM (A), into an extreme ROM (B).  This compensation will usually occur by way of increased spinal flexion(C). This is due to the fact that rotation while in a flexed position allows the greatest degree of rotational freedom from the facets.(20) Along with this, it is important to be aware of the fact that the posterior lateral aspect of the disk is described as structurally the weakest; for this reason the most vulnerable position for the disks can often be that of flexion combined with rotation.(20) Flexion of the spine in standing has been said to decrease disk integrity by 50%, adding rotation to flexion decreases disk integrity by another 25%, totaling a 75% reduction of disk integrity during combined flexion and rotation.(20)

Now, is this suggesting that we never train spinal rotation? Absolutely not! If this were the case virtually all movement would be nearly impossible, and certainly pointless. The evidence IS suggesting that we treat these situations and positions as LOAD SPECIFIC and that we as professionals know our clients capabilities through proper assessment. As Purvis and Simon explain...(20)

The key to rotational training is micro-progression starting with the following:

Diagram 15: Extension Bench

The primary purpose behind the extension bench may be two fold. Beginning with optimal spinal alignment (A), one may either set the hip pad low enough so as to allow for hip flexion/extension there by emphasizing the glutes (B). Or, the hip pad may be set high enough so as to block hip flexion/extension thereby encouraging spinal flexion/extension emphasizing the erectors (C). Regardless of the goal, it is still vital to remember that optimal stability, alignment, and flexibility of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex must precede “outer unit” training due to the reasons previously mentioned.


The primary focus on trunk training should be to improve function vs. esthetics (spot reduction?). Essentially, neural adaptations become the focus of the program instead of striving for absolute/isolated strength gains!(12, 13) Having optimal flexibility, posture, and strength of the trunk will allow for the increased levels of intensity, volume, and endurance needed to maximize the gains in the rest of the body (i.e., increased strength, muscle mass, metabolism, fat-burning, performance, etc.).

Prior to beginning any comprehensive exercise program, it is vital to conduct at least a basic Kinetic Chain Assessment (KCA). This is done to identify any gross muscle imbalances that may need to be addressed and progressed parallel with the exercise program. (Please see the Exercise and Flexibility Library.)

A method of progression agreed upon by many experts progresses individuals through FLEXIBILITY---> STABILITY---> STRENGTH---> and finally to POWER phases. Each phase follows specific acute training variables to elicit specific responses from the body prior to moving to the next phase. (For specifics on trunk/core progressions please see references 2, 5, 8, 11, 12, & 13.)

The following example of this system of progression was referenced directly from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and can be located in references 11, 12, 13...





(NOTE:  All stretches & exercises mentioned above can be located in the PTontheNET library of stretches and exercises.)


It has become obvious as of late that training the TVA (particularly in cueing the muscle), has become a source of confusion.  This may be due to contradictory evidence being produced and provided to fitness/performance professionals combined with a lack of communication between our industry’s leaders.  This in turn has lead to much of this information being taken out of context. The late Mel Siff and others have stated that... ...(14, 21) 

There is no evidence that the TVA becomes dysfunctional on its own, because in any trunk stabilization task it functions in conjunction with the other abdominal and back muscles. In no real life movement is the TVA tensioned in total isolation. The individual degree of contribution by the abdominal and back muscles is under reflexive, proprioceptive control; not conscious, isolated attempts at activation in dynamic action.  This is not to negate the value of approaches that use isolationist approaches for valid therapeutic or analytical reasons, such as those involving EMG mediated biofeedback, “Kegel” exercises, and post surgical respiratory exercises, but it is to stress that the unqualified application of isolationist approaches to sports conditioning needs to be viewed with careful circumspection.

What I'm suggesting here is simply this: Fitness professionals, particularly with regard to core assessment and training, need to understand WHAT and WHY to use specific exercises, techniques and their corresponding cues so as not to encourage the likelihood of poor movement and/or injury. Different contexts require different techniques and there are virtually no absolutes, hence, UP education is the key.

Furthermore, the manner of cueing the TVA prior to exercise has also been a source of confusion. REGARDLESS OF THE VERBAGE (I.E. draw-in, engage, sit-tall, abdominal-bracing, etc.), it has been said that the TVA’s involvement in exercise should be thought of as a “VOLUME KNOB.” Specific progressions may call for a MAXIMAL VOLUME (such as a 4-point stance exercise), where as others may require simple “awareness” of posture (functional movement patterns such as the squat, deadlift, etc.).

Despite any confusion or controversy, it can certainly be universally agreed upon that MICRO-PROGRESSIONS are the key (I.E. FLEXIBILITY---> STABILITY---> STRENGTH---> POWER). Only exercises that push, yet remain within the bounds of, the individual’s limits of CONTROL - must be prescribed.


These first two installments of “Avoiding the Traditional Pitfalls of Training” were referenced with the intention to “UP-EDUCATE” interested readers and students and stimulate a proactive attitude to seek out the research themselves.  

If there are any machines and/or exercises that you as subscribers are curious about and would like to see scientifically analyzed similarly to those in parts 1 & 2, please feel free to contact PTontheNET at:

References & Recommended Reading:

  1. Burris, C. (2003). Truth In Nutrition Part 1 and Part 2. (
  2. Chek, P. (1999). Advanced Program Design. (correspondence course manual) 
  3. Chek, P. (2001). Back Strong and Beltless (parts 1-3). (
  4. Chek, P. (2001). Flatten Your Abs Forever. Video-Lecture. (book forth-coming)
  5. Chek, P. (1996). Scientific Back Training. (correspondence course manual)
  6. Chek, P. (2001). The Inner Unit. (
  7. Chek, P. (2001). The Outer Unit. (
  8. Chek, P. (1998). Scientific Core Conditioning. (correspondence course manual)
  9. Clark, M. (2001). An Integrated Approach to Human Movement Science. (NASM)
  10. Clark, M. (2001). A Scientific Approach to Understanding Kinetic Chain Dysfunction. (NASM)
  11. Clark, M; Russell, A. (2002). The Essentials of Integrated Training (series). (
  12. Clark, M. (2001). Integrated Training for the New Millennium. (NASM)
  13. Clark, M; Russell, A. (2001). Optimum Performance Training for the Performance    Enhancement Specialist. (NASM)
  14. Cook, Gray. (2002). The Functional Movement Screen. Live-Lecture. (Sunday, August 18, 2002)
  15. Hittner, N. (2003). Flatter Abs. (
  16. Hittner, N. (2003). Want ABS? (Parts 1 &2).Yet to be Released! (
  17. Kendall, McCreary, Provance. (1993). Muscles Testing and Function. (4th ed.)
  18. Neumann, DA. (2002). Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System.
  19. Personal Training on the Net. (2003). Library of Exercises & Stretches. (
  20. Purvis, T; Simon, M. (2001). Resistance Training Specialist Programs. (levels 1 & 2 course manual)
  21. Siff, M. (2003). Transversus Abdominis Revisited. (
  22. Slavin, M. (1999). The Physiology of Movement.
  23. Stoehr, Garen. (2002). A Field Guide to Practical Anatomy. (course manual). Peak Fitness Consulting.
  24. Walthers, DS. (1981). Applied Kinesiology. (Volume 1)
  25. Wolcott, W; Fahey, T. (2000). The Metabolic Typing Diet.
  26. Fox, SI. (1999). Human Physiology. (6th ed.)
  27. Wardlaw, Gordon. (1999). Perspectives in Nutrition. (4th ed.)
  28. Abrahams, PH; Hutchings, RT; Marks, SC Jr. (1998). McMinn’s Color Atlas of Human Anatomy. (4th Ed.)

*Photos taken at Northwest Athletic Club - Moore Lake; Fridley, MN. (

*Models:  Alex Sofchalk, BA, CSCS, CPT, and Heather Wicklund, BA, CSCS

*Contact Noah Hittner at: OR

Other PTontheNET Recommended Reading:

  1. POSTURAL PROFILE by Lenny Parracino
  4. SIMPLE GUIDE TO STRETCHING by Lenny Parracino
  6. THE ESSENTIALS OF INTEGRATED TRAINING SERIES by Mike Clark, Alan    Russell, Rodney Corn, & Scott Lucett
  11. ABS IN OR ABS OUT by Paul Chek