Tuesday, July 02 2019

Core training has long been associated with crunches and sit-ups.  In the studio, the mat has served as the almighty shrine for core worship; and in the pool the noodle has traditionally been the epicenter for core obsession.  Not anymore! UK Aqua Expert, Steph Toogood, shares a pool workout that supports the science behind the current recommendations for vertical core training. 

H2O Core Solutions is a program that is suitable for all populations.  Fitness professionals will take away solutions for strengthening the core with simple tweaks to base movements, including jogs, kicks, skis, jacks and rocking horse. 

  • Strategies include:
  • Strengthening the upper and lower body musculature
  • Symmetrical movement followed with asymmetrical exercise
  • Static movement blended with dynamic movement
  • Off-Axis movement
  • Varying base of support

 Many of the strategies featured in the video have infinite variations using impact options, tempo, arm patterning and more.  Steph’s strategic plan also includes the use of webbed gloves and buoyant equipment.  Viewers will get a sneak peak of HYDROFIT’s new Noodle Buoys in segments 4 and 5. 

According to Steph, the inspiration for this program developed from issues her students were having with their bodies and through her own observations while teaching.  “Increasingly students have spoken to me before class and shared with me that they have sought medical advice for various skeletal problems only to be told that they need to strengthen their core,” says Steph.   In the video, Steph reminds viewers that many everyday activities depend on a strong core, including mobility, which we take for granted until it becomes a problem.

And this is precisely the line of reasoning fitness professionals need to use when re-educating students on the importance of core training.  Instructors need to dispel the myth that core training is ab training.  And while we are in re-education mode, let’s once and for all completely disassociate core training with spot-reducing a fat belly. According to ACE Health & Fitness Expert, Pete McCall, doing abdominal exercises in the hopes of burning fat is like trying to walk up the down escalator; it just isn’t that efficient.  His philosophy is that mat-based crunches should never be the foundation of a core training program. 

In an article for ACE Fitness, McCall outlines the argument for vertical core training.
_“The musculoskeletal structure of the human body is designed to be most efficient when standing upright on the ground, not lying on the floor.  Think about it, the human body is designed to move, and the basic, default pattern of movement is walking, or the gait cycle.  The skeletal and muscle structures are designed in such a way to create mechanical energy from gravity and ground reaction forces in order to conserve metabolic energy.” _

In an article for U.S. News, contributing author, Chris Kolba, provides further clarity in the support of vertical core training.  “In most sports or activities, the body is primarily in an upright vertical position with various components of vertical, horizontal and rotational movement acting against gravity, producing and reducing ground reaction forces and momentum. Therefore, training the core in an upright position would be a better choice to facilitate better muscle, joint and balance receptor activity, ultimately leading to better carry over to the skill/activity. Not to mention saving your spine and discs the beating we now know they take from repetitive sit-ups. Repetitive flexion of the spine is known to cause disc degeneration, poor posture, tight hip flexors, breathing dysfunction and a handful of other problems that lead to breakdown and poor performance.”

 Still skeptical?  One of the aquatic fitness industry’s leading experts, Pauline Ivens, has for a long time been one of the most vocal proponents of vertical core training in the pool.  Pauline offers a dual DVD set, Choreography for the Core, which showcases a variety of ideas for training the core vertically in the pool.  

Below are just some of the tips Pauline offers in her educational handout for the DVDs.

1.Stay vertical as much as possible.
2.Keep in motion. Move the spine in every direction
if the participants are able.
3.Look for simple vertical core exercises. The simplest way to activate the anterior core is to water walk forwards, and/or run forwards.
4.The simplest way to activate the posterior core is to water walk and/or run backwards.
5.Emphasize back extension(standing tall)
6.Limit the amount of repeated hip flexion, especially with the legs as long levers
7. Do not use hip flexion for abdominal training.
Know how to engage the abdominals
without hip flexion.
8.Strengthen the core by blending static, held contractions with moving contractions.
9.Use “bracing” exercises to help strengthen the deep spinal muscles.
10. Maintain strength and mobility in the upper and lower body, because they
are connected to the core.

 H20 Core Solutions puts many of these tips into action, along with many other strategies uniquely designed by Steph, who is well known for her dedication to science-based movement applications.  The founder of Hydro-Actif, the UK’s leading resource for aqua fitness, Steph has produced numerous DVDs and educated thousands of instructors.  Look for her at the International Aquatic Fitness Conference – IAFC 2017.

 Steph has several other videos streaming on, including programming for deep, hand buoys, functional movement, older adults and more. 

Author: Mark Grevelding is the founder of Fitmotivation. He is also a training specialist and consultant with the Aquatic Exercise Association’s (AEA). Mark has been active in the fitness industry for 22 years as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, international presenter and a continuing education provider for AEA, AFAA & ACE.