Mel Siff
05-01-2000, 01:18 PM
The therapeutic and fitness training worlds still seem to place a heavy
emphasis on an isolationist approach to physical testing and conditioning,
without carefully identifying the situational limitations and scope whenever
such as approach is used.

Attempts are made to test and train muscles individually. Few days pass
without comments being made on isolating the upper or lower abdominals for
training, selectively training the core of the body, activating transversus
abdominis to 'stabilise the trunk', testing for weaknesses or imbalances in
certain muscle groups or explaining poor performance or injury on the basis
of imbalance in some isolated system of the body.

The body constitutes a linked system and, unless the scope and limitations of
any given isolationist approach is meticulously identified, it is misleading
and unwarranted to use and extrapolate findings based on isolationist
methods. If one unquestioningly applies isolationist methods, then it is
being assumed that the isolated area concerned constitutes a closed system.
This implies further that this isolated system is not affected by or does not
affect what happens in adjacent or other linked systems, or at least that any
such interaction with other systems is insignificant.

The trunk, abdominals, lower extremity, knee and so forth are not closed
systems and any action involving these subsystems influences what is
happening in all parts of the body and the body as a whole. It is vital that
the body be regarded in terms of a systems theoretical approach, rather than
one which makes very tenuous assumptions about the closedness of
conveniently isolated subsystems whose apparent isolation from other systems
invariably is based entirely on convenience or convenience.

Even if one attempts to apply a systems theoretical approach, it may still be
inadequate to regard the entire body as the superordinate closed system, as
is implied, for instance, by the current somewhat simplistic emphasis on
so-called "core training". The limitations of the latter concept may readily
be noticed if one observes that it is very rare in land-based sport for core
stability to be manifested in the absence of contact with the ground or
external objects. Peripheral stability, which usually is reliant on solid
contact between the extremities of the body with some surface, is essential
before core stability becomes implicated in a given sporting action on land.

Without adequate peripheral stabilisation, the functional capabilities of the
"core" are meaningless. The entire body or the body-surface constitutes the
appropriate closed system for our attention. Thus, if terms such as "core
stabilisation" are to be used, then they need to be carefully applied within
the appropriate context.

In this respect, articles such as the following (and the many references
provided by this article) are most relevant:

Zajac F E & Gordon M F (1989) Determining muscle's force and action in
multi-articular movement Exerc Sport Sci Rev 17: 187-230

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.

If we do so, then we may also become far more careful to avoid referring
rigidly to certain muscles as stabilisers, movers, agonist, antagonists,
flexors, adductors and so on, instead choosing to refer to the stabilising,
moving, agonistic, antagonistic, flexor and adduction roles of a muscle
during any given phase of a specific motor action.

Dr Mel C Siff
Denver, USA

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