WHAT IT IS: Some exercises are specifically designed to isolate the twisting motion. You can do this lying flat on your back and then twisting at the waist to lower your legs to the floor. Or you can anchor your lower body, and turn your shoulders from side to side, as in the Russian twist.
But you can also add twists to other gym exercises. For example, a standing row can include a twist, as can a shoulder press.
Finally, an exercise doesn't have to involve an actual twist to work the twisting muscles. If you do an exercise that requires coordination and balance, and you're actively preventing your torso from twisting, you're still using those muscles. That's why, when you get to the workout section, you won't see a twisting movement in every single program. Rest assured, though, that Alwyn took this movement into consideration and made sure it was covered, one way or another.
MUSCLES USED: Your waist has two sets of muscles charged with bending and twisting: the external and internal obliques. The internals lie beneath the externals, and the two sets of muscles have fibers that run diagonally in opposite directions. If you were to bend to your left, then straighten, the internal and external obliques on the right side of your torso would stretch as you bent and then contract to lift you back up. If you were to twist to your left, you'd use the external obliques on your right side and the internal obliques on your left side.
Some small lower-back muscles also play roles in bending and twisting. (The
main lower-back muscle group, the spinal erectors, is mostly involved in straightening your back when it's bent forward.)
And, of course, the muscle you probably care most about, the rectus abdominis or six-pack muscle, is also involved in twisting. But its relationship to functional waist movement is so complex and, yes, twisted that I'd rather leave it out here so I can discuss it in appropriate detail in Chapter 13.
REAL-LIFE USES: You can't play a sport without twisting. The most obvious example is the baseball swing. A right-handed hitter will swing using the external obliques on the right side of his body, and the internal obliques on his left, to drive the ball, although most of his power will come from his hips as he turns them. (Many youngsters mistakenly believe that the forearms are the key to the swing, but the hands and lower arms are just the end of the whip. The hip turn is the key.)
Many trainers and gurus, such as the aforementioned Paul Chek, write and speak extensively about the importance of the midsection muscles as the communications link between your upper- and lower-body muscles. And Alwyn and I certainly don't disagree in general (although we might quibble with some particulars of each trainer's approach—we fitness geeks are good at quibbling).
But the importance of abdominal strength, flexibility, and overall integrity goes far beyond sports. Your day starts with a twist, when you throw your legs over the side of the bed to walk to the bathroom. (And if you don't start the day by going to the bathroom, you're probably not drinking enough water. But that's a subject for Chapter 22.)
From there, nearly everything you do involves a series of bends and twists, separately and together. You twist getting in and out of your car. You twist in your chair at work to get a file. You bend and twist to pick up your kids, or pick up after them.
You've probably heard that 80 percent of Americans develop back problems at some point. It's one of those statistics I've used so many times that I couldn't tell you where it started, or whether it's still true or ever was true. But even if it's the scientific version of an urban legend, it's worth repeating just to get people to pay attention to the importance of midsection fitness. Strong abdominal muscles may not prevent back injuries—most guys train their abs with series of crunches, which aren't thought to do much, if anything, to protect your spine. But midsection fitness does. That includes endurance, strength, and flexibility in all your mid-body muscles, which Al-wyn's workouts will promote.
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