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Fitness first - By Bruno de Jongh

Today we start a brand new column with leading fitness expert Bruno de Jongh. Bruno starts his column by looking at the importance of your core muscles.

I’ve been reading several forums on the internet about amateur footballers complaining of lower back pain. Football in itself requires exceptional abilities in the spine as well as the lower limbs. Even though this is a rare type of injury amongst professional players, it is common between amateur and weekend players.

We live in a society where after working hours half of us go to the pub and the other half exercise in gyms or sports centres, or in a park if it’s sunny. Some probably do both. But one can’t deny that during the summer months the local commons are swarming with football matches throughout the weekends.

Many of those playing are ‘weekend athletes’ and they have a high chance of developing pains and aches due to an inconsistent exercise routine with specific exercises to target their needs. You can only guess how a body which has been sitting at a desk all week and drinking a few pints here and there must feel when it is suddenly plunged into 2-3 hours of sprinting and explosive movements with only a few breaks in between.

The spine is a complicated segmented system with 33 joints stacked one on top of each other, separated by cartilage discs that work as shock absorbers. It is no wonder that it occasionally fails. As people age, so do the intervertebral discs, and this process can start as early as the mid-20s.

The other day I was at a dinner party at a friend’s house I was put on a table with four other guests I didn’t really know. As the night progressed the word got out I was a physiotherapist and one of the guys sitting on my table, who was probably on his early 50s, said he played football regularly all his life and he had slipped a few discs in his spine throughout his younger years. When I asked him about his recovery he said there was only one thing that helped him fully recover and prevent any new episodes: Pilates.

Physical fitness system

Pilates is a fantastic physical fitness system that aims to not only build flexibility, but also strength, endurance, and coordination in the legs, abdominals, arms and back. It became very popular when 'Queen of Pop' Madonna (pictured) revealed that it was the secret to her fantastically toned and muscular figure.

It comes from the principle that in order to attain control of your body you must have a starting place: the centre, which is composed by the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks and inner thighs (core muscles). And who needs more core control than football players; the spine rotates and twists when the body is performing a kick, but it’s only with strong core muscles that it can provide the body with stability and support when the foot is kicking and/or the head is heading.

By now you probably get the picture as to how important the core muscles are in maintaining the body’s suppleness and integrity, by keeping them strong and flexible you nurture the natural curves on your spine and create a neutral position for its joints, thus creating a close to optimal alignment.

I see many clients between the ages of 25 and 35 who are sufferers of back pain, not all footballers, but when I ask them the question “Do you exercise?” 95% of them say “Not as much as I should”, “I try to” or “At the weekends I do”.

Something I usually tell those clients is: “If you have back pain now when you are 25, imagine when you are 50”. It’s a good way to give them a reality check and urge them to change their exercise routine or spur them into actually getting one!

If you don’t go to a gym or exercise outdoors regularly and frequently, here’s a quick 15-20 minutes exercise routine that will help keep your core muscles strong. You can do this 3 times a week in the morning just before you have your breakfast or when you get in from work.

Exercise 1: Curl-ups
Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, place your finger tips behind your ears and curl your chest towards your thighs, but only until your shoulder blades have come off the floor, and then down again. Make sure your neck stays in line with your spine and don’t pull your head up with your hands. Focus on your abdominal muscles. I like to say “eyes between the knees” on this one.

Exercise 2: Oblique curl-ups
Same position as previous exercise, but this time cross one heel over the opposite knee. Bring the opposite elbow towards the crossed leg only as high as the shoulder blade has lifted off the ground. Watch for your neck integrity again.

Exercise 3: Hip lifts
While you’re still lying on your back with your arms next to your body and knees bent squeeze a football in between your knees and lift your hips off the floor all the way up pressing your heels and hands on the floor. Hold for three seconds and release. Keep your chin in and focus on your gluteus muscles and hamstrings.

Exercise 4: Back extensions
Roll onto your front with your arms next to your body. Squeeze your bum and keep your feet on the floor as you raise your chest about 4-5 inches off the ground (or as far as you comfortably can) keeping your eyes on the floor and chin tucked in. Hold for three seconds and relax. Make sure your focus is on the muscles around your spine. To increase intensity simply bring your finger tips next to your temple.

Exercise 5: Plank
Place your elbows on the floor under your shoulders and your legs straight with feet hip width apart and toes down. Push the floor down with your elbows and toes. Aim to keep your bum and shoulders in line, holding your belly in for 20 to 60 seconds. Focus should be on abs, thighs and gluteus muscles. Repeat it 3-5 times.

This basic and quick exercise programme is a suggestion for people who are struggling with an exercise routine that fits around their busy lives to help maintain the core muscles in check and any related problems at bay.

You can do as many sets and reps as you want, increasing them as you progress. There are many magazines available with exercise programmes that can be a real challenge to your core muscles and you should adapt your exercise routine as needed. Also you could always try to find a Pilates class near you. There are many teachers and classes around so try different ones until you find the one that suits you.

If you are the occasional weekend athlete who doesn’t have time to exercise during the week, either because you do long hours at work or/and you have kids at home that require your attention and care, I would suggest you make some time for yourself and your body. It might prove invaluable in the near future.

And if after implementing a regular exercise routine your back pain does not go away I suggest you try having an assessment with a Physiotherapist, Osteopath or Bowen Therapist to try to search the cause of it.

Bruno C. de Jongh - Bowen and Shiatsu Practitioner

After completing his studies in Shiatsu Massage and acquiring a degree in Physiotherapy in Brazil, Bruno de Jongh came to England and also embarked on a successful career as a fitness instructor, teaching in health-clubs in London. After sometime Bruno discovered The Bowen and Emmett Techniques which have proven to be valuable tools when treating conditions that previously have not responded well to conventional treatments. Bruno opened his own practice The Calm Blue Room in 2009 in Waterloo, London, and throughout his career Bruno has aided over 600 people with a vast array of ailments and conditions, enabling them to recover a life full of energy, physical health and emotional well-being -


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