Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Scientific Core Conditioning

Patrice Carmignani says it's vital the core is worked out correctly because it supports everything. Photo / Doug Sherring
Patrice Carmignani says it's vital the core is worked out correctly because it supports everything. Photo / Doug Sherring

What is it? You might have a strong core already, but this is where an instructor teaches you about how to use it properly (particularly for the sport you prefer) while staying injury-free.

What's needed? Gym gear, gym shoes, water bottle.

The experience: Patrice Carmignani is the head trainer at Gym Tonic, above the Mt Eden Pool. He says it became a gym by chance really. He was originally using the space for personal training clients when a swimmer downstairs one day asked, "How much does it cost to join the gym up there?"

So he rolled with the request and bought more gear (he only had a Swiss ball and some handweights at the start). Now there are about 150 clients who work out in the intimate studio, which is more like a bumper-sized home gym where you can tune the radio to what suits you while you sweat. He tells me he is also in New Zealand by chance. The Frenchman had been sailing around the world for three and a half years "until I ran out of money" and so stopped in Aotearoa.

That was 10 years ago, and he's since stayed anchored in Auckland with his family.

Patrice is hot on sport-specific personal training and rehabilitation, and time-effective training but mostly on encouraging clients to do an exercise they enjoy, because that means they will want to do it. He has studied sport sciences and physical therapy so he knows what he's on about.

My first question to him about scientific core conditioning is, "Er, what exactly is it?"

The website says it's about assessing: "lumbo-pelvic stabilisation mechanism/ transverse abdominal function/ cross lumbar abdominal strength, upper abdominal strength, activation of the thoraco-lumbar fascia system for total body stabilisation". In simple speak, Patrice tells me it's about activating your core properly so you get the most out of abdominal exercises. It's important the core is worked out well as it supports everything.

To show me what he means, he gets me to do gym exercises such as abdominal crunches, lunges and breathing exercises. With each exercise he points at the part of my middle that should feel "activated" - I should feel the muscles working and thus be able to focus on where to work harder.

"Now can you feel it working?" he says, smiling, after showing me how to improve each exercise. I'm not smiling, so it would be fair to say I'm learning because I could feel my middle "working".

Essentially, Patrice is talking about technique. If I do the core exercises properly, then shorter workout periods should be more effective than longer, less effective ones (I like the sound of this). Doing exercises right also protects the joints, which means I'm less likely to be injured.

Patrice says he likes to help individuals learn how to exercise effectively and efficiently, with whatever injuries or setbacks they might have. For example, he has helped train some physically disabled athletes.

But he reckons most people have some type of setback to work around, including himself. He's had a long list of injuries over the years, his most recent requiring surgery after he slipped in his garden and "a steel rod went in my neck". But he bounced back carefully into exercising again and is keen to help more people bounce back into shape too.

How much? A scientific core conditioning assessment is $45 (and takes about 45 minutes). As for Gym Tonic, some of the options available include a monthly membership of $108 a month, or a monthly membership for couples at $172 monthly. There are no joining fees. Personal training is $65 an hour, $40 for half an hour.

Worth it? Learning better exercise technique has to be a good thing.

Try it: Gym Tonic is above the Mt Eden Pool at 30a Bellevue Rd, Mt Eden. Ph (09) 948 4977.

Rating: 7/10

- Herald on Sunday

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