As you my have noticed, these first 10 blog posts have set the foundation of my training philosophy. This one is no different, but it’s worth mentioning my intent, because after this one, we’ll move into exploring exercises from the track to the field to the weight room; hitting on all training variables. Throughout these future posts, you’ll see how my methods complement my philosophy.
Over the years, one of the hottest topics of debate is “Core” training. From Pilates, Yoga, Physical Therapy, Research, everyone has laid claim on what they deem the most effective way to train the core to prevent injury or to aid in performance. As practitioners, we all have our exercises of choice. Whether you’re a practitioner that believes we get all the core work we need from our strength and platform exercise, or you’re on the other end of the continuum and feel that all we need are the good ol’ corrective exercises to help fill this void; either way, you’re neither right nor wrong. Sometimes we need to restore ranges of motion as well as low force and longer contractile needs. Other times we need to produce high speed and force demands. It’s worth mentioning, that I tend to use the term ‘trunk’ in place of ‘core’, and I’ll use these terms synonymously throughout this blog.
The trunk consists of bones, cartilage, connective tissue, soft tissue and the nerves that innervate. To narrow it down slightly, I’ll put emphasis into the soft tissue. This includes anything that attaches from the pelvis above and below, and anything that attaches to the thorax above and below. As an example, the Latisimuss Dorsi attaches on the humerus and interdigitates thru the thoracolumbar fascia to the pelvis. There are tons of muscle to account for, but we can simplify in terms of available ranges of motions provided by the joint structures.
Lets examine the ROM we have:
1) Spinal, consisting of flexion, rotation, side bend, extension, extension and rotation, flexion and rotation, rotation and side bend. The availability of the previously mentioned ROM will depend on the spinal level.
2) Hip, consisting of flexion, extension, anterior tilt, posterior tilt, rotation, lateral flexion, internal rotation, external rotation, adduction, adduction and flexion and extension, abduction and flexion and extension.
3) Shoulder, consisting of abduction, horizontal adduction, flexion, extension, internal rotation, external rotation, extension and internal and external rotation, flexion and internal and external rotation.
Now that we have defined what makes up this region, and what the possible ranges of motion are, lets really look at the role. The goal of transfer of force and force absorption is to be resilient to the load and direction of force. We have identified many of the ROM abilities of the trunk, but the role of ‘stiffness’ is the key to being strong. Forces act on the body through 1) compression 2) distraction 3) torque and 4) shear. Most common practices of core training are to simply strengthen the patterns of motion we identified earlier. To me, it’s more about finding or building exercises that exploit how the trunk deals with the forces based on positional loading; starting with low intensity based exercises, and then progressing to high intensity exercises, where the trunk serves as the mechanism of transfer.
My progression is based on ability and integrity of the trunk (especially the lumbopevic complex) to stay engaged while performing the exercise. The exercises you’ll see below are just examples and not complete in terms of progressions. Also, special ‘thanks’ to my athlete Marcus Moore (@mmchi3).
1) Activation Exercises: (dead bugs, bird dogs, quadruped, straight leg raise series) Low intensity exercises with the priority on muscular endurance while placing the priority on postural control in a controlled environment (Tonic motor unit recruitment).
2) Stability / Dynamic Stability and Strength (planking, pedestals, planking with perturbations, rhythmic stability, traditional strength exercises, asymmetrical loading strength exercises) Challenging postural control with more loading and slight deviations of position and load; forcing the athlete to overcome and restore control.
3) Compound Movements / Contrast / Complex (pull ups to leg raise, glute hamstring raise, plyometric push ups/ cable rotations to speed rotations with medicine ball / heavy loaded strength to activation) Challenging the athletes to maintain positional control under greater loads and speeds. Truly utilizing the trunk as a mechanism of transfer of force and velocity.
Exercise and correlating force needed to perform:
Draw Ins <5 Nm
Bird dog 32 Nm
Side Plank 70 Nm
Back Squat at 75% 444 Nm
Front Squat 478 Nm
From this list, one should not determine that an exercise is either good or bad based on demand, but, more importantly, understand that to effectively prepare the core/trunk for sport performance we must have a complete plan. We must implement low stress level based exercises to recruit deep postural stabilizing muscles and increase the endurance capacity of these tissues. On the flip side, we must challenge the person to tolerate high forces and velocities while maintaining the trunk stability. It’s not a matter of which exercises are better, but more about how they are integrated into the training.