Written By: Sam Winston
Programming core strength is traditionally directed to a list of ab exercises performed at the end of lifting sessions. Anywhere from 5-10 minutes spent to on a few sets and repetitions of movements such as crunches, sit-ups, planks, and bicycles. The approach many people have adopted to train their core is similar to rest of their prime movers and musculature. This includes concentric contractions that shorten the muscle fibers against resistance and releasing the contraction under control for eccentric stimulation. If flexing and extending one’s arms and legs increases strength, the logical approach to core strength would be to do the same, right? One important characteristic to point out is that the core fulfills a unique purpose compared to the rest of one’s musculature. Knowing this will help an athlete or coach program more effectively to increase core strength.
To begin, we will start from the most popular principle when one thinks of sports and the core. The number one characteristic that comes to mind is core stabilization. This is the ability of the anatomical core musculature, interconnecting the spine, hips, and joints around the lumbar vertebrae, to prevent movement. In simple terms, stabilization is defined as making something become unlikely to give way or change. During sports, one’s core muscles are activated to make your hips and spine unlikely to move. Where one’s extremities create motion through space, the core acts to stop motion in order for the body to have a solid foundation that actions are performed from. This is an important role the core plays when an athlete is performing any athletic routine, be it sprinting, cycling, lifting, cutting, jumping, or any other movement. It is important to remember core stabilization is not about creating movement, rather preventing movement.
While training one’s extremities and prime mover muscles, the goal is to improve power, forcefulness, and movement efficiency of the joints to fulfill a task across space. One’s core, on the other hand, is there to counteract forces placed on the body from these movements, along with stopping the trunk from falling into unstable positions. This will allow the capacity to produce optimal biomechanics in the extremities. Simply stated, the core is working to create a foundation the arms and legs can move from. When one’s body is moving through space or performing any number of sport activities, the majority of these actions happen unilaterally. During this, one’s body requires an upright or straight position. When one side of the body acts, the core transfers energy from one side to the other creating the opposite force needed to maintain stable posture. When one runs, the opposite arm raises with the lead leg to counteract the unilateral force. This occurs as result of the core acting appropriately producing the stabilizing foundation needed by the lead leg and the opposite side arm preventing movement in the body’s center keeping it facing straight forward. Another example includes when one presses a weight overhead, the core tightens around the spine and adjusts for the change in your center of gravity allowing the legs to maintain a strong position and the spine to maintain its posture. Common cues one might hear from a coach include “Tighten the abs!” or “Chest out, hips forward!” These cues encourage the utilization of the core in order to improve technique and movement efficiency.
Though the core is able to produce motion throughout all planes of motion, it is typically limited in range and is a precursor to other larger movements in the arms and/or legs. During a throwing or kicking motion, one can notice how the core moves in response to other extremities. In some movements, the hips turn toward the action being performed before any other part of the body, which allows maximal power output. This is one of the reasons it is often said power comes from the core. In this situation, it can be noted that one side of the core facilitates and provides additional motion, while the other side is stabilizing the body’s center to prevent undesired twisting, movement, or collapsing.
Truly understanding what the core does helps develop more effective ways of making it stronger and increasing performance and functionality. A stronger core promotes increased performance and injury prevent, regardless of the sport one participates in. A house is only as strong as its foundation, while one’s movement is only as strong as their core.
To optimize the increase of core strength, it is necessary to move the body through space, both actively and dynamically, while loading the body as a unit. Movements such as loaded carries, sled pushes and pulls, walking lunges, step-ups, and other similar exercises making one move their body through space under heavy loads. These movements will improve core strength, which will ultimately athletic performance and movement strength. In many athletes, a lack of core strength is a prominent factor limiting what they can achieve. Like any other form of training, the specific purpose of the body’s parts plays an important role in the choice of exercises that an athlete will use to improve performance. This is why it is strongly recommended to approach core training with loaded carries and other similar exercises.
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About The Author
Sam Winston is a Strength, Speed, and Endurance coach based out of Boise, Idaho. He specializes in preparing people to achieve and unlock their optimal performance in athletics and sport of all disciplines. As a former Division I champion sprinter and currently competing as an elite triathlete, he knows what it takes to be top tier competitor, and having worked alongside a team of coaches boasting experience at the Olympic level both competing and coaching he has learned how to develop champions. Sam currently heads the sports performance division for Jack City Fitness in Boise and is completing his Masters of Science degree in Exercise Science concentrating in performance enhancement and injury prevention research.
Certifications: NASM, CPT and PES National Association of Speed and Explosion
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