Sep 10, 2007

Core Training...What's the Hype?

Written for & SB Fitness Magazine Online
by Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS

Here's the punch is beneficial for all individuals (healthy, non-spine injury persons) to perform core training. How much? What intensity? How often? Depends on your goals and your current state. Seek out a trainer to help you work through those questions. But here are a few examples of common exercises to give you an idea:

1. Draw Ins
Target: Transverse Abdominal
Key Coaching Points:
a. Perform by pulling your belly button into your spine as much as possible (think about getting as skinny as you can). If you can’t feel it burning by your belly button…you’re either not doing it right or not pulling in hard enough.
b. Add leg or arm movements similar to sport movements (marching, cycling, lateral movements, etc.) for more difficulty.

Sets: 2-3 Reps: 5 for 5 seconds or 5-10 reps/leg while holding DI

2. Bridges/Planks
Target: Transverse Abdominals, Gluteus Medius/Tensor Fascia Latae (Hip Stabilizers) and Multifidus/Paraspinals (Spine Stabilizers).
Key Coaching Points:
a. Perform in various positions (prone, supine, on side) attempting to hold the body in perfectly straight line from head to heel
b. Shoulder blades pinched back and down. Elbows directly underneath the shoulder joint.
c. Add single leg variations or arm/leg movements for difficulty one each position can be maintained for 60 seconds).

Sets: 2-3 each Time: 20-60 seconds

3. Quadrupeds
Target: Transverse Abdominals, Gluteus Medius/Tensor Fascia Latae (Hip Stabilizers) and Multifidus/Paraspinals (Spine Stabilizers) (same muscle groups mentioned) in order to minimize spinal rotation under stress.
Key Coaching Points:
a. Perform on hands and knees (hand under shoulders/knees under hips).
b. Belly button drawn in and shoulders pinched back and down.
c. Extend arms toward wall one at a time or alternating (more difficult). Extend legs toward wall one at a time or alternating. Extend opposite arms and legs non-alternating or alternating (utilize a dowel or foam roller on the back and maintain 3 points of contact—head, shoulder blades and hips—throughout entire range of motion).

Sets: 2-3 Reps: 5-10/arm and leg

It should be mentioned that maintaining a "Draw In," neutral spine, perfect postural alignment, and slow controlled movements for all of these exercises should be utilized.

So what’s the reasoning behind these exercises? Read on…

For the last several years there has been considerable focus on the "core" and it's development. Look at the Group Exercise classes available at any health club and there are bound to be some classes related to it. Check out the services available from Personal Trainers around town and you're more than likely to see some type of core training listed on their business card. And if you've paid attention to the exercise literature on the local Barnes and Noble over the past couple years, you're probably familiar with the book "Core Performance" by Mark Verstegen (the German National team's Strength & Conditioning coach at the recent World Cup...a little tidbit for you soccer fanatics). So what is it? What does the core do? Why do we need to train it? And is it important for athletic performance?

Core, as its name implies, refers to the center. In this case, we're speaking about the anatomy of the human body. Specifically we are discussing the hip/pelvic girdle, abdominal region and spinal musculature. Take a look at the average 20-40 year old individual. How many of your parents or parents’ friends (athlete or not) in that age bracket have some sort of a "back problem" or issue? Generally the numbers are fairly significant. And we're talking about an age that is generally considered young. Now ask yourself this question…how many of your friends (in high school or college) have hip or back pain? Surprisingly again, the numbers are high. And this doesn’t exclude athletes! Yet the numbers are there...people are struggling with all types of back dysfunction. Often times merely aggravating, but sometimes debilitating.

As I'm sure you are aware, the spine (vertebrae) houses an extremely important part of our anatomy: the spinal column or cord. It is from that neurological highway that messages are sent both to (motor) and from (sensory) muscles, organs, tissues, etc. While the vertebrae provide a solid protective housing, there are some issues that come along with daily living (poor posture, sitting too much, etc.) that create issues for the vertebrae and some of the tissues in and around the spine: spinal erector and stabilizing musculature and spinal discs. When problems or dysfunction arise here, the spinal cord cannot transmit or receive messages as effectively nor can the body move and efficiently.

"I am an athlete, so what does this have to do with me?" Poor biomechanics of movement leading to decreased force production, which can also lead to overuse injuries over the long term. Even if your posture is good, it is likely that you do not have the core strength to maintain that position under the stresses and strains of your respective sport. Ultimately, you will ultimately lose strength, power, and have a higher injury risk. If you do have the core strength, it means a stronger forehand for tennis, a harder hit for an outside hitter in volleyball, a quicker first step and increased vertical for the basketball player, better bat speed for the baseball player and a quicker cut for the football running back. Why? All power and speed either begins or must be translated through the core. It's like an electrical circuit. If the circuit breaker shuts off because too much electricity is being power. Think of your core as the circuit breaker. If it breaks can't jump as high.

So what's the hype about? Your career longevity in your sport and your performance.

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