The Trainer's Table: The Truth about Core Training
The Truth about Core Training
When you start a training program it is always best to identify specific goals in order to help guide your training. A common goal that almost every athlete or client mentions is to get a stronger core. Although getting a stronger core is not a specific goal, it’s a start in the right direction. Most individuals do have a weak core and if they were to increase core strength they would see a major improvement in all movement.
The core strength that I am talking about is not the chiseled six pack abs that we constantly see in ads and other media outlets. Defined six packs are due to a low percent of body fat, not because a person has a strong core. Performing crunches, sit-ups, and other ballistic style crunches does not improve core strength. Performing crunches can cause great harm to your spine and should not be performed by anyone. Sit ups flex the spine forward in a fast motion, which mimics the mechanism of disc hernias in the lower spine. Studies show, people who spend a long period of time performing crunches can cause chronic shortening of the rectus abdominis which can permanently depress the rib cage and alter the diaphragm’s position (Sahrmann, 2001). Since crunches are out, here’s what you need to know in order to increase core strength.
What is the core?
The core is the group of muscle that is between the hips and shoulder region. These muscles are deep and attach the hips to the spine. The hip and shoulders are ball and socket joints that are designed to create force and power not the spine. The spine is designed to stop motion not create it. This principle can be defined as proximal stability and distal mobility.
Proper core function
The function of the core is to prevent movement and provide a stable platform for the extremities. The core should also create a ridged torso for energy transfer between the lower and upper body. When the core is weak, the energy that is transferred between the hips and shoulders is lost. This can limit athletic performance and put you at a higher risk of injury. The last major function of the core is control tilt and rotation of the hips. Tilt and rotation are extremely important for optimal breathing efficiency. When the pelvis is tilted forward, other muscle such as your hamstrings have to compensate in order to maintain posture.
How to get a stronger core?
Choose core exercises that challenge your position such as planks or side planks. In a plank, gravity pulls on your body forcing the core muscles to activate and keep you in a neutral posture. The goal during a plank is to create a ridged body that prevents you from moving around. If planks are performed properly they are hard. At APT, the longest plank we do is for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, athletes must compensate form in order to achieve a longer plank. Another functional core exercise is a heavy farmer’s carry. Farmers carry challenges your core to maintain posture while walking under a challenging load. The key to all these exercises is the ability to prevent movement in the core.
Practical training advice
1. Eliminate all crunches, sit ups, and other ballistic crunches. These movements do not provide core strength and can greatly harm your spine.
2. Use planks, side planks, bear crawls, farmer’s carries, and other core exercises that challenge your core to stabilize when your extremities are moving.
3. Once form is lost during any core exercise, the drill is over. Form has to be perfect when developing a stronger core.
4. Planks should not be longer than 30 seconds. If you can plank for 30 seconds, you need to learn how to plank properly.
Michael Donoghue, CSCS, FMS, USAW (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach and Director of Performance at Athletic Performance Training). Michael is in charge of designing all the training programs for professional, collegiate, high school, and youth athletes at APT. Michael holds a degree from Springfield College in Applied Exercise Science as well as various certifications. For further information he can be reached at Michael@aptrainingystems.com)