Approaches to Core Training

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As an incoming college freshman, I received a manual through the mail with my football team’s workouts for the summer. The manual was about 75 pages long and consisted mostly of strength routines and information about the testing to be performed during the pre-season training camp. The core routine was a hand-written note at the bottom of the lifting program that said, “Abs: 250 reps”. Even at 18 years old, with no formal training in exercise science, I remember thinking…”Gosh, there’s got to be more to it than that!”

What Are the Goals of Core Training?
As with every component of strength and conditioning, the response, “To Enhance Performance, and Prevent Injury”, applies here. A performance goal of core training is to strengthen and support the middle of the body for improved coordination of the body as a whole. Many coaches aim to prevent injury by adding support to the mid-section’s structural beam, the lumbar spine, using draw-in and bracing techniques, emphasizing stability exercises (planks), and ensuring that training does not compromise the natural anatomical arch of the low back. Other considerations often include improving hip mobility or scapula-thoracic stability, depending upon how broadly the core is defined in the strength and conditioning program.

A Movement Balanced Approach

Core training should help ensure that the athlete is anatomically balanced in all three movement planes. Historically, exercise programs have used sit-ups, crunches, and twists to improve endurance in the abdominal muscles. The erector spine, quadratus lumborum, and transverse abdominis, for example, have often been neglected in traditional core routines. There are several ways to create balanced core routines. Some incorporate all movements of the torso into a single, daily core program. Others spread or divide the movements over several days within the training week. The following is a list of core movements upon which you can build core exercise routines:

o Flexion: (Sit-Ups)
o Extension: (Superman)
o Lateral Flexion and Extension: (Side Plank Hip Lift)
o Rotation: (Medicine Ball Side Tosses)
o Low Back Support: (Supine Dead Bug Progressions)
o Hip Mobility: (Quadruped Hip Abduction)
o Scapulo-thoracic Stability/Mobility: (Front Plank Scapula Pinch)

The goal when developing a core workout is to diversify the types of core exercises being performed, as no one core training method has been deemed most beneficial in the scientific literature.

Rotational Core Training:

There are two predominant approaches to rotational core training: 1) Rotational Power-Endurance, and 2) Anti-Rotation. Rotational power-endurance exercises are dynamic in nature and most often include twisting movements using resistance. Examples include medicine ball (MB) side tosses, MB standing torso rotations, “Russian twists”, and supine “knee-up” low trunk rotations.

Anti-rotation, or rotational stability, exercises include stability movements of the torso against rotational forces created from the momentum of the limbs. Common examples include, Grey Cook’s kneeling chop and lift exercises (FMS corrective exercises), Convertaball twists, cable core presses, and Keiser push-pulls combinations.

Rotation vs. Anti-Rotation – What’s the difference? Rotational exercises train the twisting torso both concentrically and eccentrically. Anti-rotation exercises focus on stabilizing the spine against rotation to maintain an upright posture of the body. There are also anti-rotational elements to many functional single-limb weight room exercises (one-leg squats or deadlifts, lunges, one-arm presses, etc.). While rotational power-endurance exercises (MB throws) are excellent for developing rotational range of motion and explosiveness, athletes should develop anti-rotational stability first to ensure that the body can handle the forces produced with repetitive twisting.

Core stability and strength are the foundations of strong, fast, explosive movements. To improve performance and reduce the risk of injury, core training should start with anti-rotation work to stabilize the spine and then progress to multi-plane, rotational movements for strength and power.

Eric McMahon, M.Ed., CSCS, RSCC
Frisco Roughriders
Texas Rangers

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