Youth Sports – Training the Core
By Gene Coleman, Jose Vazquez, and Matt Krause
Core strength and stability are areas of weakness that are often seen in youth athletes in all sports. The core is the area between your shoulders and hips and it MUST BE strong and stable for safe, effective performance at all levels and all positions. A strong core provides a stable base from which the arms and legs can move. Regardless of how strong you get in your arms and legs, if you core is weak and unstable, your ability to run fast, jump high, swing hard and throw fast will be limited. ALL FORCES GO THROUGH THE CORE.
The following exercises are designed to improve core strength and stability. Perform each exercise 3-5 times per week.
Bird Dog: Start on all 4s with your back flat, head straight and eyes facing the floor. Tighten your stomach and then lift your right hand off the floor and extend your right arm and hand forward from the shoulder until your arm is straight. At the same time, extend your left leg (opposite leg) straight back from the hip. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds and then slowly return to the starting position. You should look like a bird dog pointing to a bird in the bushes. Your back should be flat, no sagging in the middle. Perform 5 reps, rest 2-3 seconds and repeat with the left hand and right leg. Start with 2 sets of 5 reps on each side and gradually progress to 3 sets of 10 on each side. When you can do 5 reps on each side perfectly, alternate reps on each side of the body and gradually progress to 3 sets of 10 reps on each side. A video of this exercise can be found at https://www.builtlean.com/2012/02/27/bird-dog-exercise/
Dead Bug: Start on your back with both arms extended straight up to the ceiling from the shoulders, both thighs flexed 900 at the hip so that your knees point straight up to the ceiling, and both knees flexed 900 so that your calves are parallel to the floor. You should look like a dead bug lying on its back. Tighten your stomach so that your low back is flat on the floor and then extend your left leg straight out from the hip but don’t let your foot touch the ground. At the same time, extend your right arm (opposite arm) straight back, but don’t let it touch the ground. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds and then slowly return to the starting position. Perform 5 reps, rest 2-3 seconds and repeat with the right leg and left arm. Start with 2 sets of 5 reps on each side. When you can do 5 reps on each side perfectly, alternate reps on each side of the body and gradually progress to 3 sets of 10 reps on each side. Make sure that you keep your low back flat on the ground throughout the exercise. If you can’t keep your back flat, put your hands under your hips, palms down, and perform only the leg movements. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbemelnkHag
Plank: Start in a push-up position with your weight supported on your toes and elbows instead of your toes and your hands. Your elbows are under your shoulders. Tighten your stomach muscles and extend your toes and arms at the shoulders to raise your body off the ground. You want a straight line through your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. Don’t let your stomach sag and don’t let your bottom come up like a tent pole. Hold this position for 10 seconds, relax, rest and repeat the exercise two more times. Start with three 10-second holds and gradually increase to three 30-second holds. If you have trouble keeping your body straight, put your elbows on a bench or box and do an incline plank. As your core gets stronger, lower the height of the box or bench until you can perform the exercise from the floor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvxNkmjdhMM
Glute Bridge: Start on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart. Place your hands down by your sides with palms down. Tighten your stomach, squeeze your butt cheeks together and then drive your feet into the ground to lift your body up until there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Keep your head in a neutral position, eyes looking to the ceiling, and the back of your head on the floor. Hold this up position for 1-2 seconds and slowly return to the starting position under control. Control your descent. Don’t let your body drop to the floor. Start with 1-2 sets of 10 reps and gradually progress to 3 sets of 15-20 reps. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bbE64NuDTU
Quadruped Planks: This is a different spin on regular planks and will work your core, shoulders and quads. Start by getting onto your hands and knees, digging your toes into the floor. Keeping your back flat (don’t let it sag or arch), pull your stomach in tight. Next, keeping your toes and hands firmly on the floor, slowly raise your knees up off the floor so that you are balanced on your hands and toes. The higher your raise your knees, the easier the exercise. If they are just barely raised off the floor, your body has to work harder to maintain this position. Hold the position for 10 seconds, relax and repeat 3 times. Slowly progress to three 30-second holds. This exercise is a great lead up exercise to bear crawls. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgN1TFrr78Y
Lateral Plank: Start by laying of your right side with your right elbow bent and under your right shoulder. Flex your hips and bend your knees so that your weight is supported on your right elbow, hip, knee and leg. Tighten your stomach and slowly raise your hips off the floor until you form a straight line from your head to your knees. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds and then slowly return to the starting position. Do 5 reps and then switch sides. Start with 2 sets of 5 reps on each side and gradually progress too 3 sets of 10 on each side.
Bear Crawl: This is another exercise that works your shoulders, core, hips and legs. Start on all fours, set your core and lift your hips slightly to raise your knees off the floor while keeping your back flat. Step forward with the left hand and right foot, and then immediately do the same with the opposite side. Keep your back flat, hips down, core tight and palms flat on the ground throughout the exercise. Your back should be so flat that you could iron a shirt on it. Start with two sets of 10 steps with each leg and hand (2×10). Gradually progress to three sets of 10 steps with each hand (3×10) and then increase the speed of movement or the length of each step. You can also repeat the drill moving backwards.
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