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Beyond Abs

In recent decades, core training has been the subject of countless articles and books. Often prescribed by physical therapists to patients with low back pain, core training is now commonly practiced by athletes and non-athletes alike with the desire to improve physical fitness as well as sports performance. Though most everyone has heard of the

In recent decades, core training has been the subject of countless articles and books. Often prescribed by physical therapists to patients with low back pain, core training is now commonly practiced by athletes and non-athletes alike with the desire to improve physical fitness as well as sports performance.

Though most everyone has heard of the body’s “core” musculature, it is still an often-misunderstood topic. Popular exercise magazines would have the public think that the core is simply a fancy term for the abdominal muscles and a few sets of crunches would suffice in keeping it strong. The term core actually refers to select groups of muscles from the thigh to the upper back that contribute to the muscular-based stability of the trunk. According to Dr. Clark and Dr. Lucett of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, such stability ensures the transition of forces between the upper extremities and lower extremities for everything from walking to athletic movements. In addition, the stability of this region contributes to the protection of the spinal column and assists in injury prevention.

The core is made up of intrinsic and extrinsic stabilizing muscles. Intrinsic stabilizers are deep and relatively small muscles that are attached to the spine. These muscles help to keep the spine properly aligned and give it rigidity. These “guy-wires” act like those attached to a telephone pole. Each muscle has the specific task of counterbalancing its opposite. Extrinsic stabilizers include the more superficial, well-known muscles of the abdomen, as well as the muscles of the back and hips. Compared to the intrinsic stabilizers, the extrinsic stabilizers are relatively long muscles. The primary role of these muscles is to control movement of the trunk and hips. Instability in this region can lead to misalignment of the vertebral column and possibly injury.

Core training, like any component of a well-planned exercise program, should be functional, progressive, and age-appropriate. It should focus on force production, force reduction, and the overall stability and alignment of the spine. Exercisers should be properly trained and begin a core training program by working to develop stabilization. Core stabilization exercises generally involve very little, or no, motion and are intended to improve static muscular endurance and stability. Examples of core stabilization exercises are drawing in the abdomen, traditional planks, side planks, and floor bridges.

The next phase of core training is the development of strength. Core strengthening exercises are intended to improve movement of the spine while the exerciser braces, or draws in, the abdomen. Core strengthening exercises involve significantly more movement than core stabilization exercises, are performed at moderate speeds, and are progressively more difficult to perform. Examples of core strengthening exercises are stability ball twisting crunches, leg lifts, and hyperextensions for the low back region.

The last phase in core development is the development of power and should be performed only by advanced exercisers and well-trained athletes. Core power exercises are designed to improve the speed of force generation. These types of exercises are typically performed in an explosive fashion and through a full range of motion. Due to the ballistic nature of core power training, it is critical that the exerciser have developed adequate stability and strength from the first two phases. Examples of core power training exercises are medicine ball pullover throws, overhead medicine ball throws, and partner-assisted leg throws.

Core training is a fundamental part of any modern exercise and sports performance program. In addition, core training is especially important to athletics because of the need to repetitively transfer large forces back and forth between the upper and lower extremities. A strong core musculature not only protects the spine and low back but is essential in the maintenance of efficient technique for most sports technique including activities that involve running, throwing, punching or kicking. A properly designed core training program will enhance an exerciser’s ability to control force transmittal and movement throughout the trunk and is a major contributing factor in the success of any exercise program whether the participant is an athlete or just wants to improve their fitness level.

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