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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The 'Core'

By: Joel Luedke

What is this mystical being?  The Core, with more definitions than anyone wants to count and even more ways to 'train' it things begin to get overwhelming.  But it doesn't have to.

Now, it would be naive to think I could cover everything about the core in one simple blog post and I'm not even beginning to pretend to do so but my goal is to outline a few things that are beneficial  to training and hopefully shed some light on exercises that either aren't benefiting you or could be setting you up for chronic problems.

What does the core consist of?

It is more than than just the abdominals (recturs, obliques, transverse) it is all the musculature that affects the trunk of your body.  Often forgotten are the hip muscles with the main ones being the glutes and the smaller stabilizing muscles of the hip.  The 'core' can also extend to the quadratus luborum (lower back (QL)) and the latissimus dorsi (Lats).  Think much more global than your six pack.

Again, just to be clear, these are just some ideas and don't even begin to scratch the surface of what you can do to train the 'core' or what can be beneficial but the discussion is welcome and we look forward to it.  We didn't even touch on training muscles up and down the kinetic chain or whole body movements.

The Basics:
Abdominal Bracing
It used to be that performing the 'vacuum' maneuver was the best way to train your deep abdominal musculature (mainly the transverse abdominis).  Research has come out and thinking has changed about with this and people are finding that the best way to train these deep stabilizing muscles isn't to 'vacuum' but to practice bracing your core by tightening all the musculature in the area.  Practicing this exercise can help you train the reaction of your 'core' musculature to help with spinal bracing and help with injury prevention as well as force generation.  A great place to start.
VIDEO (also some great progressions)

Planks (& Variations)
Planks build on the concept of abdominal bracing but add other musculature into the picture.  The variations of planks are endless.
Example include:
-Side Planks
-Front Planks with Hip Extension
-Side Planks with Hip Movement (Ext, Abd)
-Side Planks with Trunk Rotation
Building on the plank with these other movements can help bring the kinetic chain together and get more musculature involved in stabilizing and creating a solid base for movement.

Taking It to the Next Level:
Counter-Rotation
These movements are meant to train everything in your 'core' by making it resist against movement.  It is a great progression from the plank as it can add your hip musculature into the mix and work on your body's ability to balance itself against a resistance.  You can continue to increase the intensity with the band resistance and improve your ability to counter its pull.  Great place to start to increase your intensity.

Rotation Exercises
These exercises start to move into the 'functional' realm of 'core' training.  Working on rotational movements either in a chop motion or a lift motion begin to mimic common movement patterns for life and sports.  These are highly customizable and the progressions are endless starting from kneeling, to half kneeling to standing and changing the position of the resistance.  Check out the video below where it breaks down both lifts and chops.
VIDEO

Things to Avoid and Why:

Crunches

This exercise focuses on what most people refer to as the 'core', the abs or rectus abdominis. While these muscles can look great and are what most people shoot for there is little to no (leaning more to the no) benefit functionally to this exercise.  Even with all the inventions in the world to take stress off your back and neck and shoulders it still doesn't make the exercise worth while.  Performing these over and over can be hard on your neck and back and put your spine into a terrible position.  It also adds to the long-term over flexion of your hips and can contribute to tight hip flexors.  It just isn't worth it.

Side Bends
Please just don't do this one.  It can get a good burn started but what are you actually working?  Laying supine or doing these standing people will argue that the obliques are getting hit and again you might feel a burn but if you really want to hit those muscles use the rotation exercises above, either the chop or the lift.  This one hurts to watch.

Leg Raises
This one is commonly used and often creates a good burn in the lower abdominals, either from a lying position or hanging (suspended) position.  When we think about the 'core' again you could argue that this works the hip flexors (psoas) and that should count but we tend to work these muscles more than we need to.  But if we call it an ab exercise it doesn't quite make sense. The movement of the abs occurs by brining the rib cage and pelvis closer and this motion plays second fiddle to the massive hip flexion that occurs. This again adds to your anterior hips getting tight and setting you up for a long list of chronic problems.

The 'core' can be a very confusing muscle group to train but the basics are always a good place to start and come back to.  A lot of your training for 'core' work can be done by bracing and setting yourself up for the rest of your training and that is all you need.  If you have favorite exercises please add them and feel free to start a discussion.
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