In this post, S&C coach Danny Hague gives us a really good insight into the principles surrounding core training. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Here we go:
There is still a lot of confusion in the industry about what the core is and how to effectively train this area. I still see fitness enthusiasts as well as some athletes performing the flexion based movements (crunches, sit ups), in hope of carving out that 6 pack look. But is this flexion dominated action the most efficient way to train the core for performance?
For starters you may have heard this many times before but to achieve that 6 pack look, it has everything to do with sound nutritional principles and not just mindlessly isolating the abs for hundreds of repetitions. To quote Mike Boyle, ‘table push aways’ are probably the most effective way to see your abdominals, along with a safe and progressive strength training program focusing on compound movements.
However this is not an article on program design or nutrition, the focus here is on the core. As I have said in a previous post our knowledge of functional anatomy has moved forward leaps and bounds. We know a lot more now a days on how the body functions and operates in its environment to produce, reduce, transfer, and stabilize force. The body is one big kinetic chain, consisting of joints, muscles, connective tissue and fascia that all work together synergistically to produce smooth efficient movement. When training is focused around movement patterns using multi joint, multi muscle movements and done so in a 360 degree environment, all training is core training. If you adopt to train the core using these flexion based movements such as crunches etc… All you are doing is reinforcing poor postural pattern overload i.e. (rounded thoracic spine, tight hip flexors) which wreak havoc on our ability to function and move properly, limiting our strength and power potential, and increasing our risk of injury.
Dr Stu McGill is a leader in the field when it comes to spine biomechanics and core training. He states that a lumbar flexion based movement such as those of the crunch are the exact injury mechanism for disk problems (buldges, hernations). If you think about it logically, if the rectus abdominis (8 pack) was meant to flex the spine predominantly, wouldn’t it be designed like a hamstring muscle?
So what is the core, and how do we train this area for optimal function and performance. Well again thanks to Stu McGill we can better explain what the core is and how it functions. Current research is pointing at the cores role at preventing motion of the torso, especially at the lumbar-pelvic-hip region, which requires high levels of stability.
The muscles of the core consist of the lumbar spine, muscles of the abdominal wall, back extensors, and quadratus lumborum, this muscle increases lumbar stability and aids in hip stability. Also included are the multi joint muscles such as the latissimus dorsi and the gluteals on the posterior side of the body, as well as the adductors, psoas, internal, external oblique’s and the serratus anterior on the front of the body. These muscles pass in an X fashion linking the legs, hips, and pelvis to the upper body (shoulders, arms on the opposite side). It is this cross coordinated tension of the core, known as the serape effect, that transfers rotational forces through the body from the lower body to the upper body and vice versa. It is this contralateral tension that provides the foundation for all real world movements such as, walking, sprinting, throwing, kicking and striking.
The core muscles then act differently than the limb musculature, in that the core muscles often co-contract, stiffening the torso such that all the muscles act as synergists. This ensures that the lumbar spine is stable and the power generated at the hips is transferred more efficiently through the body increasing the body’s stability, thus increasing strength and power potential in movements, while minimising energy leaks, and reducing injury risk.
I believe the best way to train the core is through integrated anti-movement patterns. Which simply put means creating movement using the extremities (arms, legs) while minimising movement of the torso (low back), and doing so in a 360 degree environment using multi joint multi muscle movements. Training anti-extension, anti-flexion, anti-lateral flexion and anti-rotation based movements will ensure a comprehensive core strength profile.
In part 2 of this article I will show you 5 core movements that I use in my programs to ensure the core is trained in the most specific way to how it functions, which will increase your performance in the athletic field.
Danny Hague ASCC, MMA-CSCC