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Core Stability & Core Strength

Core stability training has now established itself as an integral part of all strength and fitness programming and is still one of the hottest fitness topics reported on  in the media and on the internet.

Despite this many people still have misconceptions as to what the core is and how to integrate core training into strength and fitness training.

There is no need to go into exact anatomy to name the muscles that make up the core, the easiet way to describe what core is is to image the rings inside a tree and then think of the trunk of the body, this involves the abdominal and lower back muscles also the muscles which attach to the hips and which help maintain posture and facilitate movement.

The core muscles are essetially a link between the upper and lower body and responsible for a strong back, if the link between the upper and lower body is weak then the entire structure of the body is weak and affects the performance and function of the whole body and is subject to collapse at any given time.

A strong core will enhance balance stability posture and contribute to agility, and this will transfer to day to day life when we walk,bend,turn,lift and also help reduce fatigue and improve functional movement. All these benefits directly benefit athletes as well as anyone else who in day to day life bends, walks, runs, turns around and even picks up the kids.

A strong core will help prevent back pain, most back pain is normall caused by weak abdominal muscles that fail to give support to the spine, if you have a strong core the body will become less fatigued and the abdominal and back muscles will do there job.

A strong core is essential when lifting heavy loads, whether that be lifting weights, Digging your garden or lifting heavy boxes. It is very important that when lifting any load that you use a technique called “Bracing” imagine you are going to be punched in the stomach and you instinctivley tighten your stomach to stop the full impact from winding you. This action feels like you are rigid through the abominal wall pushing them out forming a girdle like affect around the torso.

Everyone talks about core stability but there is another factor to consider when we talk about the core that is “Core Strength” which is the cores ability to move or support a load.Core stability is the ability of the core to endure extreme pressure and be relatively unyeilding when the body and extemities are moving around in different planes (front, back, side to side and rotating).

Core training involves an integrated approach which involves moving the body as a unit through different planes whether under load or not, changing levels by lifting, reaching, twisting, bending picking up putting down. Exercises that strengthen the core are very functional innature and cannot be separated from functional training, indeed if you training functionally you will develop a strong stable and efficient core. Exercises such as  deadlifts, squats, Balancing and lifting on unstable surfaces, planks, lunges and bridges and many more can be  counted as core and functional in nature.

The fact is that at this time there is no clinical evidence that training evidence that training on unstable surfaces actually improves sport performance.

The important concept to understand is that almost everything boils down to “specificity”. If an athelete practises throwing a medicine ball on a foam roller he, or she, will aultimately become very good at throwing a ball on a foam roller.

According to the article the transfer effect to throwing a ball with power and accuracy on the playing field may simply not exist.

This is because when we learn a new skill we do so slowly and as we practice we are able to do it faster and more efficently. What results is a specific neuromuscular pattern  the author refers to as an engram.

When we introduce a new variable like a wobble board two things happen. First, time that could be spent on the needed skill is not used and secondly we may wind up confusing the original neuromuscular movement pattern. The result can actually be a decrease in performance.

Strength gains may also be reduced on an unstable surface. If one wants to get stronger he or she must load the muscle with the right amount of resistance to recruit enough muscle fibers. When we strength train on unstable surfaces we use less weight which decreases the muscular force output, and reduces the overload and specific fibre recruitment necessary to make the appropriate strength games.

If the athlete wants to get big then use unstable training surfaces sparingly. Time may be better spent lifting heavier weight and performing multiple sets. In addition muscular adaptions are also specific to the resistance and the velocity used. Unstable surfaces usally require the exerciser to use less weight and move at a slower pace to have a real transfer effect on sport performance. The effect on core stabilization is also in question especially for atheletes and atheletic individuals.

While performing exercises on this type of surface may be difficult at first eventually the exercise may become easy which will lead to accomodation. Prolonged accommodation can actually produce a detraining effect. In addition it is difficult to progressively load an exercise performed on an unstable surface. At some point a heavy load may become unsafe. Performing a heavy shoulder press while standing on a stability ball may be a difficult task to master but has little transfer to most activities and can be highly dangerous. With all that has been said against unstable training surfaces it is important to remember that everything has a time and a place in a training cycle. Balance and stability training are often neglected but essential element in an athlete’s training programme.

The art is to recognnize when it is appropriate and necessary. Don’t be afraid to use unstable training equipement as another modality in your expanding toolbox. Remember that new research is always being conducted. Next motnh researchers may conclude that training on unstable surfaces is without a doubt the most effective way to improve sports performance. Ultimately it comes down to you and I keeping current with the research, learning from other strength coaches and most imporantly, learning from our own experiences, both successes and failures.

Other types of equipment can be very helpful as well. Medicine balls, various rubber bands, kettle bells, Indian clubs,dumbbells, sandbags, weight vests and other unconventional pieces of equipment have all resulted in some improvements in muscular strength and power. Ultimately a real understanding of program deisgn and exercise science coupled with a knowledge of the client’s/athlete’s needs, abilities, and psychology will have the greatest “functional” effect on overall performance.

A Word About “Functinal Strength Training” Exercise Modalities Free Weight Barbell exercises on stable surfaces have been shown to provide the greatest overall functional effects. These exercises recruit many muscle groups including the core stabilizers. They also require intra and inter muscular coordination to perform.

While they may not be as exotic as standing on a stability ball with juggling some  balls these exercises do work. Keep it simple and you will get results. If you want more stability training try some traditional exercises standing on one foot or lift the bar with one arm.

Squats

Cleans

Deadlifts

Presses

Dumbbells also provide a great training effect because they require great coordination and can be performed with single arm and alternating arm action as well as at various speeds. Any exercise with a barbell can be performed with a dumbbell.

Chest press

Rows

Snatches

Lunges

Bands offer a lot of movement variety and can be taken anywhere. In addition they can be used standing, single limbed, with alternating limbs, and at varying speeds. This will increase the strees on the core and increase the functional transfer to other movements.

Chest press variations

Row variations

Squat and lunge variations

Rotational movements

Bodyweight Exercises I consider bodyweight training to be a the “Grand Daddy” of all functional strength training. If you can’t control your own body how functional can your strength truly be? The progression options are relatively broad. For example, try progressing from a regular squat to a lunge to a single leg squat. in addition the press-up variations are many and equally challenging.

Squats-single leg and two leg versions

Lunges

Forward reaches

Press-ups

Cartwheels

I hope this article shed some light on a very popular yet sometimes controversial topic. If you are interested in training  like athletes but may not be sure exactly where to start I invite you to apply this information to your existing repertoire and see where it takes you. Adding functional strength training to your conditioning program will yield tremendous results.

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