Chris Ecklund is a Strength and Performance Coach in Santa Barbara, Calif. He works with athletes from youth to elite levels in one-on-one or group settings, provides health and fitness consulting, and corporate fitness workshops.
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Core Training: What's the Hype?
By Chris Ecklund
Strength and Performance Coach
CBN.com For the last several years there has been considerable focus on the "core" and its development. Look at the group exercise classes available at any health club and there are bound to be some classes related to it. Check out the services available from personal trainers around town, and you're more than likely to see some type of core training listed on their business card. And if you've paid attention to the exercise literature on the local Barnes & Noble over the past couple years, you're probably familiar with the book Core Performance by Mark Verstegen (the German National team's strength & conditioning coach at the recent World Cup...a little tidbit for you soccer fanatics). So what is it? What does the core do? Why do we need to train it?
Core, as its name implies, refers to the center. In this case, we're speaking about the anatomy of the human body. Specifically, we are discussing the hip/pelvic girdle, abdominal region, and spinal musculature.
Take a look at the average 20- to 40-year-old individual. Do any of your friends (athlete or not) in that age bracket have some sort of a "back problem" or issue? Generally the numbers are fairly significant. And we're talking about an age that is generally considered young. Yet the numbers are there; people are struggling with all types of back dysfunction – oftentimes merely aggravating, but sometimes debilitating.
As I'm sure you are aware, the spine (vertebrae) houses an extremely important part of our anatomy: the spinal column or cord. It is from that neurological highway that messages are sent both to (motor) and from (sensory) muscles, organs, and tissues. While the vertebrae provide a solid protective housing, there are some issues that come along with daily living (poor posture, sitting too much, etc.) that create issues for the vertebrae and some of the tissues in and around the spine: spinal erector and stabilizing musculature and spinal discs. When problems or dysfunctions arise here, the spinal cord cannot transmit or receive messages as effectively, nor can the body move as efficiently.
"I'm not an athlete, though...so what's the big deal?" Pain and loss of function – that's the deal. Oftentimes if there has been an injury to the back/spine or the postural musculature (trapezius, rhomboids, spinal erectors, abdominals) are not utilized often enough, we lose function. It's the old "use it or lose it" concept. The transverse abdominals and multifidus muscles (which both help stabilize the spine) lose their ability to hold the spine and the hips in proper alignment. And years of this type of chronic malalignment or poor posture leads to aches and pains in the back, muscle strains, or even worse, disc herniations or ruptures.
"I am an athlete, so what does this have to do with me?" Poor biomechanics of movement leading to decreased force production, which can also lead to overuse injuries over the long term. Even if your posture is good, it is likely that you do not have the core strength to maintain that position under the stresses and strains of your respective sport. Ultimately, you will lose strength and power, and have a higher injury risk.
If you do have the core strength, it means a stronger forehand for tennis, a harder hit for an outside hitter in volleyball, a quicker first step and increased vertical for the basketball player, better bat speed for the baseball player, and a quicker cut for the football running back.
Why? All power and speed either begin or must be translated through the core. It's like an electrical circuit. If the circuit breaker shuts off because too much electricity is being demanded, no power. Think of your core as the circuit breaker. If it breaks down, you can't jump as high.
Here's the punch line: it is beneficial for all individuals (healthy, non-spine injury persons) to perform core training. How much? What intensity? How often? Depends on your goals and your current state. Seek out a trainer to help you work through those questions. But here are a few examples of common exercises to give you an idea:
- Draw Ins for transverse abdominal work – perform by pulling your belly button into your spine as much as possible.
- Bridges/Planks for both gluteus medius/tensor fascia latae (hip stabilizers) and multifidus/paraspinals (spine stabilizers) – perform in various positions (prone, supine, on side), attempting to hold the body in perfectly straight line from head to heel.
- Quadrupeds (same muscle groups mentioned) – in order to minimize spinal rotation under stress, perform on hands and knees (hand under shoulders/knees under hips), extend arms toward wall one at a time or alternating, extend legs toward wall one at a time or alternating, extend opposite arms and legs.
It should be mentioned that maintaining a "Draw In," neutral spine, perfect postural alignment, and slow controlled movements for all of these exercises should be utilized.
So what's the hype about? Your health and your performance.
This article first published for the SB Fitness Magazine Blogsite.
Chris Ecklund is a Strength and Performance Coach in Santa Barbara, Calif. He works with athletes from youth to elite levels in one-on-one or group settings, provides health and fitness consulting, and corporate fitness workshops. Chris holds an M.A. in Kinesiology, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a USA Weightlifting Olympic Lifting Club Coach, and a certified SPARQ trainer. Chris is an instructor at Westmont College, UCSB, and SB Business College and is a contributor to various local and national publications in the areas of fitness, wellness, and performance.
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