‘The Core’, a term thrown around all over the place these days. What is it? Is it even a thing, or just a buzzword? What is it for? Do we need to train it? How do we train it? Should we be doing hundreds of sit-ups?...read on my friend…
When we hear “core”, many of us immediately think “abs”. Nope.
The core is much more than just abs.
The core includes all the muscles in the torso, acting synergistically to stabilise and control movement.
It incorporates the abdominals, obliques, erectors, glutes, hip flexors, lats, adductors amongst others. This musculature acts on the spine, scapulae, shoulders, hips, and pelvis.
Being in the torso, a key function of the core is to transfer force between the upper and lower body efficiently and easily. In doing so it acts to reduce and resist spinal flexion, extension rotation, and lateral flexion – in short: the core’s function is to RESIST MOTION.
OK…but what does that mean for your training, in plain English? Well, we’re getting there but first...
In a word: yes. If you’re convinced, move to the next section. If you want more detail, keep reading…
Core training is important for everyone. For sedentary desk jockeys, or elite athletes. Professor Stuart McGill is the world authority on back pain and core training and says (1):
"The well-trained core is essential for optimal performance and injury prevention."
These days, many people sit for 8 to 9 hours per day at work. Add time sitting in the car, bus or train and later on the sofa and that’s a lot of sitting. Lots of sitting with no exercise weakens the muscles of your core. Our ancestors didn't need additional core training because they performed labour-intensive tasks throughout the day.
No one wants to bend over to pick up a pencil, and blow out their back. Believe me, I have done it! Add intense exercises such as deadlifting to the equation and you can see that we really ought to pay attention to our core musculature.
Take a Crossfitter, runner or fighter who considers themselves to be well trained. Well perhaps they have to limit their training because of back pain? Does their training actually target the core in 3-dimensions? It doesn’t matter how many deadlifts, cleans and snatches you do if the core is the weak link. Yes these exercises train the core – but specific core focus is vital.
You have to do 500 sit-ups every day.
Only joking, don’t do that unless you love back pain.
Sit-ups are bad for you. Some people might argue they’ve been doing them for years and had no problems. Well, I’d be interested to ask their opinion in another 20 years when they are struggling with their zimmer-frame.
In 2005, research attributed 56% of all the injuries during the two-yearly US Army Physical Fitness Test, to sit-ups (2).
Sit-ups have already been removed from the Canadian armed-forces fitness test due to concerns of lower-back injury (3) and in the US, the Navy Times called them "an outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries" (4).
Still not convinced? Stuart McGill found that sit-ups and crunches place 3,300N (340 kg) of compressive force on the spine (5). These forces can lead to problems including disc bulges and herniation. So what should we be doing instead?
We want to train the core to resist movement against different directions of force, whilst at the same time perform actions with our limbs. In other words, get stiff in the core, whilst producing force in the arms and legs.
There are 5 categories of core exercise:
Our favourite anti-extension exercises involve using BEASTGEAR Core Sliders to perform a range of movements which give a highly effective core workout. They can be used just about anywhere, on carpets or hard wood floors, or home, in a hotel, or in the gym.
This means resisting flexion or bending. Exercises include:
This means resisting rotation about the spine. Exercises include pallof press variations. Check out this fantastic article by Tony Gentilcore.
These are the most advanced exercises. Hip flexion with neutral spine means using your hip flexors to 'pull' your knees to your chest, closing the angle between the torso and the legs, without flexing the spine. Think of it as "keeping a flat back whilst flexing your hip". These would typically be attempted after proficiency of the above 4 categories is obtained, and certainly only easy progressions should be attempted at first. Exercises include:
So there you have it. Core training: important for everyone in order to prevent injuries sustained during everyday life and athletic pursuits. Exercises which encourage stability through the core whilst resisting movement about the spine are the most effective, efficient and safe way to train the core. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss a specific core training programme – stay tuned.
REACH YOUR GOALS. BEAST YOUR GOALS.
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