In the last section, we addressed how having weak core muscles can impact on everyday life. This post will look at ways of preventing muscle impairment when training the core. We shall also look to bodyweight and functional training methods as a way of doing this.
The main aim of core training is the development of a strong kinetic chain (fluid efficient bodily movements). This allows your body to move with maximum efficiency in daily life with a reduced risk of injury due to muscular imbalances.
The inclusion of full core training methods within your weekly training regimes can help address these imbalances in our everyday lives; correct poor posture; protect against injury; improve everyday life tasks as well as sporting activities. They do this by improving our balance; coordination; muscular strength, range of movement; flexibility and function.
Breaking down the components
Much of core training focusses on three areas mobility (the core’s ability to move or be moved freely and easily); stability (the core’s ability to resist external resistance and maintain equilibrium) and strength (your ability to undertake physical tasks). A good core workout should involve challenging all three of these areas.
Furthermore, it is also of great importance when challenging the core to consider exercises that involve working in all three planes of physiological movement (sagittal, coronal and transverse) to mimic real everyday life and improve function. (Sagittal = forward or backward; Frontal = side to side; Transverse = rotational).
With regards to actual bodily movement, there are five main areas of core movement:- Trunk flexion (bending forward); Trunk extension (leaning backwards); Side flexion (leaning to either side of the body); Rotation (twisting the hips or upper torso in either direction) and Isometric Holds (stabilising the body and resisting forces acting upon it). When challenging the core it is important to consider exercises that include all of the above movements. This will ensure the core remains engaged fully and from a variety of angles.
The five areas of core movement.
Developing a workout
When developing a core exercise routine. Try to think of the core muscles as the strong and stable hub connecting the upper and lower body. Whether punching a heavy bag or undertaking a handstand, the necessary motions either originate in the core or move through it. No matter where motion starts, it moves upward or downward to the stabilising influence of the core. So weak/inflexible core muscles can impair how well our arms and legs function.
Effective core training provides you with more power, and a stronger core will also improve balance and stability. Subsequently, this will help prevent falls and injuries during sports or other activities.
There are many types of core training methods available. Many involve equipment such as stability balls and discs, battle ropes, suspension straps, medicine balls etc. Though it is entirely possible to utilise gravity and the solely utilise the body’s own weight as resistance. The more resistance or instability used, the more the core muscles are challenged. If you are new to this type of exercises it is best to start off with your bodies own resistance and gravity.
In time you can work up to functional type equipment, core training methods such as those mentioned above. The idea behind many functional methods is that by performing exercises on a less stable base (for example, stability discs) require greater core activity. They require bringing into play ‘fixator’ or stabiliser muscles to help keep the body upright and prevent us from falling to the floor.
Utilising all the Muscles
Core exercises are simple or complex. A simple core exercise requiring limited muscle movement might be an abdominal crunch or a plank. A complex core exercise might be something such as a Turkish Get Up with a kettlebell. The get-up requires the combined movement of core muscles as well as other major muscle groups.
As mentioned above you want to have a program in place that involves challenging mobility, stability and strength. The program should also involve all five areas of core movement in all three planes and targeting all the core muscle groups. Phew! Complex enough? Relax, it’s easy once you get them into your head.
Examples of exercises targetting all areas of core: (See diagram below)
- Planks – Isometric Holds.
- Sit-ups – Sagittal movement (bending forward).
- Back extensions – Sagittal movement – Extension movements.
- Side bends – Frontal Plane – Side flexion.
- Medicine ball twists – Transverse plane – Rotation.
- Turkish Get Up’s – Multiplane.
Thankfully most circuit sessions will involve a great deal of core engagement. Other activities involving increased core movement include martial arts, dance, weightlifting and especially Yoga and Pilates sessions. If undertaking your own workout, however, the above should be considered.
If you are especially new to core exercise (as in never undertaken any!), you should start with lighter core stabilisation exercises. Example core stabilisation exercises include marching, hip bridge, prone cobra and planks (See below). You can work up to performing 12-20 repetitions of each exercise (1-4 sets). You should perform stabilisation exercises for at least four weeks before moving on to more advanced core exercises.
Stability core exercises.
Examples of more advanced core exercises include weighted crunch, back extensions, cable rotations and reverse crunches. You can perform 8-12 repetitions of each exercise (2-4 sets).
Finally, as you get stronger you can then progress to more explosive core movements (also known as power core exercises). You will probably consider using equipment such as a medicine ball or stability disc to perform these exercises to further challenge your stability further. Examples of more advanced core exercises include medicine ball slams; hollow rocks; wall planks; TRX pendulum swings; sandbag shouldering; toes to bar leg raises and kettlebell windmills. Perform 8-12 repetitions (3-4 sets).
Advanced core exercises.
- The main aim of core training is the development of a strong kinetic chain.
- Full core training methods address imbalances in our everyday lives; correct poor posture; protect against injury; improve everyday life tasks as well as sporting activities.
- Core training focusses on mobility, stability and strength. A good core workout should involve challenging all three of these areas.
- It is important to train in all three planes of physiological movement (sagittal, coronal and transverse) to mimic real everyday life and improve function.
- Another consideration is using the five main areas of core movement:-Trunk flexion, trunk extension, side flexion, rotation and isometric holds This will ensure the core is engaged fully and from a variety of angles.
- Functional training equipment involves using equipment such as stability balls and discs, battle ropes, suspension straps, medicine balls etc. to further challenge the core in training. The more resistance or instability that is used, the more the core muscles are challenged.
- Core exercises can be simple or complex.
- Start off with core stability exercises and then progress to more advanced core exercises as you feel the core is getting stronger.