Welcome to another edition of Body Mechanics. For this week’s topic I thought I would visit a topic that is often referred to as the epitome of fitness. The Core is probably the most important component with regard to functionality, hence its name. I firmly believe the core to be any area that must be strong, powerful and most of all maintain its capacity for endurance. All of these elements are essential to our overall progress in our other lifts and movements, because if the core is weak then so too are the structural and compound movements we attempt.
Really briefly I wanted to discuss the anatomy of the core musculature, as it is important to understand. The core musculature consists anteriorly (front) starting with the most superficial. The external oblique’s, the rectus abdominis, internal oblique’s and the transverse abdominis. Towards the posterior side we have the psoas major and minor, iliacus (all of which flex the hip), quadratus lumborum, which side bends, and the posterior aspect of the diaphragm muscle. The erector spinae, which consists of “I love spinach” iliocostalis, longissimus, semispinalis muscles. Moving on…
As I mentioned the core has many functions and if you have ever gone for a run uphill for an extended amount of time (pun intended) then you would understand just how fatigued you would feel in your lower back. As you stride up hill the body must fight to maintain it’s posture and that will really test the endurance of you’re your lower back muscles, which contribute to the core musculature.
Core strength is important because it is active in everything that we do at the gym. If you have ever read up on a new exercise, perhaps watched a video and one of the cues offered is to maintain a tight core. This means that we must contract the anterior core through isometric contraction to withstand the load being moved, the load may be over the spine such as a squat or perhaps on the ground as in a dead lift. Think of a foundation in-house, if it is weak the house you build on it will not be as strong as it can be. The strength from your upper body to your lower body is transferred through the core and by increasing your core strength you will ultimately improve upon your compound and structural movements, exponentially.
Core power is a very important component especially when it comes to sport performance as it is involved directly with various mechanics related to sport specific movements, although it is often debated. Core power can help transfer power from the legs into the upper extremities through a transfer of force up through the kinetic chain. For example, extension of the back into flexion by means of a quick and explosive contraction can result in a greater distance in a soccer throw in. Although other mechanics are involved within the movement it is easy to see how core power is applicable. Here are another two examples both of which happen through the transverse plane and generate power through the core by “rotating the torso” with sheer explosiveness. Boxing and baseball require this movement for the athlete to be successful in what they are attempting to accomplish with their sport. Whether it is delivering the knockout blow or hitting the game winning home run, power through the transverse plane will increase their success ratio.
Another area that is often overlooked is instability and or balance training with equipment such as Bosu’s and instability pads or even training with unilateral movements. The latter being an area of training that is most often overlooked. Simple movements such as pistol squats, Bulgarian split squats or step-ups for one can help create core strength by offsetting the load. When the load is offset in a manner where the body is forced to disperse and the core is taxed just a little bit differently and will create unilateral strength, which leads to improved bilateral strength. As I mentioned earlier balance is also another area that can help with core strength, proprioception is critical in just about everything we do in life and sport. The ability of the nervous system to know where you are in space is a component that will lead to gains at both the neural and physical level.
The next time you are in the gym think of exercises that target all areas of the core and not just the rectus abdominus. Although sit-ups and crunches can help to improve your aesthetics, they are far from the go to exercises. Planks, side planks, and bridges are some of the greatest core exercises out there and are extremely underutilized. Once these exercise have been mastered then you can progress each movement by adding instability through Bosu’s or unilateral stances. These will build strength and endurance through the core. With regard to power, tempo is the name of the game and various planes of movement are important for balance, cross body motions will build rotational power. The frontal axis will see improvement through throws for power in this plane of movement.
I hope you have found something in this article that you can take away with you. Furthermore, I hope it inspires you to find other methods in your pursuit of your ultimate self.