At the beginning of every off-season program I address our team regarding a variety of topics to include the term "core" training. During my presentation I ask our players not to use the word "core" unless they are referring to the Marine Corps, the Corps of Engineers, or my most fond Corps, the Corps of Cadets at West Point.
| Herein lies an acceptable core...|
I am unaware of the origin of the term "core training" but during the latter part of my career it has been popularized with books, videos, gadgets, and quackery.
During the past decade "core hype" has created frenzy over the powerful muscles of the hips and midsection. It makes me wonder how in the heck we got along before the "Core Nation" evolved. Have the "core fanatics" discovered some new muscles that did not exist twenty years ago?
A competent fitness professional must possess a minimum amount of physiological, anatomical, biomechanical, and neurological information, to prevent "shooting from the hip" when providing fitness advice. Because you read something in a book, see it on a video, hear it from an NFL strength coach, a personal trainer, or a self-proclaimed "fitness expert", it does not insure the information is factual.
I have been training athletes for thirty-three years and somehow have survived without "corelucinating." If it sounds like I am a "core basher" I'm not. Promoting fitness awareness for any part of the human body is good. I have always preached balance when organizing a strength program. Total body strength is essential for the competitive athlete. The muscles surrounding the hips and midsection are only a part of the equation when it comes to developing total body strength.
I have always divided the body into five major segments to include:
- Neck and Traps
- Hips and Legs
- Upper Body
In our program we teach our players that every muscle group and all exercises are equally important. As a strength coach, my number one priority is short-term and long-term injury prevention. In the area of injury prevention the muscles of the "core" are no more important than any other muscle group in the body.
If there is a priority, and protection is a concern, the muscles of the neck, traps, and muscles surrounding the shoulder capsule must have the highest priority for any athlete engaged in activities involving collisions and physical contact.
Most athletes and fitness enthusiasts understand the value of emphasizing the core (and that is good). What is perplexing is the lack of emphasis on more important areas of the body (and that is not good). We often inherit players with underdeveloped and ignored neck and shoulder muscles. Significant deficiencies exist. Isolation exercises must be performed to target these critical areas.
In this installation of the Fitness Corner we provide information regarding our player's midsection routine. The midsection is primarily made up of three major muscle groups (the Thoracic muscles are primarily involved in breathing). They include the following:
- Trunk flexors
- Trunk rotators
- Trunk extensors
In their text, Anatomy & Physiology, Seeley, Stephens, and Tate, list (p. 325 – 331 tables 11.8 – 11.10) the major
muscle groups moving the vertebral column and the abdominal wall. Also listed
are the major functions of each group. I do not want to bore anyone with the anatomical
names of all the muscles involved but I have included those composing the abdominal
External abdominal oblique
Internal abdominal oblique
Flexes vertebral column, compresses abdomen|
Flexes and rotates vertebral column; compress abdomen; depresses thorax
Flexes and rotates vertebral column; compresses abdomen; depresses thorax
Laterally flexes vertebral column and depresses twelfth rib
Observe the function of the muscles composing the midsection. The muscles of the low back and abdominal region primarily flex, rotate, and extend the trunk.
The term "stabilizer" is another trendy "core" term used with reverence by many fitness professionals. Do the muscles of the core serve as stabilizers? Absolutely, however most muscles in the body serve as a stabilizer in some capacity. Almost every muscle in our body stabilizes to help keep us erect. If these muscles did not stabilize, the body would collapse to the floor.
In his book Primary Anatomy, Basmajian refers to these muscles as fixators or postural muscles.* *He states the following:
"A great many muscles that have nothing to do with the actual performance of the specific feat come into play to 'fix' the position of the body as a whole; these are known as fixators or postural muscles. In most, if not all, group movements, fixators play their part. When for example, the elbow is to be flexed, it becomes necessary to fix (stabilize) the shoulder joint in a suitable position, in order to steady the whole elbow region; the shoulder muscles, thus contributing to the efficient working of the elbow flexors, act as fixators."
Do I consider elbow flexion a good exercise to strengthen the shoulder muscles due to their involvement as stabilizers? Common sense tells us the answer is no. Specific exercises designed to target each of the shoulder muscles must be performed. The shoulder strength gained is insignificant and only at one fixed point. Basmajian calls this additional exercise as "dubious at best."
To generate maximum gains in strength throughout the entire muscle, the Sliding Filament Theory tells us a muscle must be shortened (concentrically) and lengthened (eccentrically) through its full range of motion.
Most muscles serving as stabilizers remain in a fixed position (static contraction). Many years ago isometric exercise became very popular until researchers determined strength was developed only at the specific angle the muscle was exercised at. Strength was unaffected throughout the full range of motion of the muscles involved. Full range exercise is not developed when a muscle is forced to exercise in a fixed position.
For example, when one of our players properly performs a set of negative only chin-ups for the first time (right), his abdominals are very sore the next day. The abs are forced to perform a significant amount of strenuous work stabilizing the abdominal wall during the execution of this very demanding exercise.
Are the abs working (stabilizing) exceptionally hard to stabilize the abdominal wall while performing a negative only chin-up? Absolutely.
Would I recommend negative only chin-ups to develop the abdominal muscles? Absolutely not. Performing any exercise at one fixed point violates the physiological requirements for full-range exercise.
Perform an Air Seat against the wall (right). Are the muscles of the hips and legs working hard at one fixed point? Absolutely. Is this a good exercise to develop strength throughout the full range of motion? Absolutely not. Because an exercise is hard does not necessarily mean it is the most productive alternative available.
Equipment manufacturers have recognized the anatomical and physiological needs
of muscles by designing structurally sound equipment for single-joint (isolation)
| Direct and rotary resistance|
We are fortunate to have a well-equipped facility. Whenever possible, when performing an isolation exercise, try to find equipment designed to provide direct and rotary resistance.
| Straight-line resistance|
- Eliminate momentum during the raising phase. For example while performing sit-ups or ab crunches, some lifters perform what we call throw-ups and fall-downs. Instead of raising the weight in a very smooth manner the lifter snaps the elbows and head forward jerking the body (this will make the exercise easier). In the starting position of a sit-up (below) or crunch we ask our players to eliminate cheating (eliminate the use of the head and elbows to help raise the weight) by crossing the arms on the chest and gently tucking the head forward. This will also put tension on the abs in the starting position. Once you start the exercise do not allow the head to return to the ab board until you have finished the last rep. When the head returns to the ab board it allows the muscles to momentarily rest. It should be the goal to make all exercises harder, not easier.