We’ve all heard the importance of core strength. We know core strength can help with injury prevention and sports performance, but what actually is “core” training?
The days of doing crunches, sit-ups, and Russian twists are long gone thanks in large to the work done by Dr. Stuart McGill. His studies have indicated that creating core stiffness is going to have a better carryover for creating speed and power, and dynamic core exercises such as sit-ups and Russian twists are less effective and more likely to cause injury. In the video below Dr. McGill explains why he does not like these exercises, and how a flexible lumbar spine can be a very bad thing.
So What Should we be doing instead?
From a sports performance standpoint creating stiffness is of most importance. A strong and stable core creates better athleticism throughout the body. For example, if a pitcher cannot stiffen at the core during his delivery there will be an energy leak preventing him from putting 100% of the muscular force produced into the pitch.
We’ll separate our core training into 3 categories; anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion.
An anti-extension exercise is any exercise where we are resisting extension of the lumbar spine. Baseball players tend to sit in lumbar extension and anterior pelvic tilt during long periods of standing around on a baseball field. This is problematic because it can lead to stress fractures on the lumbar spine and tightening of the hamstrings possibly causing hamstring pulls. Our anti-extension exercises will encourage creating a more neutral spine and some posterior tilt of the pelvis.
Dead bugs are one of the first core exercises we will introduce to our athletes. They can seem very easy, but it’s common for athletes to screw this one up. As you lower your opposite hand and foot, keep your lower back firm on the floor, this encourages the posterior pelvic tilt and neutral spine we are looking for. Exhaling at the bottom of each rep will help resist the urge to extend through the lumbar spine.
TRX Fall Outs
As you slowly fall forward use your anterior core to resist arching through your low back. An added bonus to this exercise is the upward rotation of the scaps and the challenge to be able to resist extension with the arms overhead.
Anti-rotation exercises will include anything the resists rotation of the spine. Good rotary stability will allow the athlete to have proper hip/shoulder separation through the thoracic spine rather than excessive movement through the lumbar. This hip/shoulder separation is key for creating rotational power in baseball.
Iso Pallof Press
Grab a band or cable and align it in the center of your body. Simply reach out in front of you keeping the band centered for 10-15 seconds using your core to resist the rotation.
This is really a combo of anti-rotation and anti-extension. It will teach rotary stability as you raise the cable and you will also have to use your anterior core to prevent the lower back from arching in the top position.
Anti-lateral flexion is anything that requires resisting lateral flexion or bending to the side.
A 1-arm farmer carry is a great introduction to anti-lateral flexion exercises. We’ll cue our baseball players to have a slight shrug to prevent shoulder depression, keep the abs tight, then simply walk 40 – 50 yards staying completely upright.