Friday, February 1, 2013

Athletic Core Training - Part 1

This year, the first goal in your personal training regime is to improve your core. Before you can move forward with strength, power, or endurance, it’s important to ensure that you’re able to maintain and control neutral spine. Besides injury reduction, extra core strength means many things:  better balance, better breathing, more agility, more stability, more arm strength, more leg strength, and increased efficiency of energy transmission from all quadrants of your body.


What the heck is neutral spine? Neutral spine is where the all vertebrae and spinal curves are situated in the best alignment to provide the most mechanical strength and facilitate optimal movement.  Everyone’s neutral spine is slightly different, but here’s an easy way to locate and remember what it means for you.

Lie down supine (Face up) on a firm surface. You can put a small block under your head like illustrated in the image, but it’s not essential. Next, slip one hand under the small of your lower back and note how there is a small arch your hand will snugly fit. Good. This is your lumbar curve and it’s essential you have the core strength and to maintain this position to protect your spine. As you lie there quietly on the floor, try to get a strong mental image of how it feels to be in neutral spine all the way from your head to your bum. Concentrate on what you could do to keep that neutral position.  Use this as your guide, and repeat a few times to ensure you concentrate on maintaining neutral spine  often throughout your daily routine, and fitness workouts.

Second: The Core Cylinder

Many people when considering core training usually jump to the mental image of the 6 pack stomach…  Wrong! The big mistake with focusing on the outer muscles (rectus abdominis) is that the core needs to be strong in every direction more like a cylinder or a corset. Strengthening and shortening just the front, or one side of your abdominals will leave imbalance and potentially weakness causing big problems down the line.  So, remember to touch on core movements that address strengthening muscles in all directions like the "core cylinder" in the schematic image below.

Third: Multiplanar Movements

All three planes of movement need to be considered when training to improve your core for optimal function and athletic performance. These planes are the sagittal plane, frontal plane, and traverse plane. And in English … this means the front, the back, the sides, and twist.

a) the sagittal plane refers to front flexion and back extension movements which are the typical forward core crunches, and backward extension. What this means is to balance our your strength gains equally with movements with on opposite sides of the body to maintain ideal muscle tension for optimal function. Many dysfunctions on the body can arise from imbalances in strength or flexibility from side to side, but often can be mitigated with  agonist / antagonist movements ( equally on the front & back). 
b) The frontal plane in reference to core is the side to side deviation of the spine, or simply adding or taking away from your center line. Strength in this plane might be best exemplified in a  heavy one handed overhead lift. Does your spine sway left or sway right  away from neutral as you push a weight above your head? It shouldn’t sway, and your spine should stay straight. Furthermore, by weight training with one hand at a time, or by employing cross loading exercises, you can gain core strength the frontal plane.
c) The transverse plane refers to rotation. It’s essential to train rotation and twisting for multiplanar core training movements because it reinforces bilateral cross patterning and is essential to natural human locomotion. Twist and rotation are key components many athletic movements like swinging clubs, rackets, or bats, throwing, dancing, jumping, walking, skiing, boarding, climbing,  and many more.

In summation: Every Core Training Program should identify neutral spine and then address regular exercises that cover movement in all 3 planes of movement lsited above. Although I have my favorites, it does not matter which exercises you use to improve your core as long as you don't neglect any areas mentioned above.

**** Please stay tuned for Athletic Core Training points Four, Five and Six.  It’s so poignant that it will be like a hot punch to the solar plexus….  only leaving you inspired, not expired.