In the last several years many strength-training programs have evolved to emphasize strengthening muscles of the core. Many of the major muscles for your shoulders, arms, and legs are attached to the pelvic bones and/or the spine, i.e., your core. If your trunk muscles are well conditioned, you will enjoy optimal transfer of energy from large to small muscles when you sprint, twist, lift, jump, throw, and perform other movements of sports and daily living. If the core is well conditioned you are less likely to be injured during training, competition and simple activities of daily life. We are often asked, “What is the best way to strengthen your core?” Here are some tips to keep in mind.
Perform core training at the beginning of each workout and make certain that you select exercises that are safe but challenging.
Begin your core training with simple, traditional exercises-abdominal work, back extensions, squats, dead-lifts, leg presses, leg raises, bridging exercises, pull-ups and pull-downs that stress the core muscles. Pay particular attention to engaging your lower abdominals and your glutes as much as possible throughout the movements.
As you improve, progress to more complex exercises that more closely mimic the specific dynamic movements required in your sport(s). For example, a tennis player may train with a medicine ball or cable in the pattern of movement that they go through for serving a ball or hitting an overhead shot. By varying the speed (or training with a partner using a medicine ball) you can vary the resistance your muscles and nervous system must learn to react quickly to changing environments.
In the early stages of your training program perform the exercises at controlled rates with light to moderate resistance. This helps load your muscles and joints so that you will be less susceptible to injury. Later, you can progress to more explosive movements against heavier loads, similar to those you might encounter in your sport(s).
Vary the movements and the types of safe resistance that must be overcome. This will better prepare you as well as reduce boredom and risk of injury.
Always perform your exercises exactly as they are meant to be performed and establish proper body mechanics. This becomes more difficult with fatigue. Training in front of a mirror or with someone can help to provide feedback if the movement pattern is breaking down.
Consider performing some of your exercises on unstable surfaces such as foam rollers, BOSU balls, balance boards, or swiss exercise balls to improve our body’s ability to achieve central stability and balance in the changing environments of sport (and life).
Consider performing exercises with medicine balls and resisted band devices as resistance tools. This may more closely mimic the changing resistances you encounter in your sport compared with using dumbbells and barbells.
Do not exercise one body part to the exclusion of others. In other words, spend as much time training the muscles of your back and glutes as you do the muscles of your abdomen. Otherwise, you are less likely to achieve optimal stability of your spine and pelvis and you are more likely to be injured because of an imbalance of muscle strength.
Improve the flexibility of your trunk and hips. Increasing your flexibility will help extend the range over which you can perform your movements and may decrease your chances of being injured. However, once an increased range is achieved, it is important to build adequate strength through your new range. Balance between muscle strength and muscle length is key.
Be consistent in your training. If you stick with your training plan, you are much more likely to achieve success than if you train erratically.
Feel free to stop by Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy in the Athletic Club of Bend. Some of our physical therapists are Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. We would be happy to briefly consult with you and make a recommendation to your training program or make a referral as appropriate.