Sunday, March 11, 2007

What is Core Strength and why Core Strength?

What is Core Strength?
Core Strength is the development of the abdominal and back muscles that surround the core area of the body with a tight and powerful support structure of muscle bundles running in different directions. The core muscles act as shock absorbers for jumps, rebounds, or plyometric exercises; stabilize the body; and represent a link, or transmitter, between the legs and arms. []
Why Core Strength training?
Fad exercises come and go. You may remember the Jane Fonda aerobics craze followed by step aerobics and more recently, Tae Bo and the myriads of spin off exercises. Nowadays, Pilates and Yoga are popular forms of exercise. One common link between them all is the training of the body's main hinge which connects the upper body (torso) and the lower body (hips and legs). It is said that if you have a strong core you will have a strong upper and lower body as they are all interdependent. While you cannot specifically train the "core" because there is no "core" muscle, rather, the combined function of a group of muscles make up the "core", you can train your body to improve key areas that will promote health, injury prevention and functional strength. In addition, the method used in the training of the core involves High Intensity Interval Training and Anaerobic conditioning. Not only will you gain strength and proper posture but also develop endurance and stamina which will allow you to play you sport with better stability and for longer with insane recovery. [see Vince Choo, KDT Academy -]
The intent of core training is to strengthen the muscle groups that stabilize your skeletal structure. These are primarily the muscles in the thoracic area that determine your posture in each sport and in effect link your upper and lower body. The muscle groups that you strengthen with core training generally don't have the range of motion needed to drive you forward, but they are the 'platform' from which your arms and legs work. This need for a stable platform clearly applies to proper running and cycling posture. In highly developed swimming movements it may be even more important since the middle section of your body can actually contribute force through twisting motions where the direction of force from arms and legs oppose each other.
Core training helps get you 'in touch' with individual muscles and small groups of muscles. This awareness of specific muscles, or muscle groups is the first step in improving various posture and form issues. For example, many adults (and plenty of athletes) have poor posture stemming from weak mid-back muscles (rhomboids). This particular posture issue looks badly and can negatively impact each of our three sports. The first step to improving your posture is getting to know these muscles, then toning them so you can tighten them independently of your lower back's muscles which probably don't need additional toning work.
Core training focuses on muscular areas of the abdominals including obliques (your sides), upper and lower back (deltoids, rhomboids), hips (gluteals, hip flexors, psoas…), outer and inner thighs (abductors and adductors), hamstrings, even some pectoralis and triceps work.
When driving yourself forward in each of our sports, you're actually only as strong as your weakest muscular link. For example, even if you have the quads of a bodybuilder, you must have the strength in your upper body to control the force your quads can develop. On a bike, gravity dictates that all down force generated at maximum output is limited to your body weight and the opposing force of pulling up by the opposite crank arm. You can create additional down force by pulling up on the handlebar, thus opposing the tendency for your body to rise as you push down with your quads. But, since your legs are attached at your hips, not at your arms, the stable platform your arms create must be extended to your hips and legs through a rigid torso. Similar dynamic examples apply to running and swimming.
In running consider what you felt like during the IronMan's marathon (any marathon for that matter). When you become fatigued, your form falls apart. It's not just because of tired legs, it's tired arms, tired back, everything hurts. Having a strong torso helps hold your form together in the latter stages of an endurance effort - any distance race effort for that matter.
Now consider how a fish moves when it swims. Its fins and tail don't move independently from the rest of its body. The force a fish creates is through longitudinal flexion of its whole body. Non-aquatic creatures are the only ones that move with its appendages.
The movements below can all be done without any special equipment, just a floor with a little padding is all you'll need.
Here is a short sequence of core movements:
Abdominals:Upper: Crunches, lateral crunches, full sit-up.
Lower: Leg raises, single, "pedaling," double legs.
Side: Bridging on your side, double leg raises.
Back:Upper: Bridging, hyperextension.
Lower: Bridging, hyperextension.
Hips:Abductors: Side leg raises.
Adductors: Side double leg raises.
The next big thing - Kettlebells - Core Strength's Twin Sister!

1 comment:

Lorna said...

Dear Koh,

Have not even heard of the term 'core' until recent times, and that was thorough a Pilates DVD Jamie got me for Christmas. Quite an interesting concept but definitely not an easy one to achieve, and definitely not as simple and fluid as how you put a fish swimming.

Can't agree more with what you've written but I suppose the essential arguement is still this: How do you motive someone to shed their old man (and habits) and to embrace the new man (in thought and actions) so that he/she can enjoy the fulness of life? That to me is the million dollar question.

Lots of weight loss programs these days, such as the Biggest Loser (as shown in the US and Australia) first seeks this motivation, then seeks out the right excercise regime. Most encounter a life threatening situation before they 'see the light', but if everything remaining equal (ceteris paribus assumption), then the motivational factor will still be prevalent.