Congratulations on being able to perform a 3-kilogram medicine ball rotation standing 1 footed on a Bosu ball while you read the Wall Street Journal. Clearly you as well as every other “informed” exerciser has been indoctrinated with “core” training and the endless fitness possibilities such methods offer you in your quest to look like Superman. But true core training is about way more than how you look, it’s about how well you perform as a human in your day-to-day tasks and athletic endeavors.
Core strength, stability, balance, etc., originates from the abdominal, hip muscles, and the spinal stabilizers, that stiffen the spine in order to transmit forces from the legs and hips to the arms. These muscles are designed to create spinal stiffness so that movements created by our feet are actually materialized at our hands and so that the spine maintains its integrity during dynamic movement efforts. For example, a baseball pitcher winds up forcefully to throw the ball. The ground contact from the feet create a force generated by the legs and hips against the dirt. In order to efficiently utilize 100 percent of that force, the spine has to maintain rigidity so that there is still energy left by the time that effort reaches the finger tips and before the ball leaves toward home plate.
The human body is a system, and that system relies on sequential and synergistic muscle activity to cause movement. Why then do we isolate limbs, or the “core,” and train these compartments of the body separately when the body never functions through isolated movements to begin with? Even a task as simple as walking involves so many muscles together, it’s not if your body decides one day, “I think I will just use my ankles today, my hips are tired.” Save for clicking through the channels at the end of the work day, the human body works as a whole system, and I will argue that most people should train it that way.
So why do core training? Because you will look good? Perhaps, as long as you reduce your calorie intake so that you can shed the belly fat that’s hiding your six-pack. This requires the “push away routine” (push away from the table). Seriously though, the purpose of a strong core transcends appearance. Core strengthening should be done in combination with other strength training movements so that we can fully utilize the power we create in every movement and prevent injury by protecting our skeletal system. More about this in next week’s column.
With all that being said, my college strength coach Ethan Reeves always said, “You are only as strong as your weakest link.” Sometimes core stability is that weak link. To acquire enough core strength though, requires very little time and can be actualized within a few to several weeks. It rarely should be the cornerstone of any exercise program, particularly in the absence of imbalances. Once you have achieved core stability, there is a point of diminishing returns and most casual exercisers have achieved it from my observation. After core development has been established, training programs should evolve into including exercises that help achieve specific goals. Stay tuned for next week’s discussion on which exercises you should graduate to once core development has been attained.
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.