When I mention core strength what do you think of?
Let me guess, sit ups and planks or cheese grater abs.
Mmmmmhhh ab cheese.......
What if I told you core strength was different from ab work and that all round core strength comprises of three different elements that need to be present for you to avoid injury long term. People that suffer from long term back pain are usually missing at least one element of the three.
Now traditional core work, i.e. 1,000,000 crunches and leg lifts do work your core, but here’s the thing, they only work one element of it. That’s where it falters. It uses visible abs as a benchmark of a strong core.
Like any good complex machine your body relies on ALL the elements working together so if you’re only hitting one element of core work and neglecting the rest your machine it’s going to schedule a pit stop soon. And you won’t have a say in it because if you don’t ensure it’s working well it’s going to take matters into its own hands.
We need to think of the core as a transfer hub and support network for the rest of your body.
It’s the link and communicator between the upper and lower body. It facilitates power transfer and shock absorption between both halves. It effectively ties you all together so you can actually move in and adapt to the world around you.
As for support, your spine is incredibly mobile. Think of little Jenga blocks stacked on top of each other with a little blob of jelly in between.
That’s your spine and discs. It’s unreal how much support and stability your spine needs to not just flop over. That support is your cores job. Your core supports the spine during movement as well as facilitates it.
How the core does all of these energy transfer and support roles is by utilising three key elements.
It sounds complicated but once you break it down its not actually that bad.
Isometric strength is the ability to hold a static position in which your spine remains supported but your other limbs are free to move. There are three types of isometric core strength in general. Bracing support, handy in barbell lifts like the deadlift, anti-rotational strength and the constant resistance against gravity.
You need the ability to brace effectively and support the spine properly in the big lifts otherwise you’re going to create a weak point for the force you’re generating to exploit. That one weak point will quickly become a point of possible injury.
Anti-rotational core strength is the ability to hold a position against an external force. Think Jonathan from next door trying to push you over as a joke at the BBQ. If you get a lot of back pain you might be lacking this element of isometric core strength.
Gravity is the only constant force you are in contact with your whole life. It is constantly pulling you to the floor. Which is handy or you’d float off.
Your core needs to be constantly supporting your spine to stop it being compressed together by gravity as you are standing upright. The effect of gravity on the core can be manipulated to increase exercise difficulty or to generate a desired effect if you know how.
Check out this video covering Isometric core strength.
Rotational core strength
It is exactly what it says on the tin. Rotational core strength is the ability for your core to facilitate rotational movement whilst still maintaining support. This includes the ability to bend to the side which is an extremely under used range for most people.
The main thing to remember is that the spine has an infinite number of ways it can move and you should be moving in as many novel ways as you can to keep it healthy.
Try these exercises to help develop rotational core strength.
Reactive strength is best trained when you’re not thinking about training reactive strength.
It’s a bit like core strength fight club.
Your cores reaction strength gets worked best when you unconsciously react or adapt to a movement, situation or sudden change in what your brain was predicting. Because of this the jumping from one foot to the other or slaloms that are generally used don’t truly work your reactive strength. This is because you know what the drill is so your brain is already predicting the movement patterns needed which stops it from being truly reactive.
Enter number/letter ball.
Number ball focuses on a task as well as the unpredictability of the game to ensure you can’t predict outcomes subconsciously. Check it out here:
It’s easy to train smarter when you know what to do. When I first started out in fitness it was a case of bench squat and deadlift as much as you can. There was no research into the brain and body link at all. Thankfully now that is changing as we are learning much more about how the brain functions and just how important it is in how the body functions.
To really build the link between body and brain so you can start moving pain free check out the Reset Series here.