The core muscle group is a key component in building an athletic base.
Many common misconceptions of how to activate the core can lead to unproductive effort and possible injury. But appropriate training of the core can effectively build endurance, increase strength, and reduce injury.
Many athletes still describe core exercises as crunches or sit-ups. While these exercises do activate muscles in the core, they are not the most productive or safe exercise choice.
Which sports should train the core muscles? What are the best exercises for the core?
First of all, we must ask what muscles comprise the core (or trunk) and what is its role?
The muscles of the trunk that control spinal movement are considered by most to be the core muscle group, even though the muscles that cross over from the hip and shoulder are often included, as well.
Postural muscles like the deeper muscles of the back and the abdominal area generally have more slow-twitch fibres than fast-twitch. The speed of contraction is slower with less strength than fast-twitch, but they are much more resistant to fatigue. That means they are better suited for control and stability as opposed to the power muscles in the body (such as chest, triceps and quadriceps), which have more fast-twitch fibres.
So core muscles are perfect for creating stiffness around the spine and must provide stability and control without fatiguing, while the limbs turn on and off with a great deal of power and strength.
Without this ability to stiffen and brace the spine and provide a consistent anchor for the limbs, high levels of performance would be impossible.
During the golf swing, a golfer needs to mildly rotate the trunk while moving hips and shoulders to take the club back and ready the downward swing. Then while contracting all the appropriate muscles in sequence during the down-swing, the greatest degree of force generated in the core muscles is at the precise moment the club head makes contact with the ball.
At this moment, the trunk is in a strong, neutral spinal posture, making the most of all the optimal joint positions.
At the moment of contact with the ball, the core is engaged in a momentary tensing, which transfers the greatest amount of force from the legs to the arms.
So it goes for most sports movements, including the slap shot, kicking a soccer ball and throwing a baseball.
That is why in recent years there has been a move away from traditional crunches and sit-ups, which are incredibly hard and potentially damaging on your spine, toward exercises like planks and bridges, during which the spine stays in its optimal, neutral posture.
It is also why if you take a group of throwers or kickers and divide them up into core-training only and limb-training only groups, the core training group will always kick or throw harder when the training period is done.
Exercises for the core should be done by virtually all athletes and they should be done in three planes of motion.
Traditional weight training is often done in static, two-leg stances, often sitting on a bench, in one plane, which does not replicate sports situations.
Make sure your core exercises challenge your trunk muscles in a sport-specific way.