Getting to the “Core” What is Core training anyway?

Posted: September 27, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

pfp fb 2

Getting to the “Core”

Core training has been a “buzz word” for some time- pilates was massive in the 90’s and early noughties , classes have sprung up in various gyms dedicated completely to “core” workouts, yet, there is still so much misunderstanding in the industry and among the general public.

Given the calibre of coaches that view this page, no doubt I am preaching to the choir. Several of you may well be more knowledgeable than me in the field strength and conditioning. However, we all bring our own unique experience to the table, and this rant is from my experience of what information is lacking in many coaches (and athletes), still, to this day.

As instructors and/or athletes, it is vital that we have a clear understanding of what core training is, in sport preparation, or just exercising for health. To many coaches, cranking out a few hundred reps of crunches or sit-ups is core training. And that’s it! However, if we are to truly prevent injury and elicit peak performance from ourselves, our athletes or students, then we must adopt a more scientific approach. So what is core training? Well, I believe everything we do in the gym, park, etc… can be core training. If we go back a few hundred years, there were no such things as specific core exercises, crunch machines, etc… The work that was done every day provided all the spine stability and trunk power necessary. Unfortunately, as we have progressed as a society, we have taken so much essential stuff out of our lives that we have needed to put replacements in, e.g. processed foods necessitate vitamin supplements. Let’s examine what we refer to by “The Core”:

Generally speaking, when we refer to the “core” we are referring to the group of muscles between the hips and shoulders, responsible for stabilising the spine and transmitting force from one end of the body to the other. The concept of stability is a key one, as is evidenced by the high incidence of back pain amongst the human population. The core muscles can be grouped according to function – tonic or phasic (also known as local or global).

Tonic muscles are involved in posture. They “brace” the body, i.e. stabilise the spine, and redistribute force that otherwise could be damaging, (that is, when they work properly.) The importance of this function cannot be underestimated. Consider shooting a cannon from dry land versus shooting one from a boat. The kick from the cannon on land is controlled much better as the force is absorbed by solid ground, as opposed to shooting one from a moving, less stable boat.

Phasic muscles are involved in the transmission of force from the upper body to the lower, and vice versa. The function is analogous to the transmission of a car. If the transmission is faulty, then even though there is power from the engine, the wheels may not be turning. These muscles are also involved in conducting the various movements possible by the hips, trunk and shoulders.

Any sport that requires power output is dependent on the athlete having enough core stability to transmit the force from the legs to the upper body. Take a boxer for example: the final power in a punch is largely dependent on how much force can be transmitted from the feet upward. If the boxer has a sloppy “core” then much of the potential power in the punch is lost.

Gray Cook (Functional Movement Systems) refers to the “soft core” and the “hard core” when discussing the tonic and phasic muscles. He explains that the “soft core” is only switched on to about 20% intensity, but is subconscious and stabilises the spine before the conscious thought of movement even occurs.

Let’s examine the layout:


The core can be considered a box or cylindrical area that is surrounded on all sides by the core muscles. In the front we have the rectus abdominus, transversus abdominus. At the back we have the erector spinae and multifidi. The internal and external obliques are at the sides. The diaphragm is above, and the pelvic floor at the base.

“Core training improves performance because “everything in your body is connected to everything else.” Any chain is only as strong as its weakest link – unfortunately, for many people, it happens to be certain core muscles. Proper core stability allows an athlete to accelerate, decelerate, change directions and quickly adjust to spontaneous loading changes. One thing is certain – core stability is essential regardless of your goals. Injury risk is decreased as a result of the stability created around the lumbar spine during extreme effort, as well as the resultant redistribution of stresses on the body.

Common Misconceptions

Just doing Crunches/Sit-ups at end of workout:

For many an athlete, core training is limited to some abdominal work at the end of the workout. This is at best holding oneself back and at worst creating an injury-risk situation. As coaches, we must constantly ask ourselves where our clients are coming from…. the car?… from work where he/she spent eight hours hunched over a computer…… school? We spend much of our lives in flexion, therefore more spinal flexion may not exactly be what is needed, but extension is often essential. or a balanced core training regime, it is necessary to ensure that the entire area is developed in a functional capacity. Also, just doing crunches or sit-ups serves to isolate the rectus abdominus. As the core muscles rarely work in isolation, it seems inadvisable to train muscles is isolation alone. Similarly it is not prudent to train e.g. two different muscles in isolation and then expect them to work together in a “real-world” situation.

“No joint or body part works in isolation. There is a constant cause effect relationship in movement between force production and force reduction. The kinetic chain is characterised by deceleration at one joint and acceleration at the next joint in the chain. Therefore it is important to train movements not muscles.” Gambetta & Gray

Abdominal hollowing:

Abdominal hollowing or drawing the navel towards the spine may not be very useful in performing extremely intense, exertive sporting movements. If you watch Olympic weightlifters – before a big lift they don’t draw in the navel and hollow the abdominal cavity. Instead they “brace.” Consider again the diagram of the core. When taking a deep breath the diaphragm moves downward. This increases pressure in the intra-abdominal cavity, as the downward pressure is resisted by the pelvic floor musculature. As the abdomen is tensed or “braced”, the pressure is pushed back into the spine providing a great amount of support for the spine.


Training in only one plane

Many core exercises, e.g. crunches, glute bridges, reverse crunches work only in the sagittal plane (forward/backward). However we live, perform, compete in a three dimensional world. Therefore, our training if is to be optimal, must also demonstrate three-dimensional properties. The other two planes are frontal (coronal) and transverse.


Core training should encompass exercises that involve truck flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation.

Balancing The Load.

One of the best ways to improve core stability is to introduce “offset loading” into a programme. This involves carrying a greater load in one arm than the other. For example, an athlete doing lunges while carrying 10Kg in one hand and 4kg in the other is demonstrating an offset of 6Kg. To avoid losing lateral balance, the obliques and QL’s experience greater activation to keep the trunk upright. Try doing a dumbbell bench press with only one dumbbell at a time, to see the core activation you experience to avoid rolling off the bench.

Thanks for the guest blog from Shane Fitzgibbon.

Check out Shanes’ website, he also has a great training book which we use a lot here. profile pic

  1. Fred says:

    Reblogged this on .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s