3 Steps to Effective Core Training

Core training is a popular and often misunderstood component of sport performance training. Most athletes, parents and coaches know the importance of having a ‘strong core’ but often do not know what that means or how to properly attack an athlete’s weaknesses. In this post, I will outline 3 important considerations for effective core training. 

What is the ‘core’?

First and foremost, it needs to be understood what exactly constitutes the ‘core’. I often tell athletes that the core is everything above the knees and below the shoulders. Another way to think about it is that the core is made up of the spinal column and hips, and all of the associating tissue (muscles, fascia, tendons and ligaments). Often when people explain the importance of the core, it is from their observation that an athlete lacks stability and/or balance. While balance is a topic for another conversation, global (whole body) stability is often ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in large part due to the stability (or lack thereof) in the centre line of the body. Having strength and coordination through the spine and hips is the first step to providing stability to the centre line and developing better global stability. 

So, train the abs and glutes, right? Not exactly. While the abs and glutes are part of the system of muscles involved in the core, training the core effectively is not as simple as developing strong and enduring abs and glutes. The ultimate goal of core training is solving a performance related issue (eg. getting knocked off the puck too easily) or strengthening a pattern that is important for continued success in a given activity (being able to transfer force to the clubhead during a golf swing). The main duties of the core region are: 

    • Maintain stability while absorbing forces (both internal and external) 
    • Transfer force from one section of the body to another
    • Generate force during dynamic movements. 

Simply training the abs and glutes will not serve the complete purpose of core training. Read below for 3 keys to effective core training. 

1. Learn is stabilize in functional, static positions first

It is important that when we are doing core training exercises, we are addressing the problem we are trying to solve and training strength, stability and endurance in a functional manner. One commonly overlooked component of core training is the position or shape athletes are in when they are performing core exercises. Take a simple plank for example. If we are doing a 30 second plank and at the 20 second mark the athlete reverts to a anterior pelvic tilt position (picture butt in the air and a big curve in the lower back), effectively shutting their ab wall off and relying on the hip flexors and passive tissue around the spine to maintain the, now broken, position, are we training the core in an effective and transferable manner. The answer is no! Teaching our body to adopt this position (which our bodies will gladly do because it requires less energy) is not training a stable, transferrable position and potentially sets us up for injury down the line. Before athletes do more complex, high tension, core training movements, they should be able to master the basics. If an athlete cannot stabilize appropriately in a static exercise, chances are they will not be able to stabilize appropriately in a dynamic exercise. 

2. Stress all planes of movement

Another key consideration while training the core is to ensure that the athlete is stressing all of the planes of movement. The image below shows the different planes of movement of the body: side-to-side (frontal plane), front-and-back (sagittal plane) and rotational (transverse plane). To optimize strength, stability and force transfer, it is imperative that the core is seen as a 3-dimensional system and that all planes of movement are trained. Sticking with the theme of training statically before dynamically, the athlete wants to be able to stabilize in a static setting (i.e. without movement) before progressing to dynamic movement (i.e. with movement).

Example of static core stability exercises on each plane are as follows: 

    • Sagittal Plane – Front Plank
    • Frontal Plane – Side Plank
    • Transverse Plane – Pallof Press 

3. Train all types of movement

As mentioned above, the core system of the body is important for providing stability when various forces (internal [muscles pulling on spine] and external [receiving a bodycheck]) are acting upon it, transferring force through the body, and generating force. Once an athlete has mastered the ability to stabilize in a static, well organized position, they can then begin training stability in dynamic settings and generating force through various planes of movement. 

The core system of the body is vital to athletic performance and training it appropriately is equally as important for creating transfer between your training and performance setting. Once you have mastered the basics, core training should become more dynamic while keeping all the planes of movement and types of forces acting on the system in mind.