Training the core (midsection) muscles isn’t as complicated as most make it out to be.
Let’s start by first saying that your spinal column was designed to bend, rotate, flex, extend and move, in general. Some seem to have a train of thought that disallows spinal flexion or fear mongers when an athlete extends their spine. None of these movement patterns of the spinal column are dangerous or harmful for long-term health. However, we must take into account key differences of using body weight versus being loaded with resistance. That’s the kicker here.
While there certainly is merit to core training exercises that promote spinal flexion (e.g., KB Reverse Crunch), I believe there is some strategy behind this type of advanced programming, which lends itself to an individualized approach, background information, and injury history of a given athlete.
Additionally, in the right time and place, an extension-based spinal exercise (e.g., Floor Prone Superman Iso) for core training may be a useful strategy as well. Again, we must take into consideration a variety of factors prior to strategically adding this type of exercise into a training program for an athlete.
In order to administer a simple starting point for new and up-and-coming coaches to utilize in their training methodologies, my belief is that it would be strategic to focus on core training exercises that fall into the “anti” family as it pertains to spinal strength and stability. This would consist of anti-rotation, anti-extension, anti-flexion, and anti-side bend (lateral flexion).
Once an athlete has developed a strong base of core strength with “anti” family exercises, it would then become time to incorporate some of the developmental patterns in human and sport performance. Lastly, we will touch on the importance of using the strong base of core strength and developmental patterns to then allow your athletes and clients to express power and explosiveness.
BUILD A STRONG BASE
The “anti” family is a simple starting point for building a strong and durable core and can be broken down into 4 sections.
First up, we have anti-rotation. The goal of these types of exercises is to avoid any sort of rotation or twisting in the spine. Ultimately, as you will see in all 4 sections, you want your athlete to avoid motion. In this case, the motion being avoided is rotation.
A good example of anti-rotation is the Band Standing Buoy Pallof Press:
Secondly, we have anti-extension. An anti-extension core exercise forces the athlete to avoid extending or bending backward at the spine, which really emphasizes anterior core strengthening.
One of my favorite exercises to use for core anti-extension training is the Roller Body Saw:
The next section focuses on anti-flexion, which forces the coach to be a bit more strategic when it comes to programming. Similar to the previous sections, we want to focus on avoiding motion at the spine, and in this case, we want to avoid flexing or bending forward at the spine.
A great way to effectively program this type of exercise in for your athletes is to use the DB Farmer Carry:
Finally, we have, anti-side bend (lateral flexion). Quite simply, we want the athlete to avoid any lateral flexing or bending motion at the spine. An excellent way to incorporate this type of core training exercise is through any sort of side plank variation.
An easy go-to exercise here would be to implement the DB Side Plank since it forces the athlete to keep tension and stability along the entire spine:
Building strength and competence in all 4 of these sections will ultimately help your athletes develop a durable midsection.
MASTER DEVELOPMENTAL PATTERNS
Two primary patterns involved in the development process, as it pertains to human and sport performance, are the half-kneeling and tall-kneeling positions.
The half-kneeling position is a great way to allow your athlete to create stability in the trunk muscles and stabilize the hips with one foot on the ground while the other hip experiences an anterior stretch during hip extension with the knee placed on the floor.
Here is a visual of what that looks like in the Cable Half Kneel Vertical Pallof Press:
As you can see in the video above, we’ve essentially blended both anti-rotation core strength and anti-extension core strength, with the half-kneeling developmental position. When it comes to training, we want to slowly but surely layer in different skills and techniques with our athletes. This process is no different since it allows for continual learning and growth as our athletes become stronger and more durable.
Next up, we have the tall-kneeling position. The tall-kneeling position really emphasizes both core and hip stability, and ultimately makes it a bit more challenging for the athlete when compared to the half-kneeling position. By placing the athlete in hip extension in both hips, we are working hard to keep a strong and stable core position.
Here is a visual of the tall-kneeling position in the Band Tall Kneel Vertical Pallof Press:
Again, we are continuing to layer in different elements and skills as we advance in the exercise progression department. This exercise combines both anti-rotation and anti-extension of the core in the tall-kneeling position.
After mastering core strength in these developmental positions, it then becomes time to incorporate power and explosiveness, which brings me to my next point…
EXPLODE WITH POWER
Performing at a high level outside of the gym is what our athletes and clients are really after. Sure, expressing strength and power inside the gym is cool. However, making people better at what they want to be better at is the key.
This is where power development factors into the training program since it allows each person to show off their athleticism and explosiveness. Who doesn’t like feeling athletic? Exactly.
There are so many training options to implement here as it pertains to power development and explosiveness. You could employ medicine ball drills, slams, tosses, throws, and the like. The medicine ball is a useful strategy since it acts as an external load, which directly impacts velocity (speed) and force. Both of these qualities have the ability to increase the difficulty of an exercise.
The overarching theme here within power development exercises is to use the core strength created from the “anti” family exercises and the developmental positions to now show it off by being explosive. Any time you throw an object (e.g., a medicine ball), you must allow your lower body to work in tandem with your upper body via the connection of the midsection. In doing so, all of the force and power you express comes directly through your core muscles. This is why building a strong base and mastering developmental positions are crucial at the beginning of the process.
Here are some of my favorite power-based exercises to implement in training programs:
- Medicine Ball Standing Slam
- Medicine Ball Standing Around the World Slam
- Medicine Ball Standing Pivot Slam
Power development exercises can be really fun, and effective, as long as you’ve first mastered the building blocks beforehand. Once you’ve done that, let it rip!
First, train your athletes to develop core strength and stability with “anti” family exercises. Then, show them how they can then use that base level of strength to work hand in hand with developmental positions. Once all of that has been achieved, let your athletes show you what they’ve got in terms of being powerful!
More exercise-specific content here.