Train Your Core Off the Floor

By Peter Twist

To enhance mobility, stability and power production the core must be progressively trained as a unit using movement patterns that translate directly to the demands of sport, fitness and real life. Begin training the core to stabilize the spine before adding rotary movements and you will feel and see the results.

In the fitness world, ‘core’ strength has become a very common buzzword.  Many fitness enthusiasts train for six pack abs focusing on the muscles they can see in the mirror without respecting the value of developing the deeper muscles that stabilize and produce rotation through the trunk. In sport, recreation and real life, you are only as strong as your weakest link and with the incidence of low back pain and debilitating injury on the rise, effective core training has never been more essential.

The Core Connection

To create a solid base of support that is able to transfer force through the muscles and joints of the entire body, the core is developed deep from the center of the body outward to the more visible muscles.  To provide strong posture, support upper and lower body mobility and create explosive rotation, the core muscles including the abdominals, low back and hip region must work together as a unit.

Traditional core development utilizes floor based exercises such as crunches, sit ups, leg raises, rope crunches, and back extensions which predominantly isolate the spinal flexor and extensor muscles.  To promote long term spinal health, the core must be trained for improved performance not just appearance.  Nothing in sport, recreation or life is done in isolation, lying down. These isolation exercises actually may lead to low back injuries by isolating the abdominals and back and reducing their ability to work in concert with other muscles of the trunk.

Train for Real Life

Visualize the whole body demand of daily activities or sport skills where both the arms and the legs work together for optimal force production.  Most skills begin with loading the legs to sum power from the lower body, to the core and onwards to the shoulder region.  Exercises done in a closed kinetic chain position (standing on your feet) with meaningful progressions create essential core development.  When working movement around the spine, initial exercises begin with slow controlled movements, to create strength and endurance gains.  Development of both the muscle shortening (concentric) and lengthening (eccentric) phases of the movement decrease the risk of injury.

To begin safely, follow the progressions below to train your core using logical stages that first build postural strength and as a last step fine tune high velocity rotation.

1. Activate the Core

Begin with a balance challenge to activate the core stabilizers and develop body awareness.  Balance exercises stimulate the mind to muscle connection creating a strong link between the commands of the mind and the responsiveness of the muscles.  The outcome is Smart Muscle® that quickly complies with the mind’s commands.

2. Stabilize the Spine

A critical function of the core muscles is to work together to stabilize the spine for strong posture and movement.  Challenge core endurance to maintain a strong spinal posture while holding specific lying down body positions.

3. Strong Standing

Shift the static core stability hold exercises to a standing position to build core activation in an upright posture.

4. Go Rotary

To increase the core challenge, add slow tempo full range of motion rotation with emphasis on loading the deceleration or recovery phase. Use a 2:4 repetition count (2 seconds rotation, 4 seconds recovery / deceleration).  This teaches the core to work as a team and safely introduces rotation with resistance.

5. Power Production

Powerful rotation requires whole body systematized integration of a weight shift in the lower body, a heel release and hip trigger, followed by core rotation and upper body expression of power (toe to fingertips).  First learn the motion before adding any resistance or any change in tempo for power production.  The cross body movement pattern ties directly to most sport skills.

An emphasis on training the core off the floor builds a strong and stable body that is capable of managing and creating force safely and effectively.  This training strategy builds a body that is ready for all the unpredictable events real life brings.

Peter Twist, MSc BPE CSCS TSCC-Gold PTS is President of Twist Conditioning’s 3 divisions: franchised Sport Conditioning Centers, product wholesale and the Twist Smart Muscle® Coach Education program and Twist Smart Muscle® Training System.  To learn more about the Twist training methodologies, education and equipment available in Canada contact www.twistconditioning.com