Core training and the effects on athletic performance have been the center of many studies for strength and conditioning professionals for years. Looking into sport specific gains, LTAD, and general athletic performance. There is an underlying theme that core, and trunk training works for sports performance! The core is the central mass of the body and includes “Abdominals (Rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques), Hip (Psoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor facia latae, pectinius, gluteus maximus, medius and minimus; semitendinosus; semimembranosus; bicep femoris; adductor brevis, longus, and magnus; gemellus superior and inferior; obturator internus and externus; quadratus femoris; piriformis) and back (erectus spinae; quadratus lumborum; paraspinals; trapezius; psoas major; multifidus; Iliocostalis lumborum and thoracis; rotatores; latissimus dorsi and serratus anterior). (Handzel,2003) and are vitally important for power transfer, rotational movements, balance, stability, and all athletic and sporting movements. The core is not only built up of muscles it also integrates a complex system of nerves and skeletal structure, requiring a great deal of agonist and antagonistic muscular coordination in explosive and controlled athletic movements. A thorough athletic profile including athlete analysis and the demands of the sport will be required to ensure the appropriate training strategies are implemented. Specificity in programming and training is required to identify weather your athlete requires strength, muscular endurance or a mixture to elicit the desired training outcome.
When initiating a core training and development plan you need to have a clear outcome and a specific athletic gain you are trying to achieve. In (Handzel, 2003, P.27) some of the listed benefits of core training are increased power development, improved stability and efficiency, improved balance and reduced risk of injury.
Power transfer is one of the fundamental components for athletic performance and ensuring you have an efficient core structure to help with the transfer of forces around the body can be essential. A lot of traditional core development plans work on the improvement of muscular endurance and not on increasing strength. The core like other muscular systems in the body require stimulus to elicit the correct training response, If you require a strength gain in the core you are going to have to apply an external stimulus to create enough force to elicit the strength gain required. Practically some of the best methods for applying a load to your athletes can be through the big multi joint movements such as squats and deadlifts. In the study (Nuzzo, 2008, P.102) they hypothesized that in their study during the back squat, trunk and core activation was significantly increased from traditional stability ball exercises, and the greatest activation of the erector spinae muscles occurred greatest towards the participants 1 repetition maximum. Therefore, they recommended that the back-squat exercise should be included for core strengthening programmes.
In many sports the strength of the core is not the only factor that needs to be taken into consideration, in the study (Durall, 2009, P. 91) they found that the participants that followed the twice weekly core endurance training plan encountered less lower back injuries in the collegiate gymnastic season. Having good core endurance can reduce the risk of injury and can have other athletic contributions. In (Sato, 2009) a 5000m running study, they found that the control group who followed the core training plan improved their 5000m running time by an average of 47 seconds over a 6-week training period as opposed to the group that didn’t and made significantly lower improvements. Improving your core endurance can reduce fatigue and give you the ability to hold a better posture during athletic movements for extended periods of time, which in turn can lead to a reduced number of injuries to your athlete or athlete’s. This efficiency in movement is key in athletic and sporting performance, the more efficient and the longer your athlete can demonstrate ideal technical ability, skill, control of balance and transfer and absorption of forces to complete the skill required the more likely a positive outcome will prevail.
How do we build on this information?
By applying the same principles to how you would programme your athletes in any other area of their programming, we can start to build a structured plan on how to improve their athletic performance. From analysing the data that we have available to us from the athlete profile and fitness assessment and looking into the need’s analysis for their chosen sport. Starting with the athlete you can build up a picture of their current needs, are they prone to lower back pain? There are a few studies relating to the use of core training in the prevention of lower back pain (Durall, 2009)(Hibbs, 2008) there is an underlying theme in these studies where the interventions put in place were to follow a structured core endurance training plan. They have produced a reduction in lower back pain in the athletes that followed the programme, but as far as my research took me, I could not find any strength orientated studies with the foresight of reducing lower back pain and injuries. This would be an interesting comparative study to undertake in the future, comparing the use of endurance interventions against the use of strength interventions on core and trunk training for reducing lower back pain and reducing the risk of back injuries.
If power is an essential feature within the needs analysis of the sport, incorporating a core strength plan is going to be critical for the development of your athlete, power transfer, rotational forces and acceleration are just a few of the forces that the core is having to control and produce during sporting activities. Taking a multi-disciplinary approach to stressing the core through different planes of movement including static, controlled and explosive movements.
In the study by (Anderson, 1981, P. 7) found that the participants in their study that followed the low repetition and high stimulus of load decreased in muscular endurance by 7%, and went on to conclude that “Human and skeletal muscle makes both general and specific adaptations to training stimulus” this research would indicate that if your athletes had any need for muscular endurance a complex multi stimulus training protocol would have to be followed over their subsequent training cycle. Considering a periodized approach to core training alongside or inclusive of their normal training schedule would be advisable. Taking the approach of dividing the core development work into specific training phases, will allow you to take a more global approach, starting with general preparation and advancing the training into more sport specific development cycle as the athlete’s approach competition. (Fry, 1992) suggests that Cycling light, medium and heavy training strategies are essential to allow for adaptations and supercompensation. Athletes will require a combination of power output and endurance so following a multi-disciplinary training protocol in core strength and endurance will improve the athletic performance and outcome of the training cycle.
Core training for athletic performance is a widely researched subject and depending on what training affects you want to elicit will massively affect what training methodology you will use with your athletes. A strong efficient core is the key to athletic performance, being able to control various stresses and stimuli from multiple planes. For athletes, efficient transfer of power and forces through the core will improve their athletic ability to perform sporting tasks. As highlighted earlier for strength improvement to the core loaded squats and deadlifts create the strongest contractions of the muscles in the trunk and especially the erector spinae and transverse abdominis, this research demonstrates that the core needs to be treated like other muscle groups in strength and conditioning programmes, if strength is required load and rep ranges need to be adapted to provoke this training response. Periodizing the training so your athletes can start with general preparation and move through the various stages into the more sport specific training requirements allowing for the demands of the sport. Endurance based core training from the research available suggests it is a better measure to follow for injury prevention, although I cannot find any research into the injury prevention benefits of strength training core-based programmes which would be very interesting comparative research.
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