Understanding the Importance of the Core Muscular System for Athletes
Did you know that when you run, your core works just as hard as any other muscular group? It's important to understand the core muscular system and how it works to further develop athletes so that they can reach their full potential. We will break down the different core systems and ways to strengthen them.
The core is the group of muscles that attach to or act on the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. These include the lumbar spine, pelvic girdle, abdomen and hip joints. It's important to note that these muscles connect and work directly with the hips to generate knee drive while walking and running, among other athletic movements. The musculature of the core is divided into three stabilization categories: The local stabilization system, global stabilization system, and the movement system. The local and global stabilization systems consist of different muscle groups in the abdomen which stabilize the body and help us to remain upright. Even while sitting up straight, our core is working to stabilize the torso and upper body. The movement system consists of the muscles such as your hip flexors, hamstring complex and quadriceps. Many athletes have a strong movement system, but weak stabilizing muscles. Since the stabilizing muscles work together with the movement system, it's important to strengthen both to increase athletic gains and performance.
Research shows that performing traditional abdominal exercises without proper internal pelvic stabilization increases pressure on the discs in your back and compression in the lumbar spine. Performing traditional lower-back hyperextension movements without proper internal pelvic stabilization can also cause pressure and pain.
Solutions for improving your core stabilization include movements that allow the athlete to pull in the region just below the naval towards the spine to activate the stabilization system. This involves the contraction of the rectus abdomis, external obliques, and lower-back muscles. These movements focus on global trunk stability. Maintaining a neutral position in the spine during core training will improve posture, muscle balance and stabilization. To illustrate, imagine doing crunches... Your back is arched inward and you crunch your torso to the knees. If you take that same movement but instead of crunching your torso, you keep your torso straight and abdomen tightened, you will be activating your stabilization muscles. It's important to note that the core stabilization system consists of slow twitch, type 1 muscle fibers, which respond best to time under tension. This means that the muscles need sustained contractions to enhance static and dynamic stabilization of the torso.
When designing an integrated program, it's important to map out the workouts progressively. Start with an easy movement and gradually increase to harder movements. This will strengthen the muscles that are keeping the body stable and as the athlete gets into more complex movements, they will begin to strengthen those muscles that are much less stable. Some effective types of resistance are: stability balls, cables, medicine balls and dumbbells.
When progressing through core training, it is important to go through stabilization, strength and power movements. Stabilization movements such as planks involve little joint motion through the pelvic-hip complex. These are great movements to use as a starting point and are perfect for improving the functions of the deep stabilization mechanism. Core strength exercises are slightly more advanced as they involve more dynamic movements through range of motion. Core strength movements may involve body weight movements as well as tension bands or cables with weights. Core power movements take it one step further and are designed to activate the rate of force produced by the core muscles. Examples of these movements include medicine ball throws and explosive movements.
In conclusion, the core muscular group helps to protect the spine from detrimental forces that occur during functional activities. They also help develop an athletes speed and movement. Core training programs must be planned, progressive, and goal-oriented. A proper training program will move progressively from stabilization to strength to power movements.