I think it’s safe to say that we all recognize the importance of developing the core of our athletes. A powerful and athletic core can play a huge part in the performance of our athletes, and in injury prevention. However, the manner and method in which we handle this development isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. The traditional methods of laying on the floor and doing crunches or sit ups doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This type of training focuses mostly on flexing the trunk, and mostly only in the sagittal plane. Another common traditional method to train the core is to hold a certain position for a certain amount of time just with bodyweight, or even with extra weight, such as holding a bridge/plank for inordinate amounts of time. If we watch our athletes when they’re participating in their sport, and we examine the role of the core in these athletic situations, it’s very clear that these traditional methods of training the core can’t be the most effective way to help our athletes, and won’t have a lot of transfer to success on the field or court. Not only are these traditional methods probably not the most effective, I would argue that this type of training can be detrimental to the performance of our athletes and their ability to avoid injury. When in sport are our athletes just laying on their back flexing their core, or when are our athletes holding a certain position without any movement?… We should do a better job of implementing exercises that are going to have a direct transfer to athletic performance than just using these traditional core training methods.
The core’s most important role in most sports is not just simply flexing in the sagittal plane, but actually having the ability to decelerate the core and THEN move explosively in ALL THREE planes of motion – sagittal, frontal and transverse planes. I would argue that the transverse plane is the most important plane of motion(and most powerful) for athletes, which makes it even more ironic that the transverse plane is probably the most under-trained or paid attention to with traditional core training methods. You watch a volleyball player as they go up for a spike, a golf player or tennis player’s swing, a soccer player as they prepare for a header, or a basketball player as they go up for a rebound – you will see how important the core’s ability to decelerate in all three planes of motion is before exploding in all three planes of motion.
So, what are some of the principles that we should keep in mind as we design core training for our athletes?
1) Train the core in all three planes of motion, with extra emphasis on the transverse plane.
2) Focus on developing the core’s ability to decelerate and load before exploding.
3) Make sure not to only have your athletes perform core exercises while sitting or laying on the ground. When the core is utilized in sports situations, it is total body upright movement that usually occurs with the feet on the ground(golf, tennis, baseball/softball swing), or even up in the air(volleyball spike, soccer header, etc). I’m not saying that some exercises down on the ground can’t be effective, however, make sure you are doing plenty of upright core movements as well.
4) Never have athletes perform an exercise where they are just holding the same position for long periods of time, Rather, tweak those same exercises to have the athletes MOVING. For example, rather than just doing a regular plank/bridge, have the athletes constantly lifting arms or legs up and down so that the body is learning to stabilize while also moving, which will have much more transfer to athletic movements in sport.
Here are a couple of videos from the master, Gary Gray, that discuss in depth the needs of the core in sports, and also gives some great examples of how to train the core athletically:
As strength & conditioning professionals, we must remember that in athletic situations the core is constantly MOVING in ALL THREE planes of motion, and we should train it accordingly to give our athletes the best chance at staying healthy and at success in their sport.