In our last post we talked about our feet being the foundation for athletic performance.
If our feet are the foundation then our core strength is a building block. Improving core strength allows us to then target and improve other body parts and improve coordination of movement. It seems straight forward, yet many athletes have a tendency to rush through or skip these building block exercises.
Strengthening the core muscles can prove to be a challenge. This is especially so for young athletes whose bodies are changing and growing. Part of the problem is, when it comes to strengthening the core, people tend to rely on sit ups or planks. There is nothing wrong with the standard sit up or plank but these exercises leave room for improvement to truly challenge core muscles. Another misconception is that many people think our core consists of the abdominals only. Our "core" actually consists of all the muscles of the spine, obliques, abdominals, and hips.
At Reform Athletics, we put more demand on the body by strengthening all of our core muscles using dynamic movement rather than static exercise. Dynamic movement requires a full range of coordinated motion in both muscles and joints. This type of training challenges athletes, like Stephen, to focus more on the movements they are performing rather than putting the brain on autopilot which tends to happen when doing static exercises. Initially, these core exercises were difficult for Stephen due to the lack of exposure to this type of training. He was, however, able to progress quickly and the improvement in his coordinated skill level was evident.
One example of a dynamic core exercise Stephen perfected is stability ball knee circles(pictured left). In this exercise, Stephen is doing knee circles on the stability ball while stabilizing his shoulders in a plank-like position. There is an adaptation process with the neuromuscular system to figure out this movement. Once the movement has been improved then we challenged him with faster movement, weight, and audible cues. Performing dynamic movements on the ball is similar to the challenges athletes encounter in their sport. They must be able to adapt and react quickly to internal and external forces and respond to audible cues.
When it comes to core strengthening, a stability ball is a must have.
They are inexpensive, easily accessible, and the exercises you can do with it are endless. Further, there is a low risk of injury when using it. Using the stability ball we can target the obliques, the lower abdominals and back, the spine, and the hips. Adding in training bells and ankle weights we can ballistically load the limbs while activating the core muscles-a lot more bang for your buck then doing a plank! This improves the speed of contraction of the muscles, the elasticity of the muscles, and muscle control which all play a major role in sports performance as well as reducing the risk of injury while playing your sport.
Another piece of equipment we use to strengthen the core is the glute-ham developer or GHD. Although this piece of equipment is quite common in most gyms, at Reform Athletics we use it in a unique way. We use it primarily for strengthening and activating the posterior chain. This is the group of muscles along the spine, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Many young athletes neglect to strengthen the lower back and this can lead to injury when performing traditional strength exercises, such as squats, that put stress on those muscles.
Once again, when an athlete can successfully execute the bodyweight exercises we can add in training bells and other pieces of equipment to challenge them with different ranges of movement. Athletes must have a strong core before moving onto more advanced exercises. Move too quickly, and the chance of injury is greater. When athletes are able to perform these core exercises with speed, they will become more aware of their bodies and are able to improve coordination, quickness, and agility while playing their sport.
Speed, agility, and quickness are important in sport but you also need strength and power! In the next blog we will discuss how the specialized equipment at Reform Athletics helps athletes increase strength and power!