When most people think of an exercise to train their core, the first thing that comes to mind is a sit-up or a crunch with the end goal being a chiseled six-pack. However, "the core" is a vast area spanning from the shoulders all the way to the knees with five functions. We believe that the key to a strong and healthy core is by strengthening the four main muscle groups that make up the core.
These four muscle groups have five essential functions that the body can perform at any given time during an athletic event. An athlete may have to get up from the ground (flexion), change direction (rotation), bend over backwards (extension), avoid your opponent (lateral flexion), or brace to take a hit (compression). Therefore, athletes should not neglect any area of core training and instead adopt a balanced approach.
Both the upper and lower abs benefit from training involving flexion. Added resistance can be applied to build the muscles so that they appear to stick out. Our suggestion is to experiment with resistance/non-resistant exercises to see what works for you. Check out our video above for our favorite flexion exercise, hanging Leg Raises.
The lower back is one of the most important muscle groups in the body. All athletes should train these muscles on a regular basis in order to promote stability and to prevent injuries. Our lower back is used everyday and a weak back is an injury waiting to happen. Train it regularly and train it well. Ab wheel roll outs are our favorite extension exercise and are loved by most of our athletes as well.
3) Lateral Flexion
Oblique injuries are on the rise, especially in baseball players. Some industry professionals accustom this to lack of lateral flexion or something just as simple as not being properly trained. It's important to make sure you are taking a balanced approach when you are core training. Don't bank on just one of these movements. Diversify! Remember, oblique exercises incorporating lateral flexion, such as a side bend, should use light weight to ensure full range of motion.
Much like lateral flexion, exercises that add resistance to rotational movements also add size to the obliques and should be approached with that in mind. We suggest performing rotational exercises with little to no resistance, focusing on a nice stretch in the obliques. Check out Med Ball Tosses in the Current Athlete Video Gallery. We make our athletes use lighter weighted med balls to create velocity rather than train their muscles to operate at a slower pace when it comes to rotational exercises. The Rip Trainer Series we have in the core video focuses on rotational stability and should therefore be done slowly and under control.
Compression exercises are perhaps the most overlooked functions of the core. Generally these compression techniques require little to no equipment. Breathing has a lot to do with these exercises as exhaling slowly while squeezing your abs helps strengthen your transverse abdominis. Exercises such as planks, bridges, or pelvic tilts can be used to aid in the compression process. Next time you do a plank, concentrate on blowing air out of your stomach slowly while squeezing your abs. You will feel a burn like you've never felt before.
Most strength training exercises incorporate your abs without you even knowing. Squats, deadlifts, and even simple barbell curls. All require the abs to contract in order to support the body. In other words, you are indirectly stimulating them already. So if you don't train your abs like a madman, it doesn't mean you don't have a strong core.
Regardless of your sport(s), a well-planned routine is the most efficient way to approach core training. Like any other muscle group, the core needs time to rest and recover. Keep experimenting, figure out what works for you and above all else, trust the program!