Core Training Part 2 – A Deeper Look into Core Stability
Saturday, March 8, 2014
By Kevin Hirose – BKin, CSCS
Welcome to the conclusion of “Core Training Part 1 – Sit-ups and Crunches?”. If you have not had an opportunity to read it please click on this link:
So sit-ups and crunches may NOT be the best exercises for your core and are HIGHER risk to your lower back health. And CORE STABILITY exercises have been shown to be much lower risk for back pain/injury.
Question: So if your core musculature is stabilizing and not moving during exercises such as the front plank then how will the muscles becoming stronger and possibly more defined, if that is your goal?
Answer: When one is doing crunches or sit-ups the primary muscle group being worked is the “six-pack” area known as the rectus abdominis, not the other core muscles. It is these muscles which provide stability to the spine, particularly the lower spine, and protect the back from excessive movement which can cause injury.
Here is a closer look at some of the main core muscles (front view):
Core muscles (rear view):
As you can see there are numerous core muscles, more than even what labeled in the diagrams. The point is not to overwhelm you with all these muscles but to understand that there are many and that they function together as a system of control and movement, and therefore, are impossible to isolate muscles individually. Therefore, the primary job of the “core” muscles is to provide stability of the spine, while spinal movement is secondary. In other words, its main purpose is to RESIST MOVEMENT, not create it. So when one does an exercise in which the core must resist movement when he/she is doing a stability exercise.
Now I will explain how an exercise works to offer the human body resistance in a particular way. I believe the average person can feel where and tell you what body parts are being worked when doing an exercise but they could not tell you how the muscle(s) are being worked. Coming from a biomechanical approach I ask, “what plane(s) of movement are involved?” not “which muscles?”.
What is an anatomical plane of movement? It is direction in which the body moves whether it be forward and back, side to side, or in a turning motion. There are 3 planes of movement:
Sagittal: forward and back (sit-up)
Frontal: side to side (jumping jack)
Transverse: rotational (pivot in basketball)
Multi-planar: more than one plane (throwing a baseball)
Movements in these planes are performed both in life and athletics and the core is integral to all of them. Therefore, it should be trained accordingly.
Using the front plank from Part 1 as an example. Let’s examine the picture below and determine what plane it focuses on:
This might be difficult to figure out because it is a static (non-moving) exercise but if you guessed the sagittal plane you guessed correctly and/or you already know your stuff. If you are having difficulty figuring why sagittal then read the remainder of the paragraph. If not, you are welcome to skip to the next one. The woman in the picture is stabilizing her body from sagging towards the ground. If her hips were to move up or down it would be in the sagittal plane for her so she is resisting movement in that plane. Imagine she was standing up and someone was pulling on a string around her waist forward it would be in the sagittal plane.
How about this exercise (side plank)?
And this one (Pallof Press)?
Side plank = primarily FRONTAL plane
Pallof Press = primarily TRANSVERSE plane
More core stability exercises:
-Bird Dog (transverse)
-Ab Wheel (sagittal)
-Landmine Rotations (multi-planar)
-Stir the pot (mainly sagittal, some transverse)
-McGill Curl-up (NOT STABILITY but lower risk version of sit-up or crunch)
So if you would like to incorporate some of these exercises into your routine just be sure to choose a balanced selection based on PLANES OF MOVEMENT. For example, you may choose one exercise for each plane of motion: Stir the Pot (primarily sagittal), Side Plank (frontal), and Pallof Press (transverse). And each of these exercises can be done during any part of your routine 1-3x/week on NON-CONSECUTIVE days.
Sample Set/Rep Scheme
Stir the Pot – 3 x 8/side, REST 60 sec
Side Plank – 3 x 15-20 sec/side, REST 60 sec
Pallof Press – 3 x 8/side, REST 60 sec
If you insist on continuing to do traditional sit-ups and crunches please try to limit the frequency to 1x/week and keep the reps down. And I strongly recommend avoiding these exercises if you suffer or have suffered from lower back pain/injuries.