Simply put, the ‘core’ is the middle of the body, integrating your abdominals, low back and hips. A strong core, that is functional, links the upper extremities to the lower extremities. Without strength and endurance within the core musculature, an athlete will be unstable and have a greater risk of injury.
Football and hockey players use core stability to withstand contact. Rotary power is expressed in the playing environment with the swinging of a tennis racket, golf club, lacrosse stick or throwing a ball. I call the core your ‘speed center’, as it connects the legs and arms to the torso and contracts to stabilize or anchor so that the arms and legs can produce force. Outdoors, you are only as strong as your weakest link, and for most athletes this is the core. Training ‘from the inside out’ places emphasis on first increasing core strength and only then adding in leg, upper back, shoulder and arm strength. While core strength is the most common sport attribute, it ironically is the least well conditioned. Traditional abdominal exercises focus on floor-based movements such as crunches, sit ups, leg raises, rope crunches and back hyperextensions, exercises selected to isolate the abs, achieve a good ‘burn’, and ‘protect’ the lower back.
However, the core must be developed with the intent of improved performance, not just a 6-pack! Nothing in sport is done in isolation, lying down. These exercises can actually causelow back injuries by eliminating the back from the exercise equation, thereby removing the opportunity to strengthen. They also build abdominal strength in one plane of movement, setting participants up for injury when their sport demands reactive strength in a standing position or high velocity torso rotation.
The contribution of core strength to outdoor activities is less obvious but just as significant, especially for winter sports in spring conditions. Snowboarders have an array of techniques and tricks, which involve getting air, long carving turns, switching stances, jumps, and spins. Aggressive ski turns over and across moguls are dependent on a contracted, stable core while the legs absorb forces. Skiers use rotary power to execute sharp turns at high speeds, and a reactive, strong core to maintain balance when suddenly navigating a patch of sticking spring snow. A strong core will allow cross country skiers to generate more force on each stride, expending less energy to cover a set distance.
Trail runners need the core stability to retain strong posture with relaxed arms and legs during high mileage runs, and a reactive core when the wet tree root or wooden bridge they land on responds like slick ice! After training for core strength, mountain bikers, triathletes and adventure racers are pleasantly surprised how improved core strength transfers to their sport environment, bringing their game to another level. Feeling balanced on turns, absorbing deceleration forces on aggressive declines and feeling balanced when cornering gives a better sense of control, executing their sport skills at a higher pace.
A strong core helps transfer force through the body, expending less energy when striding – and even generating more power during the cross-body arm-leg action swimming. When core strength is harnessed outdoors, in your favorite activity, expect your miles of technique more energy efficient, saving gas for a strong push at the end. A solid core that absorbs impact, undulating terrain, near-falls, and other challenges will help you enjoy the day and get through injury free. After all, the whole idea is to play in a beautiful environment, and enjoy the exhilaration of moving well.
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