Sunday, February 8, 2015

Guest Post: Core Training: Fact or Fiction?

by Kennet Waale

I want you to think about this phrase for a second:

“Move Better At 60 Years of Age Than You Currently Are.”

What do you attach to that? How would you feel if you could do exactly that, but more importantly, WHO would you be if you could Move Better At 60 Years of Age Than You Currently Are?

During our recent “Rehab X: Post-Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention” workshop, we had numerous therapists and trainers in the room. Needless to say, we shared a lot of experience and great insights into numerous relevant topics. One of the topics I felt needed to be covered was that of core training. The current state of the fitness industry (though slowly improving) is all about making money and not so much about sharing quality information helping individuals understand the true power of knowledge and implementation. It is for this reason I will share with you some eye-opening thoughts around the topic of core training -- and if there’s any sound evidence behind it whatsoever.

Even though we won’t touch on any topics in depth in this article, Dr. Peter O’Sullivan presents a great idea here, which I agree with almost wholeheartedly and genuinely recommend watching:

I believe it’s only reasonable to say that the works of professionals like Eric Cressey, Mike Reinold, Lorimer Moseley, Peter O’Sullivan, Jonathan Fass, and Jason Silvernail have caused a paradigm shift in “core training.” Despite the quality evidence and products available, it’s still not uncommon to see many professionals designing training programs revolving around exercises such as planks as the only go-to “core” exercise.

But with a plank, are we doing ourselves favour?

To be completely honest, I’m not sure. If you have low back pain, there are probably better alternatives. If you’re an athlete, there are definitely better options (Reed et al. 2012). And the same could be said about the general trainee, as we know that general exercise is equal to or trumps “core exercises” in developing core strength.

Sinkler et al. (2012) put it very well:

“Currently, plank exercises are considered an adequate method of training the core for athletes to improve core strength and stability. This is a problem because it puts the athletes in a nonfunctional static position that is very rarely replicated in the demands of sport-related activities. The core is the center of most kinetic chains in the body and should be trained accordingly.”

It is clear that pain, rehabilitation/post-rehabilitation, and injury prevention are multifaceted, and putting someone in a non-functional position like the plank couldn’t possibly solve the current state of the client.

It has also been concluded in another study by Sharrock et al. (2012):

“In theory, it is accepted that core stability and athletic performance are interrelated; however, the current literature does not support this relationship."

It is clear that the standard core training approach currently seen in the industry has very little benefit, if any at all, in people with low back pain and an athletic population.

Have you heard about the Functional Movement Screen (FMS)?

You have? Great!

Due to its popularity, especially amongst many personal trainers and hence their clients, I feel it’s important to look to see if there’s evidence behind the proclaimed link between the FMS and “core stability." The FMS places great emphasis on what they term “core stability” to improve the various tests and hence the sporting performance of any given individual.

In 2011 Okada, Huxel, and Nesser investigated the relationship between core stability, functional movement (FMS), and performance.

They found
  • A moderate to weak correlation between core stability and performance
  • No correlation between core stability and FMS

So why then do we see improved scores in the FMS after only a session or a few weeks of training?

Let me rephrase this question into a context you might be more familiar with: How do you get good at sports?

Do you get good at sports by playing Playstation (Playstation1 not 3 of course!) or do you get good at sports by playing your actual sport?

The answer is obvious; you get good at your sport by first and foremost practicing your sport. The same goes with the FMS; you add exercises (regressions or progressions) that will help with the patterns/tests you’d like to improve in and voilá; you’ve “fixed” the pattern!

I think UFC Coach Steve Baccari sums the whole topic up with some very well thought out words:

“Fighters need to be strong. Conditioning is great, but given equal levels of conditioning and skill, the stronger man shall win.”

To bring the loose ends together thus far:
  • Marginal benefits could be found in the relationship between core stability and performance measures.
  • The link between core stability and FMS is very vague.
  • Being specific with what you practice will aid in increased results (i.e. sports and the FMS).

Your question, then, is probably this: how the hell do I train the “core?"

It’s simple.

It’s movement.

It’s ANTI-movement.

Creating the correct movement needed at any given point in time with efficiency is very important. This concept applies to sports as well as activities of daily living. But resisting movements is also important. As an example, we all know that the glutes create powerful hip extension, external rotation, and abduction. But what the majority of the population forgets to think about is how they act in reverse. They act to decelerate movement in the opposite directions.

You can create powerful hip extension. Great! But can you decelerate the movement and/or change direction in a safe and efficient manner?

I therefore invite you to rethink your current approach and train MOVEMENT before EXERCISES or SPECIFIC LIFTS.

Is there a time and place for bracing and compression? There is. But what about relaxation?

Is there a time and place for creating flexion and extension of the spine? You bet. But what happened to resisting flexion and extension -- controlling every inch of the movement in all directions?

What about lateral flexion and rotation? Do you know how to create powerful rotation using your body efficiently to transmit forces from the ground up? More importantly, do you know how to decelerate that rotation?

I genuinely want you to rethink your current approach -- especially if you’re a trainer dealing with the general population looking to get “healthy” and “move better” or if you’re a trainee just looking for more knowledge.

Here’s the MoveStrong Strategy to Core Training:
  • First and foremost, think movement, not specific terms or exercises. People lack movement and are too ingrained with the thought of only moving in one direction.
  • Think movement AND anti-movement. It is very important that you know how to create movement, but you must also know how to resist and control the forces in the opposite direction.
  • Think (sport) specificity if you need to incorporate specific exercises. If you need more anti-extension in a given sport, then focus more on that. If you’re a general trainee who only wants to train effectively, don’t go so specific. 
  • Don’t be guilty of "single factor thinking." Any given exercise is not likely to “fix” a problem; a more holistic approach must be taken.
  • Think movement variability. Perhaps you’re firing your core too much
  • There is a time for bracing, as well as a time for relaxation and mobility.
  • Think more positively about the spine; too many trainers and therapists tell their trainees that they have a “slipped disc” and need to do more “core training for stability” because of their low back pain. This is faulty information. I want you to know that the spine is a very ROBUST and STRONG structure! 
  • If you’re a fitness professional, don’t provide false information to your clients!

Whether you agree or disagree with the MoveStrong approach to training is up to you. But if you’re guilty of single factor thinking, please open your eyes and don’t be afraid of learning. It will serve you a long way. And even though you have strong beliefs and convictions as you read this, why don’t you just try it out first? I promise you your abs will burn.

MoveStrong Effective Movement and Abdominal Training

You can use the above exercises as general movement and abdominal strategies if choose. They can also be used at the end of a workout to get that extra abdominal work in.

If you were to incorporate just a few of the exercises into your warm-up routine or use them as a stand-alone warm up, I recommend using the Hip Airplane and the Turkish Get Ups.

Below is a sample layout of some very effective combinations you could use:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Combo #1:
Baby Rolls +Hip Airplane
 5 reps per side per exercise
 6 reps per side per exercise
 7 reps per side per exercise
 8 reps per side per exercise
 9 reps per side per exercise
 10 reps per side per exercise
Combo #2:
Cry Babies + Band Landmines
 5 reps per side per exercise
 6 reps per side per exercise
 7 reps per side per exercise
 8 reps per side per exercise
 9 reps per side per exercise
 10 reps per side per exercise
Combo #3:
Rack Carries + Cross-Body-Carries
 50m per carry variation before swapping
 60m per carry variation before swapping
 70m per carry variation before swapping
 80m per carry variation before swapping
 90m per carry variation before swapping
 100m per carry variation before swapping
Combo #4:
Cry Babies + Pallof Press
 5 reps per side per exercise
 6 reps per side per exercise
 7 reps per side per exercise
 8 reps per side per exercise
 9 reps per side per exercise
 10 reps per side per exercise
Combo #5:
Turkish Get Ups + Heart Beat Carries
 5 reps per side per exercise
 6 reps per side per exercise
 7 reps per side per exercise
 8 reps per side per exercise
 9 reps per side per exercise
 10 reps per side per exercise

About the Author

Kennet Waale is a facilitator, coach, and founder of MoveStrong and He earned his Bachelor's degree in human movement studies as an exercise scientist at The University of Queensland. During his almost eight years of coaching, he has gone to work with athletes up to the Commonwealth and Olympic levels as well as general population clients. Through workshops and seminars, he raises the standards amongst the professionals in the fitness industry -- bridging the gap between therapy and training. Other than travelling the world having fun, he pays particular interest in helping people relieve pain while getting stronger and moving better.

You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook by clicking the links below:

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