Core training has become essential and marketable programming for personal trainers and their clients. Core stability is defined at the ability to maintain posture and balance while moving the extremities (McGill, 2002). Creating a stable core and strong muscles that support the spine is an advantage to back health, injury prevention, and sports performance. Training the core has evolved from sit-ups and crunches to neutral spine loading with minimal pressure on the interverbal discs. The exercises to train the core can be done vertically or horizontally, with or without equipment, with or without a partner, and in all planes of motion.
- Describe what core stability is.
- Outline the concepts of neutral spine training for the core.
- List the exercises that can be done for the core for beginners/workplace, with medicine or weighted balls, rubber resistance, and stability balls.
McGill (2002) indicates core stability is the ability to maintain posture and balance while moving the extremities. From a spine perspective, it has little to do with the ability to balance on an unstable surface (McGill, 2010). McGill (2002) also indicates all muscles are important for core stability. Moreover, muscles that are farther away from the spine create more stability than a similar muscle acting closer to the spine (McGill, 2006).
What is Core Training?
McGill (2010) suggests repeated spine flexion (sit-ups and crunches) are a not good to train the rectus abdominus and the abdominal wall. These muscles are rarely for forceful flexion in activities of daily living and in many sports. The rectus abdominus and abdominal wall are more often used to brace while stopping and accelerating and act as stabilizers. In order to prescribe safe and effective core training, we need activation of the core muscles with minimal disc "loading”, which is called Neutral Spine Loading (McGill, 2010).
One of the reasons core training done with spine flexion is questionable is because so many clients spend many hours sitting at work. Videman, et al., (1990) documented the increased risk of disc herniation for those who sit a lot at work. As such, it is prudent to prescribe core exercises that do not increase loading on the discs. It could be argued that crunches are contraindicated for many clients because as McGill (2002) indicates, most back injuries do not “just” happen, they are a result of repeated microtrauma: repeated incorrect lifting, repeated static postures, and sitting for long periods with little movement. Back injuries are caused by micro- traumas which eventually lead to a macro-trauma, especially with the intervertebral discs. As such, McGill (2010) suggests core training to enhance muscle endurance through neutral spine loading and co-contraction & bracing in a functional way (McGill, 2010).
Exercises for the Work-Place or Beginning Exerciser
Hold each contraction for 5 – 10 counts, perform 1 – 3 sets.
- Standing Front Plank – leaning on wall.
- Standing Side Planks - leaning on wall.
- Standing Bird Dog – leaning on wall or desk – Perform 5 – 10 reps with each arm/leg.
- Standing Cat-Camel – leaning on knees or desk.
- Scapula Adduction with “arm cross” or scapula Squeeze
Med Ball Core Training
- Standing on 2-feet > hold ball overhead > elbows straight > pulse ball back and forth.
- Standing on 2-feet > hold ball overhead > elbows straight > pulse ball side-to-side.
- Standing on 1-foot > hold ball overhead > pulse ball back and forth and side-to-side.
Med Ball Chops – long lever with slow movements and/or short lever with fast movements. Perform 10 – 20 reps, and one set of each exercise, or three sets of one exercise.
- Up and Down Chops: Flexion – Extension of the shoulders to engage core, standing in an “athletic stance,” start with ball overhead, and “chop” it down to the hips.
- Lateral Chops: Right - Left and Left – Right, moving the ball from shoulder to hip.
- Rotation Left and Right, brace the knees to prevent knee rotation, and brace the trunk to get maximum acceleration - deceleration. Move the arms and prevent rotation rather then moving arms with rotation of the trunk/spine.
- Med Ball Slams > standing on 2-feet > arms come up over head holding the ball, then forcefully slamming ball to ground > if using a bouncy ball, instruction must be given to clients to avoid getting hit by the ball bouncing up and hitting them in the head > let ball bounce up and catch it on the way down.
- Med Ball Slams > same as above except balancing on with 1-foot on the ground.
Check tubing, bands and other rubber exercise equipment for nicks and cuts. If you find a nick or cut, cut the tube or band in half and throw it out. When working with partners who are holding the band, tell clients to always use a double hand hold with fingers interlocked. When tubing is “doubled up” (double the resistance), make sure clients do not hold on to two handles. Instead, get them to stand on the tube holding a handle in each hand. Pass the right handle through the left handle, and again pass the right handle through the left to make a secure one handle hold. Another safety feature is to tell clients never to just let go of the tubing or band when they are stretched. Make sure the both partners are ready when the exercise is over and slowly release the tension.
1 Partner Working & 1 Partner Holding Resistance
Resistance in Front – 1-Foot or 2-Foot for Balance. Perform 10 – 15 repetitions with 2 – 3 sets.
The following movements are done in a smooth “one-movement” sequence.
- Single arm raise (hyper flexion) – L & R arms
- Single arm horizontal abduction – L & R arms
- Single arm extension – L & R arms
Resistance from Behind – 1-Foot or 2-Foot Balance
- Single arm top pull-over shoulder – L & R arms
- Single arm horizontal adduction – L & R arms
- Single arm bottom pull / from hip – L & R arms
- X-Body Pull-up with Hip Rotation
Start with resistance at the hip, pull up above shoulder.
- Bird Dog with Shoulder Abduction
- Front Plank on Hands, rubber resistance in both hands, alternate shoulder abduction (same as above, except in a front plank position)
Stability Ball – Planks
Hold each plank for 10 – 20 counts.
Beginner or Medium Intensity Exercises
- Front Plank – feet/toes on ball > elbows on ground > neutral spine.
- Back Plank “Table” – heels on ball, knees straight > balance with shoulders on ground or hands > neutral spine.
- Front Plank – Elbows on ball > toes or knees (modified) on floor > neutral spine.
Advanced or Harder Exercises
- “Stir the Pot” – same as above, except rotate elbows on ball 5 – 10 x left and 5 – 10 x right.
- Side Plank – Elbow on ball > knees on floor (modified) or feet on floor to make it harder.
- Back Plank – Thoracic spine on ball > heels on ground > knees straight > maintain neutral spine.
- Knee Tucks – feet/ankles on ball > hands on floor > quick ballistic knee tuck to engage the ab’s – 5 – 10 reps
- Knee Tucks with a twist, same as above with a spinal twist.
- Pike Plank > feet on ball > hands on floor > pike at the hips and bring ball forward on toes – 5 – 10 reps.
- Posterior Chain – Hamstring Curls > Heels on ball > Shoulders or hands on ground > maintain neutral spine, flex knees rolling ball on heels until it touches the hips – 5 – 10 reps.
McGill, S. (2010) Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention, Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32(3):33-46
Stuart McGill, S. (2002) Low Back Disorders-Evidenced Based Prevention & Rehabilitation, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.
Videman, T., Nurminen, M., Troup, JDG. (1990) Lumbar spinal pathology in cadaveric material in relation to history of
Back pain: Occupation and physical loading. Spine, 15: 728-740