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core training

Core Training

We present the second of Raphael Brandon’s trunk strengthening regime that sustains challenge and beats boredom.

The core training menu system enables athletes to follow a prophylactic or rehabilitative core stability and strengthening programme, using a wide variety of movements to maximise adaptations and muscle groups trained.

The system is designed to overcome two widespread problems that sports support professionals encounter in setting core stability training regimes for their clients. The first is behavioural. Core stability exercises can quickly become ‘bore stability’. It takes self-discipline to do 20-30 minutes of the same exercises three or more times a week over a long period. As a consequence, adherence can be an issue.

The second problem is physiological. The principles of specificity and progression apply to core work as for any other body training. In my experience it is quite common for an athlete to perform the same core routine over a long period and get very good at four or five movements or ‘holds’. But teach that athlete a new core exercise and they will find it difficult, simply because it’s a new stimulus. Progression and variety are key to optimising benefits of a strengthening programme.

Core training menus are designed for athletes who have developed basic transversus recruitment skills and are familiar with a number of core exercises. The scheme offers a challenging programme, which covers all the trunk and pelvic muscles and runs from basic recruitment to very advanced strength movements.

The system contains 10 exercise menus, each using a single piece of training apparatus (the two menus covered in part 1 of this series, in SIB54, dealt with floor work, static and dynamic). A menu contains four to eight exercises, which between them target most trunk and pelvic muscles. Some of the exercises involve resistance, some bodyweight, some are simply about recruitment. Within the menu, the difficulty of exercises varies; some menus are very advanced (and therefore not within the competence of all athletes). Coaches, therapists and athletes should set the number of sets and repetitions for each exercise according to the usual principles.

The therapist or coach should select the most relevant menus for the athlete to use in rotation. Thus, if the athlete is using eight menus and doing four units of core training per week, over the course of a fortnight they will perform each menu once. This will ensure that the athlete works all the muscles in a variety of ways, using different pieces of equipment.

Menu 3: Swiss ball, static

The four exercises in this routine challenge the athlete’s ability to hold good posture and pelvic alignment against both bodyweight and the instability of the Swiss ball. The positions of the holds are similar to the static floor exercises in Menu 1, except they are performed on the ball. Research shows that the performance of core exercises upon the labile surface of the Swiss ball can increase the levels of trunk muscle activation; so this menu is a progression from floor-based work. Overall, Menu 3 is intermediate in difficulty

Swiss ball sit and leg lift

Overview Challenges the athlete’s ability to co-contract the abdominal wall and maintain a neutral lumbar spine position on an unstable seat

Level Basic

Muscles targeted
Abdominal wall (TvA/internal obliques)

Technique Sit on a Swiss ball with hips on the top of the ball and feet hip- width apart. Ensure the size of ball is correct, so that knees are level with hips and at 90 degrees in sitting.

Relax and find a neutral lumbar spine position. Set this position by lightly bracing your abdominal muscles. Think about good upper back and shoulder posture as you sit (stomach in, chest lifted, shoulders low and relaxed). It is important to hold an upright sitting position – not leaning forward or back.

Once you are set, carefully lift one foot a few centimetres off the floor. Maintain your balance, lumbar and pelvic alignments as you hold the position on one leg.

Hold for a count of 5 to 10, maintaining form. Perform 5 reps each side

Progression Keeping the lifted foot only just off the floor, straighten the leg in front of you, stretching the hamstring. Resist any tilting of your pelvis as the leg straightens by keeping a good hold of the abdominals and maintaining posture against the stretch

Supine Swiss ball bridge

Overview A posterior-chain exercise (hamstrings, gluteals and back), where the aim is to hold perfectly straight hip and back alignment against the load of your bodyweight and the instability of the ball. A big co-contraction of the trunk muscles is required to perform this exercise well

Level Intermediate

Muscles targeted
Gluteals
Hamstrings
Erector spinae
Abdominals
Obliques

Technique Lie on your back with heels on the top of the Swiss ball, hip-width apart to aid stability. Suck in the abs and squeeze up from your gluteals, lifting your hips until there is a straight line from heels to upper back. Shoulders and head stay firmly on the floor. Take care not to lift the hips too high or flare the ribs so that your back hyperextends.

Hold for 30 seconds and lower under control. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

Progression
i. Place the feet close together on the ball to increase the balance challenge as you lift your hips
ii. Roll your legs slowly from side to side with control, keeping hips up for an advanced level of challenge

Supine Swiss ball bridge

Supine Swiss ball bridge

Swiss ball gluteal bridge

Overview A second posterior-chain exercise. But with the knees bent and the weight bearing down through the feet, the work is felt mainly in the gluteal muscles

Level Intermediate

Muscles targeted
Gluteals
Erector spinae
Abdominals
Obliques

Technique Lie on your back with your shoulders and head on the top of a Swiss ball; feet on the ground, hip- width apart for stability.

Squeezing up from the gluteals, lift hips until there is a straight line running through the knees, hips and shoulders. Do not lift the hips too high or flare the ribs so that your back hyperextends.

Hold for 30 seconds and lower under control. Perform 2 to 3 sets

Progression
i. Place the feet close together to increase the balance challenge
ii. Single-leg bridge, alternating legs with 5-second holds, is an advanced challenge

Swiss ball gluteal bridge

Swiss ball gluteal bridge

Swiss ball plank

Overview A challenging strength exercise for abdominals, focusing on maintaining good alignment of the spine

Level Intermediate to advanced

Muscles targeted
Abdominals

Technique Kneel in front of the Swiss ball and place elbows on the top of the ball in the centre. Slowly roll the ball away from your body until there is a straight line through knees, hips and head and your weight is being supported through your elbows down on to the ball.

Once in this position it may be necessary to tilt the pelvis so that it is held in neutral with correct lumbar spine alignment. Also be careful not to round off the shoulders: aim for a ‘long spine’. The better your spinal alignment, the harder the work for the abdominals. If the main pressure is felt in the low back, either your alignment is incorrect or you have insufficient abdominal strength-endurance to hold the correct line.

Hold at the far point for 30-60 secs with good form. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

Progression Move the ball around, forward, left and right with your upper body whilst keeping your hips in place and your head still in its alignment

Swiss ball plank

Swiss ball plank

Menu 4: Swiss ball, dynamic

These exercises are challenging to trunk strength. The use of the Swiss ball both increases the difficulty because of the instability, and allows you to work through useful ranges of movement. This menu targets the front, back and side of the trunk musculature at intermediate to advanced level

Swiss ball back extension

Overview The use of the ball for this exercise allows the movement to isolate back extension without hip extension; and to coordinate upper back extension with lumbar extension

LevelIntermediate

Muscles targeted
Erector spinae (lumbar and thoracic portions)

Technique Kneel over a Swiss ball with thighs and stomach in contact with the ball and head and shoulders dipping over the front of the ball. With your back straight and parallel to the floor, position the lumbar spine in neutral and then set your hips so they do not move.

Allow the chest to drop and fall over the ball, flexing the upper back. Place your hands at the sides of the head, elbows bent. From this position, lift your chest up, extending your upper back until it is higher than at the starting position. Maintain abdominal contraction throughout to fix the hips and limit hyperextension of the lumbar spine.

Perform 10 reps under control, increasing to 20 reps. 2 to 3 sets.

Progression Add a light dumbbell held behind the head for extra resistance

Swiss ball back extension

Swiss ball back extension

Swiss ball overhead pulls

Overview The use of the ball for this exercise allows full extension of the body. The abdominals have to work hard to support the spine as the arms extend and pull back. Very good for shoulder stability

Level Intermediate to advanced

Muscles targeted
Abdominals
Latissimus dorsi
Pectorals
Scapular stability muscles

Technique Start in the press-up position with your shins on the ball and hands shoulder width apart under shoulders. Place knees apart slightly for stability. Set lumbar spine in neutral and ensure that the shoulders are stable with shoulder blades down and chest out.

Roll backwards until your hands are above your head, maintaining straight body position and neutral low back. Use your abs, ensuring your hips do not drop. Brace your abs and pull yourself forwards to return to the start position.

Perform 5 reps with good form, increasing to 10 reps. 2 to 3 sets

Progression Lengthen your bridge position by starting with feet alone on the ball. The abs have to support more bodyweight

Swiss ball overhead pulls

Swiss ball overhead pulls

Swiss ball squat thrust

Overview The old-school exercise transposed to the ball. This allows for a focus on the flexion of the hips and low back, maximising the use of abs. Holding the position through several reps is a great strength endurance challenge for the abdominals. Unlike the traditional version where speed is of the essence, the Swiss ball version is more demanding if performed slowly with control

Level Intermediate

Muscles targeted
Abdominals

Technique Start in the press-up position with shins on the ball, hands shoulder-width apart under the shoulders. Place knees slightly apart for stability. Set lumbar spine in neutral and ensure shoulders are stable with shoulder blades down and chest out.

Pull knees to your chest and crunch the abs to get an extra flex of the hips and back. Slowly extend knees back, using your abs to prevent the hips dropping down.

Perform 10 reps slowly, increasing to 20 reps. 2 to 3 sets

Progression Perform the squat thrust and the overhead pull as a combination exercise

Swiss ball squat thrust

Swiss ball squat thrust

Swiss ball side crunch

Overview An excellent exercise for the obliques. The Swiss ball simply replaces the need for a frame or partner support for your legs. Electromyography research has shown this exercise delivers high recruitment levels of the obliques

Level Intermediate

Muscles targeted Obliques

Technique Position yourself sideways on the ball, balanced on lower hip with top hip stacked vertically. Brace feet against a wall, one slightly in front of the other for stability. Ensure a straight line through legs, hips and shoulders. Place your hands, elbows bent, by your head.

Lift upper body up away from the ball, crunching sideways towards your feet and focusing upon your oblique muscles. Slowly return, under control.

Perform 10 reps, increasing to 20 reps. 2 to 3 sets

Progression Hold a weight across your chest to increase the load

Swiss ball side crunch

Swiss ball side crunch

Continued next issue

Raphael Brandon MSc is a sports conditioning and fitness specialist, working as the London region strength and conditioning coach for the English Institute of Sport

Illustrations by Viv Mullett

core training