Core: What Is It?
Do you work your core? Quite often a client will come to me patting themselves on the belly and saying, “I really need to work my core?” Usually I just smile and nod knowing that they are right but they don’t know it. Their body language is asking me to work their abdominal muscles to give them a flatter tummy or, maybe, help them create that “six-pack”. But, truth is, working core includes so much more. A strong core includes the muscles around the mid-section (including the abdominal AND back muscles) as well as some other muscles in the upper torso and even down in the nether-regions of the legs. What am I talking about? Why, CORE of course. You see, core is just a term to help athletes develop an understanding about what kinds of strength can help stability under active duress. That duress could be in football when a running back swerves to avoid a tackle or a volleyball player diving to get that dig. During this kind of motion a beautifully coordinated ballet of many complementary muscles enter at exactly the right time to help with executing the completed move. It could be calf muscles, inner thighs, obliques, shoulders, even hands. Yes, even hands! Watch a gymnast on the rings or uneven bars sometime and tell me that hand strength isn’t important in maintaining stability. So, now you know are wondering if maybe it is all core? Well, yes…kind of. Let’s take chest as an example. You could use the machine version of chest press or bench press. That machine is safe and only allows movement up and down on the tracks as defined by the mechanical set-up. A more “core” way to work chest would be to use a bar and free weights. Even better would be to use dumb bells. Each step makes the amount of weight you push up decrease (for safety) but allows you to use more of yourself to complete the rep. What about dumb bell chest presses on a core ball? Or, possibly push-ups on a medicine ball or other uneven surface. Get the picture? But then you say, “I am trying to be a power lifter” or “I am trying to increase my max!” I get it, no problem. To do that you will definitely to select the proper exercise opportunity but you should know that those types of exercises have a limited transferable value to other sports. Being stronger than your opponent always helps but it is not the single defining characteristic of the winning competitor. Athletes who ignore core training are avoiding the one training issue most helpful in achieving success in any physical endeavor.
In martial arts training it is ALL about the core stability concept. Hurtling your body through space while executing a flying side kick requires a huge subset of inter-working body parts. The run, the takeoff, managing all the pieces during flight, proper position during the actual kick, and the stable landing afterward are completely different strengths/skills that have to be arranged and overlapped to all happen in about 3 seconds. It is this type of learned enhancement that enables a martial artist to be better at self-defense activities than someone who is not trained in some martial art style. Of course the hardened techniques and learned responses are helpful too but it is arguable which is more helpful. Fortunately for the martial artist the skills drills and dynamic core movements are all a part of the learning process. It is interesting to note that since about the mid 1970’s a lot of professional athletes have turned to martial art training for the very reason of enhanced core performance. Not for learning combat. Very recently a famous retired professional football player for the St. Louis Rams mentioned in an interview how his team hired a martial arts instructor to help defensive players with hand and body position while fending off a blocker. Now the purpose of this article is not to advertise for our Tae Kwon Do classes. But, rather to emphasize how every athlete could benefit from more core training in your workouts. For example, next time you go to the gym do some pull-ups or dips instead of doing the lat pull-down or chest press machine. In that way you gain strength as well as learn to manage your body in the space around you. Become more comfortable in maneuvering your own body weight. A stronger core will help you not to slip on the ice after one of our St. Louis winter storms. A stronger core will help you not hurt yourself while playing with your kids or your grandchildren. And a stronger core can help you hit more home runs. Hey Cardinals, did you hear that? Oh, and do some crunches too for a flatter tummy!