As Strength and Conditioners/Sports Scientists working with athletes, we program everything from conditioning and gym-based work to core development. In theory, there should always be a rationale for anything we do based on evidence from previous experience or academic research. It has been stated that the development of the trunk region or “core” (the more common term) is ‘a vital part of strength and conditioning (S&C) and general fitness programs for athletes and non-athletes’ (1,2,3). The implementation of core training has been cited to potentially have a positive effect on sporting activities and daily living (4,5,6). Now before we dive further, we must cover the following from a business perspective as ultimately, it is our business to look after our athletes/clients in regards to physical training.

  • What is the core?
  • Why do we train it?
  • When do we look at training it?
  • Whom do we train it with?
  • How do we train it?

What is the core?

Among the research, the core has been stated as the connection between the upper and lower extremities (3,7). It refers primarily to the muscular structures around the trunk region and has been split into 3 groups: 1) global core stabilizers (e.g., rectus abdominus), 2) local core stabilizers (e.g., transverse abdominus), and 3) upper and lower extremity core-limb transfer muscles (e.g., latissimus dorsi, glutes) (8). Putting it in simple terms, the core is nipple to knee and everything in-between!

Why do we train it?

Strength and stability around the trunk region through the use of core-based training has been very popular in recent years, but are we doing it for the right reason? Research has shown that the use of such training has a potential effect on sporting performance (1,2,3), but this has been debated in a few empirical studies also (9,10). The use of core training as a method of reducing injuries of the lumbar spine and lower extremities has also been suggested (2,5,6,11). It has been noted that the use of localized isometric trunk work around the lumbar region can potentially reduce lower back pain (LBP) (3,12).

When do we train it?

In regards to when to train the core, it really does depend on your environment and circumstances. If you are limited for time, there are various options to can use to ensure you get what you require out of your athletes.

  1. Player led prehab – This is prehab work that your athletes carry out without you being present, although I would recommend that a coach is present for the first few weeks of preseason to ensure players are performing the exercise correctly.
  2. Warm-ups – You can easily implement trunk-based exercises in the warm-up, especially on lower intensity days such as MD+2.  You can also flip this and perform the exercises as part of a cool down. Literature in recent times has noted that the use of an active cool-down is largely ineffective; therefore, you can gain some valuable time here.
  3. Gym rest periods – Placing exercises in between rest periods during your gym sessions is every effective as it keeps athletes switched on for the whole course and did not take any extra time. 

Whom do we train?

This section is pretty self-explanatory, but with working with athletes in regards to core training, your focus is on all athletes but in particular those who are suffering from recurring LBP. Athletes and general populations with trunk weaknesses are your main area of concern. 

How do we train the core?

The use of isometric based core training, which uses exercises such as the front plank and the Pallof press instead of exercises that require repetitive flexions such as the sit-up or crunch, is recommended. Academic work by Stuart McGill has outlined this, and I would recommend reading into his work on this area (2). The rationale of using such exercises is to promote stability in the area and not mobility (which occurs through repetitive flexion); therefore, it would be deemed wise to use isometric based exercises such as the deadbug or front plank. Mike Boyle, in his fantastic book Functional Training for Sports, also outlined that core training is about motion prevention and not motion creation (14).

Now since we have covered which type of exercise to perform, we need to talk about where exactly. As mentioned previously the core is from nipple to knee and all around, so it is essential you target all; therefore, you must focus on the front (anterior), side (lateral), and the back (posterior). With this in mind, one must ensure they are programming at least one of each to keep the core training balanced. In regards to programming, keep it simple stupid (KISS) – meaning start easy and gradually build up.

Core training is about motion prevention and not motion creation.

Here I recommend the following training guidelines as a simple starting point:

Deadbug (Anterior)10 reps x 3 sets12 reps x 3 sets15 reps x 3 sets20 reps x 3 sets
Side Plank (Lateral)20 sec x 3 sets30 sec x 3 sets40 sec x 3 sets50 sec x 3 sets
Glute Bridge (Posterior)10 reps x 3 sets12 reps x 3 sets15 reps x 3 sets20 reps x 3 sets

Food for thought.

Till next time, Stay Stoic,


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