Let's Train the Core
As we spoke about in my last post, core control is extremely important both for stability and safety of the body, and for efficiency of movement. So now, how do we train to be able to gain both strength and control of the core?
The Core Brace
Let's start with bracing. This is a coordinated contraction of our abdominal muscles that creates pressure in the abdominal cavity, therefore protecting the spine and allowing for efficient movement and force translation across the extremities.
We can start bracing the core with an inhale. Think about using the air to push your ribs out to the sides, and do your best to make sure that you are not just lifting up the chest.
Next we want to engage all those muscles we spoke about earlier:
Engage your pelvic floor (think of pulling your sits bones together.) We want to feel the pelvic floor lift, and we don't want to bear down like we are using the bathroom
Think about pulling the hips together to get your transverse abdominis engaged. We want to feel like the muscles between our hip bones are tight and pulling inward. Other cues such as "draw your belly button inward without moving your ribs" or "pull your tummy together like when you are laughing" can also be helpful.
Lastly, tilt the ribs slightly downward and pelvis slightly upward (front of the pelvis up towards the ribs) to get your rectus abdominis engaged. Remember here, we are aiming to get the spine into a neutral position, not an overly curled position. If we place our hands with base of the palms on our hip bones, and fingertips on the pubic bone, neutral is when fingers and palms line up.
We want to see an even narrowing of our abdomen, slightly more so that the ribcage.
When we do this properly, there are also a few things we don't want to do:
We don't want to see our rectus abdominis bulging out, looking like a little loaf cake poking out of the belly. This means this muscle is overachieving and the core is not working cohesively
We don't want to see the whole belly bulging out, as this means we are likely bearing down and stretching our muscles to create tension, rather than engaging them, or holding are breath to do the same. Holding our breath also puts pressure on the pelvic floor and can lead to incontinence!
We don't want to see the pelvis tipping forwards or the ribs flaring out. This is another way to stretch the abdominals and create tension, but it does not mean our muscles are engaged and ready for motion.
Not Always a Hollow Body!
The hollow body position is a staple in circus and gymnastic skills, and often the basis of lots of our core exercises. However, this doesn't mean that we have to be in a hollow body in order to brace the core. Our core should be engaged in basically any movement that we do. This isn't a full on 100% contraction of these muscles, but rather they are engaged and keeping the body stable and connected during our movement.
We don't just move in a stiff linear motion, we twist, we extend, we rotate! And we need the core to work with us through all those kinds of motion too!
Follow this link to download your free Periodization Template for the Artistic Athlete, a printable resource to help you plan your training to prioritize recovery and optimize performance!
Practice bracing your core while lying on your back, but once this becomes easy, start seeing how you are able to maintain that contraction in positions like a cobra, into table tops, bridges, and then more intense positions such as needles, chest stands, and scorpion hand stands
Now Let's Train Stability:
Okay so now that we can engage the core properly, how to we train it to keep us stable during movement. We want to choose exercises that have us maintain a stiff core, while an external force is trying to move us. These are some examples, but not an exhaustive list:
Dead Bug Variations
These are a great progression from our core brace on the back. I make sure that I'm not letting my back or pelvis deviate from their neutral position. Then, keeping tension on the band, I extend my legs out one at a time and return to my beginning position, without losing the position of my torso. I can also challenge movement in my upper body by pushing the bands down and back while still keeping my core tight. Try adding 2-3 sets of 10/side into your next cool down or conditioning set
This is a beautiful exercise for rotational stability, i.e. what is super super necessary for movements such pirouettes and single arm hand balancing. With a band or cable machine anchored perpendicular to the body, I pull the band into my chest, then press out, making sure to keep the direction of my press in a straight line. Keep the hips oriented forward, and don't stir the pot, or press out to one side or the other. Try adding 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps with a heavy band to your next conditioning or weight training day
In this exercise we can hold a weight in one hand or in both hands. Regardless, we want to hold the torso upright and shoulders proud as we take steps forward. In the video, I've added a march to my walk to challenge my balance and single leg stability, as well as strengthen my hip flexors. Try 2-3 sets of 30s-1min long walks, starting with 25-30lb weights and slowly progressing higher
Now Let's Work on Strength in Motion:
Here we are choosing exercises that have the whole body moving, but require the core to stay engaged throughout to be done properly. Unlike the exercises above, with these we can lose our neutral spine and pelvis throughout the motion, but it is always done intentionally and with control
1/2 Kneeling Rotations
In a half kneeling position, I am reaching from my back knee across my body and overhead in a diagonal line. I let my hips, spine, and shoulders rotate to complete this movement, and control the weight on the descent back to the starting position. Watch how I lose control in the third rep, you can see that this happened became I couldn't maintain contraction of my right obliques and the weight of the kettlebell tipped me over. Try adding 2-3 sets of 10 reps per side to your next conditioning set or weight training day.
Side Plank Pulse & Scoops
Keep your elbow and shoulder stable by pushing them into the floor, and lifting up and away; don't let your shoulder sneak up towards your ear! Keep your bottom hip lifted away from the floor throughout the motion, including through the rotation. We can regress this exercise easily by doing it on our knees instead. Try adding 3 sets of 10-15 reps into your next conditioning set.
Try these exercises out, post them and tag me @bend.dont.break.at to let me know how they go!
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