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Functional Core Training

Functional Core Training

These ab routines will help you look better, and perform better.

My last article on Functional Arms, discussed taking a more performance-oriented approach to training arms. A term I used was Athlete Intuition, which is when athletes let their instincts take over to dictate their body movements. The same idea applies to exercises, as an athlete’s intuition should tell them whether an exercise is actually relevant, and when it’s a load of BS. Unfortunately, when it comes to core training, many athletes ignore their intuition and fall into the trap of traditional “core stability” exercises. The two biggest culprits are the crunch and the plank hold.

I’ve already written about the pitfalls of a crunch, so we won’t repeat that here. The plank hold is interesting because many athletes are repeatedly told to keep a strong/stable core to prevent movement through the spine. They’re taught that this “neutral spine” position is the best way to prevent injury while lifting, and while I agree that may be the case when squatting or cleaning heavy weights, I believe it’s just as important to train the core musculature to be compliant in all planes of motion.

When, after all, was the last time you saw a pro athlete keep a completely neutral spine during a game? Yeah… basically never. Athletes bend and twist their trunks every which way in order to jump, sprint, and get to the ball first. Why then would you use core training to teach your trunk to remain rigid without moving for minutes? If you never teach your body to accept those loads and ranges of motion, you’re actually putting yourself at a greater risk for injury.

Here then are two alternatives to the crunch and static plank hold that will be more beneficial to your athletic performance:

1. My beef with the traditional crunch lies in its muscular isolation and body position. Lying on your back is completely ineffective for athletes as you’re never (or at least hopefully never) on your back when on the field. Additionally, there’s never a situation when your core muscles are acting completely independently of your legs or arms. With the 3D Overhead Medball Matrix that you’ll see below, we’ve done two things:

  • The first is you’ll be on your feet while your legs and arms are working in sync with you core muscles.
  • The second is that rather than crunching yourself to death, we’ve combined the throws with the lunge matrix, teaching your core to decelerate and accelerate forces in all three planes from a variety of angles.

2. Now if you insist on keeping planks in your program, or if you don’t have a medball and a wall to throw it at, I offer you this nugget: the 3D Core Gravity Matrix, which takes full advantage of gravity’s pull on the body, giving you load without expensive equipment. In order to make the exercises more functional, we’ll perform spinal motions (flexion/extension, right/left lateral flexion, right/left rotation) in all three planes, in each position, as you’ll see in the video below.

In the standing position you can use your arms to drive the motion, but on the ground your hands are fixed so you’ll use the hips to drive instead. Additionally you’ll want to adopt a wide stance when you’re standing as it will limit the motion of your hips and emphasize the use of your trunk/core muscles. The video only shows a couple of reps for each movement, but feel free to start with 10 and adjust from there.

You may have a strong affinity for crunches, planks, and anything else on 8 Minute Abs videos, but I assure you that the two circuits above will yield better results, translating to better performance. If they work for the athletes I’ve worked with at UT and Train 4 the Game, I strongly believe they’ll work for you.

25 / 10 / 2017 1R