Core Strengthening Movements to Prevent Common Sports Injuries

STACK Expert Jim Carpentier offers several exercises to build core strength and avoid injuries.

 

Superman Exercise

Sudden lunging movements and quick twists can cause groin pulls and back and abdominal strains. It could happen during an errant throw in baseball, from a slip on the basketball court or while returning a tennis serve.

Core strengthening movements can counteract the potential for injury. So make it a priority to incorporate at least two of the following lunges and two additional core exercises into your workouts.

Multidirectional Lunges

Guidelines:

  • Sets/Reps: 2x10
  • Rest: 30 seconds between sets

Equipment:

  • Med Ball (80% RM)

Alternating Forward Lunge/Ball Raise

  • Hold the ball below your waist.
  • Lunge forward with your right leg and simultaneously raise the ball overhead.
  • Return to start position and lunge forward with your left leg while raising the ball overhead.
  • Continue the sequence for 10 reps.
  • Builds upper body, legs, hips and inner thighs.

Side Lunges/Ball Press-Outs

  • Assume an athletic stance and hold the ball at chest level.
  • Lunge laterally with your right foot and simultaneously explosively press the ball away from your chest.
  • Pause one second.
  • Slowly bring the ball back to your chest while sliding your left foot toward your right foot.
  • Continue doing Right Lunges/Press-Outs for 10 reps.
  • Switch by lunging laterally with Left Lunges/Press-Outs for 10 reps.
  • Another upper-body/lower-body muscle-building movement that strengthens the inner thighs (groin).

Reverse Lunges/Ball Chops

  • Hold the ball above your left ear.
  • Reverse lunge with your left leg while explosively driving the ball down across your body toward your right ankle while bending your knees.
  • Pause one second.
  • Slowly bring the ball up and your leg forward to start position.
  • Perform 10 reps.
  • Bring the ball above your right ear and do 10 Reverse Lunges with your right leg and Ball Chops toward your left ankle.
  • This is an excellent exercise for strengthening the muscles needed when reaching down and across your body to catch a baseball, return a tennis or volleyball serve, or make a hockey or soccer save. Particularly targets the inner thighs and oblique, lower and middle back muscles.

Diagonal Lunges/Ball Twists

  • Assume athletic stance holding the ball at chest level with your arms extended.
  • Explosively rotate ball/torso to the right while simultaneously diagonally lunging with your right foot.
  • Pause one second.
  • Slowly return to start position with leg/ball.
  • Perform 10 reps and then switch by diagonally lunging with your left foot and rotating ball/torso to the left for 10 reps.
  • Good exercise for strengthening lower and middle back, inner thighs, and abdominal muscles (especially obliques).

Other core strengthening exercises

Guidelines:

  • Sets: 2
  • Rest: 30 seconds between sets.

Equipment:

  • Chair or bench
  • Swiss ball
  • Med ball (80% RM)
  • 25-pound dumbbell
  • Timer
  • Exercise mat (or other soft surface)

Superman

  • Lie prone on mat.
  • Simultaneously raise your arms/upper back above your head and your legs off mat (stomach remains on mat).
  • Hold 10 seconds.
  • Slowly return to start position.
  • Perform 10 reps.
  • Strengthens lower and middle back and abdominal muscles.

Bird Dog

  • Try both the regular and advanced versions.
  • Start with the regular Bird Dog movement by getting on your hands and knees.
  • Raise your right knee off the mat and extend your right leg while simultaneously raising your left hand and extending your arm in front of your head.
  • Look straight ahead and tighten your abdominal muscles.
  • Hold position for 10-20 seconds.
  • Switch by raising your left knee and extending your left leg back and raising your right hand off mat and extending your arm forward.
  • Hold 10-20 seconds.
  • Perform the advanced version by starting in a push-up position (knees off mat) and lifting your right foot off mat and raising your left arm and extending it forward.
  • Hold 10-20 seconds.
  • Switch by lifting left foot/raising right arm forward and hold for 10-20 seconds.

The advanced Bird Dog is a more challenging movement, and it forces you to maintain balance and core stability—targeting the abdominal, lower and middle back muscles and hips. Preventing your knee from touching the ground during the advanced version simulates a running back or receiver in football struggling to stay balanced to gain that extra yard without his knee touching the turf and ending the play. Another sport-specific example where the advanced Bird Dog version transfers benefits: Reaching across court to hit a tennis ball while balancing on one foot.

Single-Leg Dumbbell Cross Rows or Single-Leg Arm Circles (choose one)

  • Stand on your right leg with your left foot off the ground.
  • Hold the dumbbell in your left hand just below waist level with your left arm slightly bent and right arm extended at shoulder level.
  • Bend both knees and lower the dumbbell across your body toward your right ankle.
  • Pause one second, then quickly pull the dumbbell up to start position near your waist while squeezing your shoulder blades.
  • Do 10 reps, then switch by placing the dumbbell in your right hand and stand on your left leg with your right foot off the ground.
  • Lower the dumbbell toward your left ankle.
  • Pause one second, then explosively pull the dumbbell back toward your waist and squeeze your shoulder blades.
  • Perform 10 reps. 

Single-Leg DB Cross Rows help improve balance and strengthen lower body, core, arm and especially middle back muscles. The alternative exercise (Single-Leg Arm Circles) is performed by standing on one leg with your opposite foot off the ground, bending your knees, extending your arms at shoulder level and doing clockwise arm circles for 30 seconds. Switch legs and do counterclockwise arm circles for 30 seconds.

Balancing on one leg not only strengthens leg and gluteal muscles but also engages the core stabilizer muscles (abdominal, inner thigh, lower and middle back muscles). In addition, balancing on one leg is a key sport-specific component (e.g., staying in bounds with both feet when catching a pass, or struggling to remain upright during a wrestling match when an opponent grasps your leg attempting to take you down).

Knee to Opposite Elbow Mountain Climbers

  • Assume push-up position.
  • Alternately drive your right knee toward your left elbow, back to start position, and your left knee quickly toward your right elbow.
  • Continue alternating knees to elbows 30-60 seconds.

The exercise boosts endurance (a sports performance asset) while engaging the abdominal, inner thigh, lower and middle back core muscles.

Elevated Prone, Side and Supine Planks

Perform this quintessential core-building combo movement non-stop.

  • Start with your toes atop a bench or chair and your forearms spaced about shoulder-width apart on the mat.
  • Keep your back straight and abdomen tight.
  • Hold the position for 30 seconds.
  • Immediately rotate to the right side, resting on your right forearm.
  • Lift and extend your left arm overhead and raise your hips (maintain straight line with hips/back and don't let hips sag).
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Rotate to a supine position with your heels on a bench or chair.
  • Both forearms are on the mat assisting with lifting hips and back up.
  • Hold 30 seconds.
  • Immediately rotate to your left side with your left forearm on the mat and your right arm extended overhead.
  • Raise your hips and hold 30 seconds.
  • Advanced version: Do elevated planks atop a Swiss ball to further challenge your core muscles while balancing on the ball.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: PREHAB | CORE | CHEST | EXERCISE | PRESS | WAIST | INNER THIGH