J.J. Watt terrorizes opposing offenses with his brute strength and power. Yes, he's a strong guy who can lift enormous amounts of weight, but the foundation of his incredible athleticism is his core.
Without a strong core, Watt would get knocked around the field and wouldn't be able to overpower larger offensive linemen. His strong core allows him to brace and stabilize his trunk and spine in all directions, which makes him more powerful and balanced.
Brad Arnett, owner of NX Level (Waukesha, Wisconsin) and Watt's long-time strength coach, explains that it's critical for Watt to keep his hips and shoulders stacked, or in line with each other. If he loses core stability and positioning at one of these areas, he won't be as powerful and is more likely to sustain an injury.
"You're constantly fighting yourself and minimizing efficiency in what you are trying to do," adds Arnett.
His core isn't producing much movement; instead, it's resisting movement and allowing his limbs to work their magic for quick bursts of speed and powerful rushing moves.
Rather than prescribing old-school core exercises like Sit-Ups and Crunches, Arnett has Watt perform three moves based on renown spinal researcher Dr. Stuart McGill's "Core 3"—the three essential core exercises that work the entire core without causing damage to the lumbar spine.
"This is a staple of things J.J. does every single workout," says Arnett.
He recommends performing these moves before your workout, practice or game, toward the end of your dynamic warm-up, to activate core muscles so they can keep you stable during your activity.
This is similar to a Crunch, but far better. The major difference is that you place your hands under your lower back to prevent your spine from extending—a common cause of long-term lower back pain and injury. Then you squeeze your abs as forcefully as possible. Arnett says this activates the major core muscles on the front of your body, including your abs, obliques and hip flexors.
How to: Lie down on your back. Place your hands flat under your lower back and raise your elbows slightly off the ground. Bend one leg so that your foot is in line with your opposite knee. Keeping your neck straight, tighten your abs as if bracing for a punch and raise your head and shoulders off the ground slightly. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Lower, switch legs and repeat.
Sets/Duration: 2-3x10 seconds each side
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Rolling Side Plank
"As a football player, the majority of the forces that you are going to absorb are all lateral," explains Arnett. "When you are weak through this lat and oblique system, you're not going to have much stability in football. This is what we are trying to turn on and work."
How to: Lie on your side with your bottom elbow on the ground underneath your shoulder and your forearm perpendicular to your body. Position your top foot on the ground in front of your bottom foot. Drive your hips up to form a straight line with your body from head to toe. Keeping your core tight, rotate your torso and place your opposite elbow on the ground to assume a Side Plank position on the opposite side. Continue in an alternating fashion.
Sets/Duration: 2-3x15 seconds + 15-second hold each side
The Bird Dog might not seem like the sexiest exercise. After all, it works the muscles you can't see in the mirror. But it engages your glutes all the way to your upper back—essential muscles that provide power and stability. Better yet, it works your opposite arm and leg in the same firing pattern you use when you sprint.
How to: Assume an all-fours position with your back flat and core tight. Without arching your lower back, slowly raise your right arm and left leg. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Slowly lower and repeat with your opposite arm and leg.
Sets/Reps: 2-3x5 each side
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