A strong core allows you to be stronger, faster more powerful in everything you do on the field. It also helps prevent injury by keeping you balanced and stable.
Training your core is more complicated than doing a few Crunches. There are several aspects you need to consider to build complete core strength. Mike Boyle, a renowned strength coach and co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning (Woburn, Massachusetts), provides his recommended core strengthening exercises below.
People are programmed to think that they need to flex their abs in a crunching fashion to work their core. That's why Crunches and Sit-Ups have been go-to exercises for years. Unfortunately, they train the core incorrectly.
"[Your abs] don't bring your shoulders closer to your hips. They don't bring your hips closer to your shoulders. They don't crunch," says Boyle. Instead, they prevent the spine from going into extension or arching. The idea is that these muscles prevent movement, not create it.
The basic anti-extension exercise is the Plank, because the core muscles work to prevent the back from sagging, or moving into extension. Boyle recommends adding several variations of the Plank to your workouts.
Hold your body in a straight line for the specified duration. It may not look like much, but the Plank fires up your deep core muscles and leaves you sore the next day.
The Rollout is simply an advanced Plank. As your arms move overhead, your core has to work harder to keep your back flat. Start with a physioball and gradually decrease the size of the ball as you get stronger. Then progress to an ab wheel or barbell.
By subtly shifting backwards and forward in a Plank position, you create more tension in your abs. You'll feel this the most when you drive your body backward.
This move combines anti-extension and anti-rotation (see below).
The most advanced variation in this sequence, the Plank Row works your core to prevent extension and rotation. Rowing a dumbbell increases the challenge, and even strengthens your back.
In line with the theme of anti-extension, the core is also tasked with preventing rotation. "We want people to understand that the core muscles are more anti-rotators than rotators," says Boyle. "Rotation comes from the hips."
The lumbar spine, or lower back, is designed for stability, not a twisting motion. Preventing rotation in your trunk and allowing your hips and shoulders to do the work, are keys for maximizing power and health.
With resistance over your shoulder, your core works to prevent your torso from rotating to the side and up as you pull the cable down and across your body.
This move is the exact opposite of the Chop. Your core works to prevent your torso from rotating to the side and down as you pull the cable up and across your body.
By using two cables originating from your front and back, your body naturally wants to twist to the side. Instead, brace your core to prevent twisting. This teaches you to maintain a stable core even when you move your upper body.
The Moving Plank
The above core exercises are great and will build strength. But you need to be able to apply this strength in a less controlled setting, similar to how you'd move on the field. Loaded carries, which involving walking with one or two heavy dumbbells, do just that.
"What you're getting is a moving Plank effect. You're getting hip stability and core stability and have to balance that load," says Boyle. This teaches your core to stabilize and brace, even as you're moving.
Simply walking while holding two heavy dumbbells will make your core stronger while building your grip and back strength. According to strength coach Dan John, you should be able to perform this exercise with a weight equivalent to your body weight.
This is the same as a Farmer's Walk, but you hold one dumbbell. As you walk, your core has to prevent your spine from flexing laterally, or to the side. This is exactly like a Side Plank, but more athletic.
Producing Rotation (Properly)
Throwing a ball, swinging a bat and shooting a puck involve rotation. You drive through your legs and hips, rotate your trunk and finish with an upper-body movement specific to your skill.
You may think that your core is producing the rotation, but this is a common misconception. "The powerful rotation is being done by the hip rotators. It's being done from the ground by the push," Boyle explains. Again, your core is trying to prevent rotation and extension, and the only rotation comes from your upper back—even if it's just a slight rotation.
Med Ball Side Twist Throw
Rather than rotating your torso from side-to-side, driving off your rear leg and hip produces the rotation you need for a powerful throw.
Med Ball One-Arm Push
This is like the Twist Throw, but it involves an upper-body push that's similar to batting, throwing or striking.
Med Ball Stepping Side Twist Throw
The step simulates how you have to brake on your front foot and then drive off your back foot when performing a rotational skill on the move.
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