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The Performance Life

The NYT's Take on Core Training

Dave Cruz

Is your ab workout hurting your back?

That’s the question posed by the New York Times in a recent article. The piece is worth a read—it challenges you to reconsider not just how you train your core, but the purpose and anatomy of the core itself.

To explain the core’s role, the Times called upon the world’s foremost spine researcher, Stuart McGill, with whom Athletes’ Performance is currently conducting several studies at our Florida facility.

In studies with McGill and the University of Waterloo in Canada, we’re continuing to challenge old beliefs and test new, cutting-edge techniques for improving performance.

What researchers are finding is that what we’ve been practicing all along at Athletes’ Performance is a completely integrated and effective approach to strengthening your body's "pillar,” which encompasses not only your core, or torso stability, but also the stability of your hips and shoulders.

But the Times only covered one aspect of the pillar (your torso), so let’s pick up where they left off by posing a handful of questions, not to the New York Times, but to you.

1. Are you moving through your pillar?

When you watch top athletes move—when you watch anyone move—what you can notice is how their arms and legs move in relation to their pillar. Is the pillar a stable foundation upon which all movement occurs? (Watch this video for more on this.) Or is it providing no foundation whatsoever? Study how your favorite athletes move and compare their movement to your own.

2. Are you training your pillar in every workout?

We don’t have “ab days,” “core days” or “pillar days” at Core Performance. Building a strong and stable pillar that reduces your risk for injuries, including back, hip and shoulder ailments, is a daily habit. That’s why we train the pillar in every workout we do at Core Performance, and it's an integrated component of our system that includes Movement Prep, Plyometrics, Strength, Energy System Development, and Regeneration.

That’s also why we have an entire section of every workout, called Pillar Prep, devoted to activating the hips, torso and shoulders—to prime these areas for the challenging training that lies ahead. Because when all these muscles—from your hips to shoulders—work in concert, the end-result is greater strength, power, and coordinated movement.

3. Are you actively engaging your torso?

The Times article also discusses the proper way to tense your core, alluding to the fact that many trainers will tell you to pull your belly button in or push it out or contort it in some way. You want your torso to be flat or braced during exercise, but let’s not complicate the issue. Focus on holding perfect posture when you train and throughout the day. This will naturally engage your torso, lengthen your spine, and position your body for athletic movement.

4. Are you lifting and living with proper posture?

So what do we mean by proper posture? Sit and stand tall from your hips with your shoulders comfortably back and down so your chest is lifted. Place your hand a few inches above your head. Now move your head closer to your hand only by lengthening your spine. This is what “tall” feels like. If you stay tall like this, as if your spine is hanging from a hook at the top of your head, then your abs should tense naturally.

Stay tall in your chair at work. Tall when you walk to your car after a long day. And tall when you’re performing stability lifts and chops in the gym, or side bridges, or running. Even when you’re lying on the floor doing glute bridges, stay tall. Staying tall in everything you do is one of the easiest ways to look, feel and perform better, with more energy and less risk for pain.

5. Are you doing this day in and day out?

When you address your pillar with your Core Performance program and stay mindful of it throughout the day, you’ll put yourself in the best position to perform great day in and day out. And no matter your sport or career, that’s what performing at a championship level is all about.

About The Author

Mark Verstegen – An internationally-recognized leader and innovator in the world of athletic performance training, Mark Verstegen is the founder and president of EXOS.

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Tags: Pillar strength, Stability, Training