Core training: power to the core!
To get an idea as to how core training works, think about a large train station. We can even keep it Italian and think about the central station in Milan – it provides a great image of trains coming and going from everywhere, north, south, east and west.
Trains run on tracks that are arranged and built to carry passengers to their destinations. Stations are also essential, as trains have to pass through them to reach the next station. Something similar happens in our bodies.
Where kinetic chains meet
Using a touch of imagination, we can compare our core to Milan’s famous railway station. It is like that central zone where all our kinetic chains – the tracks – come together and make our bodies capable of dynamic action – our movements.
These kinetic chains make possible the coordinated movement of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and joints.
Plus, those repetitive movements that are so typical of most sports wouldn’t be optimised. So, the spinal muscles, especially in the lower back region, must always work efficiently. Numerous studies have shown how a lack of stability in the muscles in this core region can cause not only back pain, but also problems with the upper and lower limbs.
Core training benefits
The core includes of the lumbar spine muscles, the abdominal wall muscles, and the back and QL extensors. This region has multi-jointed muscles – such as the psoas and latissimus dorsi muscles – that cross the core and connect to the pelvis, legs, shoulders and arms.
Core training basically has the following benefits:
- Sensation of maintaining correct posture;
- Safer movements due to improved balance;
- Improved strength and power in daily movements;
- Reduced injury risk. Stronger core muscles also mean the movements required in different sports are done more correctly and efficiently.
Many of my students swear they run better once they start regularly doing the core training exercises I teach them. They are also far less injury prone.
I also systematically do these core training exercises. As I’m no longer a spring chicken, I start to feel pretty quickly, after just a few days of not doing my core training, that I really need to get back to my exercises.
Doing the exercises properly
The importance of core training has truly come to light in the last few years. Unfortunately, many people remain in the dark as to when and how such training should be done. Let me give you three good suggestions.
1. Ideally, you should try to find 2 or 3 times a week, for 40 to 50 minutes. If this is impossible, then do them before training. Alternatively, you could do them in the morning, and then use the afternoon/ evening for normal training.
2. If you have back pain, you should keep your core training pretty basic, 2 or 3 times a day for no more than 20 or 30 minutes.
3. You should warm up for 3 to 5 minutes before doing core exercises. You could, for example, walk on the spot, progressively increasing your speed. Running on the spot gently is another option.
Theory to practice: core training exercises
The following are some of the best exercises for this key body area.
1. Side plank
Lie on your side. Supporting yourself with your forearm and then your hand, raise your hips. Balance can be improved by placing your left foot behind your right. Your left arm should be reaching towards the sky. Hold this position for 10-30 seconds and repeat 3 to 7 times. Rest lasts for the same length as the exercise. Repeat on the other side.
Holding yourself up with your arms straight, raise your left leg. After doing the required reps, change sides.
2. Front plank
Belly down, body aligned from heals to head, and arms straight. Push on your hands and feet. Make sure your ears, shoulders, chest, knees and ankles are aligned. Be careful: if you move your hips forwards, your back will arch. Don’t do this! Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 to 10 times. Keep the same recovery time between one rep and the next.
3. Mountain climber plank variant
Using the same position as for a straight-arm front plank, bring a knee to your chest. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg. Repeat 3 to 10 times per leg.
The week before a race
In the week before a race, especially an important race, you should cut the seconds. Doing this will maintain the right muscle tone, without causing excessive fatigue. For example, if you usually hold a position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times, then cut the time to 15 seconds, without changing the number of reps.
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- Houglum PA. L’esercizio fisico come terapia negli infortuni muscolo- scheletrici. Vol. 2. Calzetti & Mariucci Editori; 2015
- Massini F. Tipi che corrono. Le nuove tecniche per i nuovi runner. Rizzoli; 2018