Core Strength for Athletes

I hate sit-ups, I hate crunches, I hate leg raises.

If you can't live without these, then stop reading. I'm probably not going to reach you.  For those athletes and trainers who buy into functionality over looks, this is for you. 

My beef with crunches and sit-ups stems from a my interpretation of principles in human physiology and anatomy. The abdominal musculature is designed specifically to resist extension (bending backward) and rotation, as well as aid in respiration (breathing). During sports and nearly every functional movement, the abdominals perform these two actions. Try and develop a scenario in which an athlete must thrust their head and chest down towards the ground. Now when you are thinking about this moment in lacrosse, swimming, hurdles, football, or shuffleboard. Recognize that Gravity is the force, and the best athletes learn to leverage it. Gravity is doing nearly all of the work for you - which is exactly the point. Be upright, train your muscles how they were designed, and results will follow.

The key: When the abdominals are contracted and lengthening (a.k.a. eccentric contraction) during a movement is when they are working the hardest, and functionally.

Abdominal Wall Muscular Anatomy

Instead, do these exercises for core strength:

1) Make the exercise single-arm or single-leg - when an exercise is asymmetrical, the core musculature has to keep you in line. Add weight to only one side of the body and see the difference. Lunges, single-leg squats, and standing rows are some of my favorites.

2) Dynamic Planks - these are the gold standard for functional core stability. I add movement with all my planks, whether this is a push-up, reaching, weight shift, or pelvic movement, is a matter of goals.

3) Lowering - deceleration is a key performance component in sports. Most of the work during leg lowering is done by the hip flexors, but the abdominals still play a key role.

4) Medicine ball chops - sure, it's downward, but rotation is the bonus here. If you are throwing at a wall, the deceleration on the way back gives you the most benefit.

For more information on properly training the core, please feel free to contact us.

Dr. Dave Gerbarg

Dr. Dave Gerbarg is the President and Physical Therapist at One Nine Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy in Solana Beach. He specializes in sports medicine for teenage and adolescent athletes.