A handful of years ago “core” training was all the rage. Realistically, I think it was used most often as a buzz word to incite interest into a training program. You would hear something like “this is a great exercise for your core” or “these are the 3 best core exercises.” You probably still see click bait terms like this on social media all the time. I think where most trainers or educational pieces, even if advertising, miss the mark is in actually failing to educate the consumer, client or viewer.
Core, what is it?
So, in short your core is your spine and all the musculature that directly support it in holding it’s neutral, or fixed, position against the force of gravity, external load, or any movement that challenges the set or ideal position.
Traditionally, we think of the abdominals, maybe obliques, but we should really include much, much more. Like our erector spinai, quadratus lumbarum, multifidus, psoas… muscles of our trunk. Since the pelvic position directly affects the lumbar spine we must also consider the strength and stability of the hip musculature. So we should include glutes, hamstrings, tensor fascia latte, gluteus medius, piriformis, etc.. We may want to consider a few other muscles that we don’t develop awareness of until we have a problem with them like our pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominus and diaphragm. These muscles also play an intricate part in supporting our spine.
What else to train beyond the core
Ok, so that is alot on what your core is and if you are consistently and properly practicing compound, functional exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses and the like you are developing and maintaining that musculature to best support your spine for great longevity into your later years. Good job What I really want to talk about is your extremeties. Namely, your hands and your feet. Without properly understanding the job of the core we can’t possibly understand why strength, stamina and stability in these muscles are crucial to having sound control over your body for safe and effective movement and exercise.
First your feet. This is your contact point to the earth and where you generate tension for any ground based exercise. Which is a lot of them. Before we dive into the what, let’s understand the why. Inability to anchor with the feet, creating tension and stability in the arch will prevent the ankle from functioning at the correct angle. This will lead to a cascade effect running up the tibia as it will collapse inward with the knee also falling inward increasing chances of ligament strain at the knee joint. Worse yet, the inward action of the knees will cause the femur to internally rotate which if the action, speed of the movement or load carried is significant enough will then cause the pelvis to tilt posteriorly (think rounded back). The next effect would be your lower back rounding…. sorry to paint a gloomy picture for you but often times in the fitness space trainers see knee, hip or back injuries that are an end result of a collapse at the foot. After all no has ever entered a gym with the interest of getting jacked feet. I am sure I am just one of many trainers whom has had to work with many a client to help resolve an indirect injury that was originated at the foot.
Thankfully, you can train your foot like any other muscle group in your body. There are hundreds of exercises out there and teaching you all of them is beyond the point of this post. I will say the most valuable one in my opinion is learning how to create tension in the arch of the foot. With a bare foot, keep the ball of your foot and heel down and try to shorten the foot sliding the toes to the heel and hold for :10 to :30. Repeat and practice as needed. The real test is maintaining and moving in and out of arch tension during lifts, jumps, runs, etc. when you need the stability most. Second foot function to focus on would be flexibility and strength of the big toes and how their action is applied to your walking gait, lifts and again anything else ground based.
Get a better grip
Now the hands. The biggest fault I see is a lack of adequate hand tension. Regardless of the exercise, or the moment when the hands should be gripping, an engaged hand will draw tension into the forearm musculature. Followed by the bicep. This will effectively align the elbow and shoulder blades as the lat, pecs, scapular musculatur and upper back naturally engage as well. Go ahead and try it now. Take a break from reading. Squeeze your finger tips into your palms and make a strong fist. The elbows roll in and the shoulder blades draw together. A lack of this hand tension in any shoulder dominant exercise means the elbows could flare causing excess strain on the joint and the shoulders have a higher potential to internally rotate causing an impingement, or pinching of the tendons and ligaments of the joint.
Understanding the role of our core and extremities in our common movements in the gym can go a long way in promoting the longevity and health of our joints. As well as allowing the effectiveness of our training to have a larger impact on our health.
What do you find to be the most effect compound exercise for your core? Do the strength of your hands or feet keep you from making improvements in the movement overall? If you feel like you would benefit in learning how to effectively utilize the core in your training and want to properly move with everything else kept in check consider meeting with one of our coaches for an intro session.