Monday, February 23, 2009

Got Core?

RT Staff Note: Here's another submission courtesy of Jon Doyles web site from Norman Eng.

By Norman T. Eng, DC, CSCS

Welcome to the first installment of Baseball Core Training.

Every time I turn on the TV, there's a new commercial with a buffed up guy or waif looking woman promoting a new ab machine. All these little contraptions make excellent door stops, and are great if you have an empty house and you're looking for a new household ornament to fill space. Whichever commercial I encounter, they all seem to relay the same message: ripped abs means you have a great core! Ehmm. Sure. The reality is that a truly strong core extends far beyond the beach body six pack.

The concept of core training really amuses me. When I was a trainer in the gym, I would walk through the crowded aisles, listening to the sounds of clunking iron and witnessing unsightly visuals of the meatheads wrapped in sleeveless spandex, which they call workout clothes, admiring their shredded abs (and more often not so shredded) in the mirror. What's more entertaining is the weekend warrior doing 500 crunches a day to try and eliminate the 6 pack a day stomach. Adjacent to this guy would be an aspiring athlete with a $2 Fruit of the Loom tank top, pumping biceps curls while standing on 1 leg.

Without even asking these misled athletes, I would immediately know what they were TRYING to do….work the core. They probably saw the exercise in a magazine or on TV, and as we all know, it must be good since it was in a magazine or on TV, right? WRONG!! Unbeknownst to the misinformed and their brethren, the only thing that they're doing is succumbing to the fallacies spewed out by the media. How will this help you in athletic greatness? With all the information spread about core training, let's get to the truth and what needs to be done to achieve optimal performance.

The Core and Core Stability

Firstly, what is the core and core stability? Your everyday Joe or Jane thinks core refers to rippling abs that look great in a bathing suit, but that's incomplete. In reference to core, there are numerous muscles involved. Depending on the field of practice, differing ideas have emerged. From a clinical perspective, the core, also known as the inner unit, consists of the following muscles according the works of Vleeming(1), Lee(2), and Gracovetsky(3):

Superiorly - Respiratory diaphragm
Inferiorly - Pelvic diaphragm
Posteriorly - Lumbar Multifidus
Antero-Posterior - Transversus Abdominis

Spinal Column
These muscles are deep and not muscles you can see in your mirror. Currently, it is proposed that these muscles co-contract through external loading and help facilitate ballistic and normal movements in activities of daily living. Internal/external Oblique and rectus abdominus are also critical components of core stability.

According to McGill, when all of these muscles contract in symphony, it creates stiffness far superior than any single muscle group4. These muscle groups must activate within milliseconds prior to arm movements and hip movements5, 6. Thus, we can conclude that stiffening of the spine by the core muscles precedes movements of the extremities. Furthermore, greater contraction is required if these movements are ballistic and abrupt.

Let's review the performance requirements for a baseball player. They need to possess explosive lateral movement, quick feet, seamless hand/eye coordination, power, flexibility, linear speed, and the reflexes of a ninja. All of these factors require that the body, particularly the core, create maximal contraction in a ballistic fashion. Translation, core contraction has to be explosive and powerful.

To create maximal amplitude and speed of muscle contraction, let's try and envision how a single leg bicep curl will create maximal and explosive contraction in the core. That's right, it doesn't. So get rid of your $30 ab roller you bought off of an infomercial, stop doing 500 crunches a day, stand on 2 feet when working out, and follow a well-guided core regimen like the one found on Jon Doyle's Unbreakable Abs DVD.

About Norman Eng, D.C., C.S.C.S

Dr. Norman Eng is owner of 14th Street Chiropractic based in Atlanta, GA, which specializes in the conservative management of neuromusculoskeletal conditions. He is a certified Graston Technique and Active Release Technique provider. Dr. Eng is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). In 2005, he coached the boys' Wethersfield High School 4x100m relay team to All-American status at the Nike Outdoor Nationals.

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