The ever popular idea of maintaining good “core strength” can be extremely beneficial to athletes—that is, if we understand everything pertaining to “the core” and how that strength can help you in your athletic endeavors. Before we delve into the advantages of core strength and stability, let’s answer the primary question: what is the core?
The musculoskeletal core of the body includes the spine, hips and pelvis, proximal (closer to the body center) lower limb and abdominal structures. The muscles involved are those of the trunk and pelvis that are responsible for stabilizing the spine and pelvis as well as generating and transferring energy from the center of the body to its extremities. The core participates in both stability and mobility. The stabilizer muscles include the upper and lower trapezius, hip rotators, and glutei. The major mobilizers are the latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, hamstrings, quadriceps, and iliopsoas. Indeed, the core is comprised of much more than your six-pack.
Advantages of Core Stability for Athletes
Strength in your core enables you to maximize your power output, while stability allows you to perform complex athletic movements that require coordination, balance, and technical skill.
A general definition of core stability is the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis and leg to allow optimum production and transfer of force and motion along the kinetic chain. A more rigid trunk decreases the load on the spine, helping prevent injury. In terms of athletic activities, the core is responsible for generating rotational torque around the spine, contributing up to 50% of the kinetic energy and force of all throwing motions. Maximum foot velocity in any kick is more strongly related to hip flexor muscle activation than knee extension; the most powerful kicking in field sports or in swimming starts with the core, such that a longer lever can use the whiplash effect down the entire length of the leg to generate more power. Strength in your core enables you to maximize your power output, while stability allows you to perform complex athletic movements that require coordination, balance, and technical skill. Stability is often needed in rotational movements, which almost every sport includes. Swinging a racket, club, or bat requires the ability to shift one’s body weight smoothly from one side to the other. A strong core allows athletes to hold body positions for an extended period of time, in the pool to maintain a hydrodynamic line or during a routine in ice skating or gymnastics.
Role in Injury Prevention and Rehab
Improving your core strength can help you with rehabilitating lower limb injuries. Because the core is involved in almost every action of the extremities, such as kicking, throwing, running, or swimming, focusing on core strength can help you stabilize other weak areas. It is therefore imperative to look at an athlete’s core strength whenever there is an injury of an extremity. While little research has been conducted on the protective mechanism of core strength for injury prevention, programs that emphasize core strength produce athletes with great stability, controlled body movement, and proper muscle recruitment while in action. In another sense, many athletes with knee injuries show weak hip muscles or tight hip flexors, improperly shifting the load from the trunk (a stable base) to the knee and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that is prone to tearing. When the core is weak relative to the body, the athlete becomes accustomed to overusing other muscle groups to produce the desired force in any movement. Generally, this puts more strain on the muscles further down the extremities to generate energy and on the joints to transfer it, such as the shoulders and knees.
Core As Base
It may seem abstract to consider the middle of your body as the base with your legs and arms merely the offshoots, but this mindset will help you focus more attention on ways to improve your core. You are only as powerful or as quick as your core is both strong and stable. It is the essential piece of the puzzle that enables you to start a motion in your legs and carry it through to your arms, or vice versa, with the most efficient transfer of energy possible. There are countless exercises available for you to begin building a great core, but the key to improving is consistency. A core program integrated into your strength and conditioning program is an essential part of any elite training regimen. Pay attention to each exercise and build a core that will help you excel in your sport!
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