Core training: strong at the center!

Fulvio Massini

To fully understand how core training "works", let's try to imagine a large railway station.

To remain in our country, let's think of the one in Milan Centrale, which gives a good idea of a central hub for departing and arriving trains to and from all directions: north, south, east, west.

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Trains run on tracks that are organized and constructed so that travellers can reach their destinations. In order to head in the various directions, every train must necessarily pass through stations. Something very similar happens at the centre of our body.

The meeting point of the kinetic chains

With a bit of imagination, we could compare the famous Milan station to the core: a central area where all the kinetic chains converge, i.e., “the tracks” that make our body’s dynamic actions possible, i.e., the movements.

Kinetic chains allow the movement of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and joints to occur in a coordinated manner.

"The core, however, in order to be able to "handle the traffic" of the kinetic chains, must be stable, strong and flexible. If not, it would increase the potential to suffer injuries not only during sports activities, but also during everyday activities."

Not to mention that the repetition of technical movements that are characteristic of various types of sports wouldn’t be optimised.

That's why the muscles that are internal to the spine, particularly those of the lumbar area, must always be efficient. There are now many studies that show how a lack of stability of the core muscles can be the cause not only of classic back pain, but also of problems in the upper and lower limbs.

The benefits of core training

The core consists of the lumbar spine muscles, those of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and the quadratus lumborum. Also part of this area are multi-jointed muscles, such as the large back and psoas, which pass through the core and connect it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms.

The benefits of core training can be summarized as:
- Sensations from maintaining correct posture
- Ability to perform any motor action safely – the result of having greater balance
- Strength and power in the execution of movements in everyday life
- Decreased risk of injury. Technical movements typical of various sports activities will be performed correctly and more efficiently if the muscles at the body’s centre are strong.

A guarantee against injuries

There are many testimonies from my students, who claim they are able to run stronger since they consistently perform the core exercises that I teach them. Above all, they get injured with much less frequency, if at all.
I, too, systematically do them. Since I'm no longer young, I notice more than before that if for some reason I can't dedicate myself to the core, after a few days I feel the need to stimulate the muscles there.

core training 2

How to correctly do the exercises

In recent years there has been a growing awareness of how useful it is to exercise the core. Unfortunately, many people still don't know how and when to exercise it. Here are three good pointers:

  1. Ideally, you should have 2-3, 40-50 minute slots in your training week. If this isn’t possible, it's best to do the exercises before training. Alternatively, you can devote the morning and afternoon/evening to normal training.
  1. In case of back pain, it is preferable to perform the exercises for the core in a milder form: 2 or 3 times a day for 20-30 minutes, no more.
  1. Before engaging in core exercises, I recommend doing 3 to 5 minutes of warm-up. Such as walking in place at a progressively faster pace. Even a gentle jog, always in place, is fine.

From theory to practice: exercises for the core

Here are some exercises suitable for this valuable area of the body.

1. Lateral Plank

Lie on your right side. Leaning first on your forearm and then on your hand, lift your pelvis. For better balance, place your left foot behind your right. Your left arm is extended overhead. Hold the position for 10-30 seconds and repeat 3 to 7 times. Recovery is the same duration as the exercise. Perform the same on the opposite side.

1a. Variation

Leaning on your outstretched arm, lift your left leg up. At the end of the repetitions, perform the same on the opposite side.

2. Front plank

Face down with your body stretched out, arms extended downward. Make sure your ears, shoulders, torso, knees, and ankles are on the same axis. Caution! If you bring your pelvis down, your back will arch: don’t do this. Hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 to 10 times. Observe the same recovery time between repetitions.

3. Plank with knees to chest

From the plank position with arms extended downward, bring one knee up to your chest. Hold the position for 30" and then repeat with the other leg. Repeat 3-10 times per leg.

The week before a competition

It’s advisable to reduce the number of seconds per repetition the week before a competition, especially if it’s very important. This will allow you to maintain the right muscle tone without risking excessive fatigue.  If a position is held for 30 seconds and repeated 3 times, reduce it to 15 seconds while keeping the number of repetitions unchanged.



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