Getting at the Core for Gymnastics (or Life)

Posted: July 26, 2008 in exercise, gymnastics, physical therapy, sport, Sports Medicine
Tags: , , , , , ,

 

While gymnastics is used in this post the concepts apply to any endeavor.  Most would agree that a strong “core” is essential to all sporting activities and tasks of daily living. What is the core and how do we train it to maximize performance? Generally speaking, the core consists of the lower back, lateral trunk and abdominal (rectus abdominus, obliques, transverse abdominus) musculature. For years, largely based on traditional anatomy lessons and body building routines, we believed that endless sit-ups and hyperextensions were the way to go. As our understanding of human movement and sports performance have grown, we began to realize that training for performance often required a different approach – hence the term “sport specifi c” training. Simply stated, the more an exercise looks and feels like the activity to be performed, the greater the carry- over to that activity. When designing exercises to enhance performance, one must look at the activity or skill and ask – how does gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum effect the body and how do all the muscles and joints interact to complete a skill or movement?  In the traditional sit up one lies on their back and attempts to bring the shoulders up towards the pelvis, in essence contracting only the abdominals. For performance/ function we would ask – when in gymnastics do you lay on your back and do this? Are the gravitational forces the same? Are the ground reaction forces the same?  Is the momentum the same? Do all the body parts interact similar to a gymnastics skill?  The answer is rarely, if at all. In gymnastics, the body is primarily in a vertical position with various components of spin and rotation acting against gravity, utilizing and absorbing ground reaction forces and momentum. Therefore, training the core in an upright position would be a better choice to facilitate greater muscle, joint and balance receptor activity, ultimately leading to greater carry-over to the skill or activity. It also facilitates more effective interaction between all the muscles and joints involved in the skill, not just one or a few as seen in the traditional sit-up or hyperextension exercise. The object being to enhance the body’s ability to load to explode.  The true function of the abdominal muscles is to decelerate or control backward bending and rotation of the trunk. You do not need them to forcibly fl ex the trunk forward (as a sit-up does) because gravity will do this for free. The muscles of the low back help decelerate forward flexion and rotation of the trunk. The respective muscles of the trunk rely on various other muscles to assist them with the task at hand.  One common theme that is critical for human movement and sport is that all muscles need to be eccentrically elongated relatively quickly (loading) to enhance their concentric contraction (exploding). Think of a rubber band, the more you pull it the harder and faster it snaps back. Your muscles utilize the same principle called the stretch shortening cycle to enhance the muscles ability to move the body explosively. An easy example of this is in jumping. You always “squat” down or load first to enhance your ability to jump or explode higher. Try jumping up high without bending your knees or ankles first; its impossible.   So when training the core think of how they are going to “react” in relation to gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum in the context of how they will be required to function.

Get Strong! Stay Strong!

Chris

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