Training the Core Beyond Sit-Ups


Something I’ve come to accept after studying kinesiology and applying it to my art of coaching is that there is always a better perspective to be sought out. When I first began coaching I knew only of absolutes. “Everyone should squat” and “biceps curls are not functional” were commonplace in my mind. In my growth as a coach I’ve certainly learned a lot more, but I’ve also learned that there is a lot more that I don’t know. The more I learn, the less I know, and that is a driving force behind my continual quest to upgrade my knowledge.
One absolute that perhaps deserves some scrutiny is the idea that effective core training comes in some variation on sit-ups. Sit-ups are a staple in many strength and conditioning programs, and many sit-up variants (weighted sit ups, GHD sit ups, and crunches) are something most athletes are familiar with regardless of the sport they play. If your sport requires you to complete sit ups for time, then I think sit ups should be in your training program at some point – but what about those who do not have to do sit ups for time in their sport? Is it really necessary? I’m not here to say sit ups don’t train the core, but rather I’m here to say that I think it’s time we consider other modalities for core training.
We know that flexion, especially to end range, is the mechanism behind disc herniations (McGill, 2009). While we don’t know how many cycles of flexion-extension we have, maybe we should view it like limited resource. We flex our lumbar spine to tie our shoes, get out of bed, pick up dog poop, pick up the baby, and many other activities. Think about how many times we get off the couch or bed in our life, plus tying our shoes and everything else. We already have hundreds of thousands or millions of cycles completed. And that’s before we even look at our training as athletes. MMA fighters grapple, football players get low, baseball players dive, and much more. My perspective is this: we should train the core to resist movement rather than support it. Once we have done this adequately, we become more resilient to injuries.
One of my favorite exercises is the Pallof press (see video above). When we talk about anatomy, we discuss insertion, origin, innervations, and even arterial supply. When we talk about functional anatomy, we need to consider the function of a muscle. The core definitely can flex and rotate the trunk, but it’s better suited to prevent flexion and rotation (Porterfield and DeRosa, 1998). The Pallof press does this perfectly, especially with all of its different variations. You can complete the Pallof press in different positions such as split squat, tall kneeling, half kneeling, bilateral, even on single leg. You can even complete it in an overhead position to prevent extension of the lumbar spine. This exercise is just one of many that can be used for effective core training. Simply put, you should move well before you move often and learn stability before you learn to move a lot (Cook, 2010).
Unless your sport requires you to be on a pull up bar doing toes to bar or sit ups, I believe training someone to resist movement will give them greater capacity to prevent injury when that movement occurs in life. A little more stability never hurt anyone, and if anything it only improves other movement patterns such as the squat, deadlift, and even overhead press (Cook, 2010)
Want to learn more about properly assessing your clients and determining the best course of action to prevent injury? Check out our OPT CCP Assessment and Program Design course online or an upcoming event.

Michael Bann
OPT Coach

References
Cook, Gray. Movement: functional movement systems: screening, assessment, and corrective strategies. Aptos, CA: On Target Publications, 2010. Print
McGill, Stuart. Ultimate back fitness and performance. 4th ed. Waterloo (Ontario): Backfitpro, 2009. Prin
Porterfield, James A., and Carl DeRosa. Mechanical low back pain: perspectives in functional anatomy.

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