Ultimate Core Training

Core training is part of virtually every exercisers routine but, when it comes to sport, are you being as specific as possible with your midsection work? In this article I want to challenge your core in a more activity-specific way which represents the often random demands of sport.

Pretty much every athlete and exerciser knows that core training is essential for sports performance, injury prevention and also appearance. The midsection is literally the tie that binds our upper body to our lower body and allows the transference of energy from one limb to another. A weak core means that energy can get “lost” as the spine collapses and forces generated are diverted away from where they are needed. The thing is, whilst most people know that core training is very important, they do it in such a way that it isn’t specific to their sporting activity.

In exercise, the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) states that your training results directly reflect your training efforts: lift heavy = get stronger, lift fast = get quicker etc so why is it most core work is done at the end of a workout, laying down, with controlled breathing and with relatively low intensity? This scenario is a long way from the unpredictable and highly demanding world of sport

Imagine a rugby player – when do they need to be able to demonstrate core strength? Is it whilst lying on the floor, barely out of breath or is it towards the end of a game, absolutely exhausted and putting in a big tackle or scoring a try? A boxer or MMA participant needs to demonstrate core strength even when their breathing pattern isn’t controlled (maybe because of fatigue or perhaps because of a “gut punch”) to keep themselves protected and to provide a strong platform from which to strike. In sports, you never really know when and from where your next core challenge will come from will it come from the side, the front, behind? To succeed in sport, it’s important to develop the ability to react to a variety of core stresses whilst being in a state of fatigue.

Traditional core training does not reflect the demands of sport but with a little imagination, a workout randomiser (also known as a dice!) and a selection of cardio options you can create workouts that are varied, unpredictable and sports specific

The workout

For each of the die faces, allocate a core exercise. Make sure each exercise is significantly different from the others by using the template below. Slot your favourite exercises into the template but remember to rotate exercises regularly.

1)      Flexion – focus on lifting shoulders e.g. Swiss ball crunches

2)      Flexion – focus on lifting the hips e.g. hanging leg raises

3)      Lateral flexion – e.g. dumbbell side bends

4)      Rotation – e.g. cable wood chops

5)      Bracing – e.g. planks

6)      Extension – e.g. dorsal raises

Next, select some cardio options e.g. treadmill, rower, jump rope or bodyweight exercises like burpees, thrusters or jumping jacks. It doesn’t really matter what cardio option you select so long as you can get up to speed quickly and it gets you sufficiently out of breath.

Perform 1 minute of hard cardio (and I mean hard – get the lactic acid flowing and the heart and lungs pumping) before throwing your dice and immediately performing a set of the corresponding core exercise. Do as many reps as appropriate but remember to use a variety of rep ranges and loads to develop strength and endurance. High rep counts in excess of 25-30 are not time-efficient so try to keep your reps lower than this. Like every other muscle in your body, your core muscles need to be challenged so make sure the exercises you have chosen are sufficiently demanding and intense.

Perform 5-6 sets of this core and cardio pairing throwing the dice each time to randomise the core exercises. Allow 1 minute recovery after each core exercise and don’t worry if you manage to throw the same number a couple of times as this is part of the random nature of sports.

There are times where in will be necessary to perform your core work in a more traditional way, especially when trying to learn new exercises or improve core-specific performance but this is a great method for shaking up your workouts and making them more specific to the random way sports place demands on your body.

Get rolling that dice and enjoy a whole new way of working your core!