Dynamic Core Stability
The training program presented in this blog Dynamic Core Stability emphasizes the core’s ability to “absorb-and-redirect” force. This is much like a boxer being able to instantly brace for impact by hardwiring the neuromuscular system to respond in the most proficient way possible. Tension is obviously a good thing… at the right time. As well, being proficient at relaxing at the optimal moment is as instrumental to maximizing your on-field performance. Think of this as “core agility”.
On the football field, an offensive lineman’s ability to stabilize and use their weight room strength versus an opposing defensive lineman will be dependent on both the opponent’s size and the offensive lineman’s “core responsibility”.
Since you can’t control the size, or any attribute, of your opponent, it’s best to focus on what you can control… your ability to stabilize while in free space.
Obviously, you simply switch the roles and see where the defensive player benefits from having greater dynamic stability in his on-field battles with his opponent.
For a few other examples in football, take a running back making cuts or a defensive back requiring pinpoint change of direction while covering a receiver. You can have the best linear speed on the field, but when time comes to change direction, its fractions of a second that determine who wins that play.
And, your ability to change direction may appear dependent on simple ground contact but, in reality, your core’s “responsibility” will decide the degree of your lower body agility. Change of direction must transfer through your center of mass. Any deficiency in that dynamic stability is a compromise in bottom line agility.
To enhance on-field athletic performance, it’s easy to consider the need for improving speed and explosiveness. There’s no arguing the beneficial aspects of becoming faster and being able to produce more power on the field or court.
Traditional strength exercises applied with optimal technique –and regulated, progressive loading– have tangible return-on-investment benefits in building a solid foundation from which an athlete can perform better on the field of play. However, “weight room success” is only as relevant to the competitive arena as its transferability.
As I’ve emphasized in previous installments of this SuperFlex Integrated Athletic Mobility Prep (IAMP) series, strength training for an athlete is only as good as its positive effect on in-sport performance. And there’s a definite need to “bridge the gap” between conventional strength exercises and becoming a more explosive and faster athlete.
The Middle Man
In any transaction, there will be an initiative phase and a conclusive part. However, to focus purely on the beginning and end is to miss the aspect that actually connects the two and will provide the invaluable support of the desired result.
For example, as a football player there’s no denying that the overriding objective is to be as good on the field as possible. For the sake of example, a more explosive and faster player of similar size, skillset, mindset, and conditioning will always perform better play by play over the course of a game than a less explosive and slower athlete. Notice, I did not say “a stronger person” in the context of who can Bench Press, Power Clean, or Squat better numbers in the weight room.
At no point in a football game have I ever seen, or heard of, a referee summoning coaches to midfield, having a subpoena for weight room records and YouTube clips to decide if a team gets to go 7 yards for a first down instead of 10, or if a linebacker only needs to “get close” to a ball carrier because he “benches more” than the entire right side of the opposing offensive line added together.
Yes, if not humorous, two rather silly instances. However, if honest, this is not far from how many players, and coaches, unconsciously think of the weight room and its supposed relevance.
Because initially it’s more tangible to define weight room success “by the numbers” rather than to try and discern its effect by assessing on-field performance.
That being known, the weight room work (the initiative phase of the fore mentioned “transaction”) only matters to the on-field stuff (the conclusive aspect of the “transaction”) when there’s a reliable “middle man” that can acknowledge both bookends, sustain their relevance, and connect the two.
This is where the implementation of “functional” core work becomes invaluable
Planks are Fine, But…
The conventional ‘plank’ has become the assumed standard in core training over the last 10 years… due in large part to an overreaction to spinal flexion becoming the condemned scapegoat for causing most any dysfunction and injury to the spine.
A properly performed plank is a valuable assessment as a starting point for any athlete in regards to core stabilization as it relates to any exercise in the weight room and/or movement skills on the field/court in addition to general health of the spine. As well, a sound warm-up will include some version of a plank to kick-start activation of fundamental muscles. With that understanding, it’s best to go beyond the basic plank to challenge the intended muscles in the way that they will progress to a level they will be called upon in sport.
Note: Observe the standard plank that I demonstrate in one of the videos appears to have my hips “higher than usual”. This not an error but great example of optimizing the plank for an individual’s body type. The plank is actually a “hollowing” of the anterior core so the neutral position will not be an exact “straight line” from heels-to-head. This will take practice and coaching from a qualified professional to dial-in for each individual. In the entire series of dynamic plank variations implemented in this SuperFlex program, think “neutral” rather than “straight line”. The consistent cue is “take a punch”, which is a matter of internal bracing rather than getting in some position externally cued.
There are plenty of “loaded variations” of the plank such as wearing a weighted vest, pulley core press (aka Pallof Press), or plank rows (aka Renegade Rows) to name a few. These are all effective applications in a program as well as the plank variations of lifting one or two points of contact where stability is decreased and thus your center of mass must adjust, or collapse.
The following program can be implemented 2 times a week with great success, even throughout the season. This program is designed to be an ideal complement paired with plyometric or speed training, or as a stand-alone part of an active-recovery day. There’s relatively low demand on the systemic properties of the athlete while helping recharge the central nervous system.
Having used most every band on the market, I have found the SuperFlex Movement Bands and SuperFlex Functional Training Bands to be the best tools for this circuit of drills. The length and variety of strength levels makes these bands the most versatile available for athletes for many key aspects of training.
Each of these drills are “anti” actions meaning that its more about preventing what the band resistance is leading you into than creating movement against the force.
Foot position is a part of each drill’s performance as is hand position with the band but do not allow either of those to become the primary focus. There will be a certain learning curve where most attention will be on the feet and hands but this must quickly progress to where focus is purely on stability in the core musculature.
1. Anti-Anterior Extension Drop-Step
Start position: Grab band with a neutral (palms facing) grip. Extend arms overhead facing away from anchor point (over shoulders). Shrug shoulders down and sustain.
Start with feet parallel on ground/box. With hands overhead, keep ribcage down while exposing abdominal region straight ahead. Very slight forward lean while going into slight posterior pelvic tilt.
Performance: Drop-step the left foot at approximate 45° angle while right foot remains forward but leaves ground/box, and quickly return to start position before going continuously into next repetition. Repeat for designated reps or time. Repeat on opposite side.
2. Anti-Lateral Flexion Side-Step
Start position: With band anchored towards the right (shoulder to head height), grab band with left hand first than place right hand on top of left. Extend hands overhead (just above head). Keeping ribcage down while exposing abdominal region straight ahead. Remain tall with slight posterior pelvic tilt. Feet parallel, just outside hip width.
Performance: Side-step the right foot towards right while left foot leaves ground/box, and quickly return to start position before going continuously into next repetition. Repeat for designated reps or time. Repeat on opposite side.
3. Anti-Rotation Side-Step
Start position: With band anchored towards the right (chest height), grab band with left hand first than place right hand on top of left. Extend hands out in front of chest. Keeping ribcage down while exposing abdominal region straight ahead. Remain tall with slight posterior pelvic tilt. Feet parallel, just outside hip width.
Performance: Side-step the right foot towards right while left foot leaves ground/box, and quickly return to start position before going continuously into next repetition. Keep arms extended straight out in front of chest as if extension of sternum. Repeat for designated reps or time. Repeat on opposite side.
Considering that in spite of its simplicity, these drills each have finite details to sharpen in order to derive the greatest benefit, I suggest starting with 10reps of each drill on each side in circuit fashion for 2-3 cycles. Rest 1 minute between cycles (or long enough for a partner or 2 to go through circuit). Perform this 2-3 times a week.
Though these drills are combined into a TriPlex circuit, you can certainly take a single drill and implement into a designed program. For instance, in a 3-day strength program, take one of the 3 drills on each day and perform for desired sets and reps as you would any other “core” exercise.
To progress (as technique is solidified), you can add a 4-6” box/step that simply takes the place of the ground in regards to the start position for feet.
Another progression is to go to a timed workload of 20seconds of work followed by 10seconds of rest/transition for all 6 sets. This equates to 3 minutes. Again, perform 2-3 cycles, 2-3 times a week.
I find that anything over 30 seconds tends to lead to fatigue in assisting areas (i.e. shoulders) rather than the targeted region. Thus, best to remain in 20-30sec range or 20-25reps).
This program can be implemented as an extension of a dynamic warm-up, as filler sets between strength exercises (especially when just one of these drills is used at a time), or paired with plyometric drills, Olympic lift variations, Medicine ball drills, or speed/agility work.
—Coach Vince McConnell
‘Your Performance is Worth It’