Training the Core to Functionally do More
By Doug Gray, FAFS
There is nothing new under the sun … certainly core training is one of those “nothings.” Core training has been a point of emphasis – a central focus – in the world of movement for quite some time. There is a reason for this: the core has everything to do with everything we do. Traditionally, the core has been known as the abdominals. This is true, but is only part of the whole. The body’s true core is everything from the nose to the toes (which explains why the middle – the abdominals – has been the main focus). If there is more to the core than the abdominals, then that raises the question: What is the best way to functionally train the true core?
We, as human beings, function (move) in all three planes of motion. As we move, there are three groups of twos that drive our motion – our two eyes, our two feet, and our two hands. Take walking down the sidewalk as an example. We see with our two eyes where we are going, allow our two feet to take us where we are going, and utilize our hands to facilitate momentum to get us where we are going. This everyday activity of walking creates biomechanical chain reactions throughout the body from the bottom up and from the top down, thus utilizing the body’s core in accomplishing the task at hand – get from Point A to Point B.
Function is task‐specific – the exercise needs to replicate the end game or the task at hand. Functional core training is no different. Functionally training the core should be done in a manner in which one is training for. If basketball players want a stronger core, they may not want to spend a significant amount of time training on the ground – let’s say in a supine position performing sit‐ups. Why? Because basketball is a game that is not played primarily lying on the ground; rather, it is a game that is played upright, demanding movement vertically, linearly / horizontally, and rotationally. A basketball player should be training the core in Transformational Zones (points of changing direction) that mimic the motions of the game.
The Core Conversion, which is part of the Gray Institute’s 3D Matrix Performance Series, is a workout that utilizes upright positioning, as well as prone positioning, in performing a specific sequencing of lifts (from shoulder to overhead and from hip to shoulder), lunges with lifts (from knee to shoulder and ground to overhead), squats, squat thrusts, and push‐ups. The different actions functionally feed the core, in all three planes of motion, efficiently and effectively – for any task at hand. It is a workout that can be tweaked up (made harder) or tweaked down (made easier) for different ages, abilities, and functional goals.
One component of the Core Conversion is utilizing hand drivers (with dumbbells as an external load) to elicit a chain reaction throughout the body that loads / strengthens a certain area of the core. For example, lifting a dumbbell anterior at overhead (forward and above the head) strengthens the “back core” because the dumbbell creates an eccentric load that lengthens the back muscles at this particular Transformational Zone and activates them to decelerate the motion concentrically in order to bring the dumbbell back towards the body. Taking this same action, but choosing to drive the dumbbell posterior at overhead (backward and above the head), strengthens the “front core” by activating the front muscles in a similar manner. While these are only two of the many actions that cause a front core or back core load, the Core Conversion peppers the body in multiple ways in order to strengthen the core in its entirety.
Other highlighted components of the Core Conversion are found in the squats and push‐ups. The old‐fashioned, and most commonly used, squat is performed with the feet side by side, shoulder‐width apart, and the toes pointing forward. Not only is this squat exploited in the Core Conversion, but twenty‐six other techniques are also used in adding variety and functionality for the feet / ankles, knees, and hips. The same patterns are also paralleled with push‐ups in order to better take care of and enhance the shoulders. The beauty of the position tweaks is the many different ways the body’s core is loaded.
As mentioned above, drivers elicit certain chain reactions throughout the body. There are other drivers that need to be kept in mind as the environment of training is created. The drivers given for “free” – gravity, ground reaction forces, mass, and momentum – are important in all types of training, especially core training. If we can position the body differently, if we can drive the body differently, if we can use gravity to compress the body differently … then we can functionally train the core to do more.
For a change to take place – for a conversion to happen – a catalyst must be stimulated. The Core Conversion is one combination of multiple techniques that are strategically sequenced for one’s core to functionally perform better, as well as contribute to the prevention of injury. This particular workout is a necessity to any program – either as a standalone or as a complement – that successfully blends strength training with flexibility training with cardiovascular endurance training to not only add success to the entirety of the body, but facilitate success of the individual and his / her goals. An athlete, which we all are, is simply one who takes advantage of the gifts and talents that he / she has been given and develops these. One way to develop our athleticism is to enhance our true core, and the Core Conversion assists in this taking place.