As a strength and conditioning coach who dabbles in the corporate gym arena half the day and a simple sweat box the other half, I constantly hear the word ‘core’ thrown around a lot (yes in the corporate gym). When I see this ‘core’ training taught to clients/athletes, it mostly consists of very sedentary exercises such as sit-up variations, planks, and BOSU lunges/squats.
The issue we run into when this is the basis of all core training is that the coach/trainer who is putting the client through this is only experiencing the tip of the iceberg in terms of core strength and stability. What I mean by that, is that there are multiple movement patterns being left out the program design, that over time will not challenge the client/athlete and eventually lead to a key component in the kinetic chain that is underutilized and could result in injury or lack of reaching full potential.
To go into greater depth lets break this down into some simple science. We, as humans move in 3 planes of motion. The first is the Sagital Plane, which will incorporate a lot of your strength building exercises such as squatting, deadlifting and benching. Frontal Plane is the next movement pattern. A few common exercises associated with the Frontal Plane would be side lunges and dumbbell lateral raises. The last and most neglected plane of motion is the Transverse Plane. These movements involve rotation, much like an athlete would do naturally to compete in anything from the swing of a gold club or baseball bat, the ability for a shortstop to bend over for a ground ball and make a quick release to first base, a basketball player receiving a pass in the post and pivoting around the defender for a layup or dunk.
Common Transverse Plane exercises often consist of Russian twists, cable chops or full contact twists. All good exercises, but how do they compare when we put our body in not only Transverse Planes but also the Sagital or Frontal Planes at the same time. Now, hopefully I got your brain turning and thinking of what the hell I am talking about. Let us take a look and breakdown cable chops. Either way you do them; down, across or up, there is only an emphasis on the acceleration aspect of the motion and very little concentration on the deceleration of the cable chop. Again good exercise, but how can we maximize this motion and make it better? How can we manipulate the load other than weight itself to make this more taxing not only on the stabilization of major movers and stabilizers but also giving it a greater neural response? How can we work flexibility while improving strength and stabilization at previously unexplored ranges of motion (ROM)?
All of those questions must be asked regularly if we want to get the most out of our clients, athletes or ourselves. Going back to the cable chop, what if we were able to change the load dynamically using an Ultimate Sandbag (USB)? Using a sandbag changes everything we know about the chop. We are going to have to not only accelerate the bag, but also absorb the shock coming back by pivoting and loading the hip through the hamstrings and glutes, and then pivoting the other way and re-accelerating the bag once again repeatedly. By implementing the USB, we have eliminated the cable which requires more stabilization by the lower body, upper body and CORE. Without a doubt this will cause a greater neural response from these new variables, resulting in a stronger and more functional body through multiple ROM. This is just one example of how we can use different tools to achieve better results and avoiding plateaus (See videos below on some of my favorite core exercises implementing multiple planes of movement).
Before some of you reading this get your panties in a bunch about what I am saying, let me be the first to say I too use a lot of exercises in my own training in the Sagital and Frontal Planes. However, I think it needs to be addressed to everyone, how much we are not implementing very important movement patterns in our program design and missing out on unlocking our full potential, not matter if our goals are quality of life or training for strength sports. Since working in exercises in the Transverse Plane I have seen great improvement in not only strength, but also my flexibility in my hips and shoulders, as well as a very noticeable difference in posture and thoracic muscle strength which has improved my posture. I have also went from needing chiropractic care 2 times a week to once a month because of strengthening all core muscles such as my back and hips, not just abdominals.
While sit-up variations, planks other popular ‘core’ exercises are good, it is our job as coaches and trainers to educate our athletes, clientele as well as ourselves on new and fun ways to progress to our fullest potential. Below I will go over a few of the tools I use for my athletes and clients that will hopefully open doors to new and exciting program design.