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Creating Strength from the Inside Out., Focus on Pillar 1 of Performance Training

by: Jeff Higuera CSCS, CPT, HFI

If you have done any research, read any conditioning books, or articles on the subject of strength training, you have been sure to read about "core training." Core training has been a buzzword over the past 5 years. The wide range of core training literature and trainers and coaches preaching this concept confuses many athletes on what core training is and how to perform it. The purpose of this article is to guide you with an easy understanding of what "core training" is and why it is important for developing your athletic strength as a basketball player.

This article is called, "Creating Strength from the Inside Out," because that is virtually what training the core is all about. The core is the anatomy (joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, etc.) of the lumbar spine, (lower 5 spinal vertebrae), the pelvis, and the hips. This slew of anatomy consists of 29 different muscles that are critical to movement of the body as well as stabilization of the spine (Clark, 2000). Below are 4 reasons you should include a correct core strength program into your training.

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  1. Core training helps develop dynamic balance, or control of your posture while you are moving (be a better moving basketball player):
    Basketball requires stop and go movements, jumping and landing, and giving and receiving force (setting or getting picked). All of these require dynamic balance and stabilization of the body. Core training will help control your center of gravity, increasing your ability to change direction in the most efficient way possible. Why do some athletes look almost "slow" when they move, yet they are faster than everybody? The answer lies in the ability to control their center of gravity while they are in motion. The center of gravity is located in a speculative balance point around what is called your center of mass. When standing in a static position (standing straight up), the center of mass lies around 55-60% of your height. What part of the body does this 55-60% encompass? Right, it lies in the core area. In order to move, your center of gravity must be shifted outside of your balance threshold (where your body can no longer balance itself) (Foran, 2001). You must regain your balance, and shift it again to change a different direction. The ability to control your core musculature in all planes of movement efficiently is called dynamic balance. This is critical for the sleekness of movement for basketball player. Develop control and stabilization of your core through core training will help you become a more efficient mover all around.
  2. Core training increases your ability to produce force (be a stronger basketball player):
    Think about your core as being the bridge between your upper and lower body. You can't efficiently transfer created forces from your legs to your upper body if the energy dissipates in the middle because of a weak core. By developing significant core strength, you will be able to stabilize the joints of the core giving your body a rigid lever to transfer forces. This intern will amplify your ability to produce force (make you stronger). In contrast, lack of core strength will make you weaker due to lack of force transfer through the core and throughout your body. You will be stronger, quicker, faster, and jump much higher if you have strong and stable core musculature.
  3. Core training helps stabilize the lower spine, pelvis, and hips: Injuries, especially low back injuries, often occur in athletes such as basketball players who lack core strength. Take for example Larry Johnson who quite possibly was forced to retire early because of his back. From the outside looking in you would look at Larry Johnson's physique and think that his large muscular frame should protect his back. But if I had to put money on it, I bet he didn't train from the inside out. Tracy McGrady is another athlete who constantly struggles with back pain. For a long period of time he didn't train from the inside out. This has kept him on the bench in critical times during the season, and limited his effectiveness as a player even when he toughed it out. And guess what, I myself herniated two discs in my lower back when I was 24 years old. I was o so strong, played basketball everyday, but didn't work from the inside out. During my injury I could barely walk for 6 months. I wish I would have read this article when I was in high school. Proper core training helps stabilize those very important vertebrae and disks, and joints, so that when you make all those explosive jumping and change of direction movements, your core (lumbar spine, pelvis, and hips) are protected.
  4. Core training gives you an advantage: If you can jump higher, run faster, change directions, react more efficiently, and decrease your chance of injury, you're at a distinct advantage. Most people (including myself in my younger days) lift up their shirt and say, "Why do I need to work my abs, I got a six pack." That six pack is the biggest deceiver of core strength that I know. And let me give you one more reason, the core is much more than those ripped abs that you like to stare at in the mirror. You must also strengthen the transverse abdominus, internal obliques, multifidi, lumbar transverospinalis, external obliques, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, hip adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, and the gluteus maximus (Clark, 2000). A strong core consists of not only many other muscles that you can't flex in the mirror or to your girlfriend but also ones you can't even pronounce. Remember that the core is the bridge between your upper and lower body. The more stable the core area is, the better dynamic balance and mover you will be, the greater your overall strength will be, and the chance of injuries for you will decrease greatly. Now, I'm going to give you a simple way to get started and strengthen all of them.

Exercises for Establishing a Strong Core

These exercises are to help you to begin establishing a strong and efficient core. Perform these exercises 2-3 times per week.
  1. Drawing in maneuver: To learn drawing in maneuver to increase stabilization mechanism of lower back, pelvis and hip
    Execution: Lye on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Draw in your belly button towards your spine and hold for 10-20 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.
  2. Core Stabilizers: To train core stabilization as well as stabilization in the entire body
    Execution: Begin lying on the ground, face down. Stabilize your body on your forearms and your toes. Draw the belly button into the spine. Keep your body and back completely flat. Hold for 10-20 seconds
  3. Lateral Core Stabilizers: To train core stabilization as well as stabilization in the entire body
    Execution: Begin lying on your side. Raise your body up stabilizing yourself with your forearm and the outside of your foot. Raise your other arm straight up in the air and keep your other foot directly on top of the foot that is supporting your body. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Repeat for other side.
  4. Dead Bug: To train stabilization of the lumbar spine, pelvis, and hip
    Execution: Lying on your back bring both legs up (soles of feet facing ceiling) and both arms up (fingertips facing the ceiling). Perform the drawing in maneuver to stabilize the core. Very slowly drop one arm and drop the opposite leg simultaneously (right arm and left leg). Drop your arm and leg only as far as you can maintaining the drawing in maneuver. Once the integrity of the drawing in maneuver has diminished (back comes off the floor), return to the starting position. Repeat by performing the opposite arm and leg.
  5. Lying Low Back Progression: To strengthen lower back and posterior hip muscles, as well as stabilization muscles of the core
    Execution: Lye on your stomach with your arms at your side with palms facing upwards. Extend your back keeping your feet on the ground and squeezing the butt muscles (glutes). Hold at the top of the execution for 3 seconds and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for 10-15 reps. You can progress adding additional resistance by putting arms behind the head, and then the next progression putting both arms extended overhead.
  6. Crunches: To strengthen the anterior (front) core muscles and stabilization of the core
    Execution: Lye on your back with your knees bent placing your hands behind your head. Fix your eyes on something on the ceiling. Perform the drawing maneuver and crunch up bring your shoulders off the ground. Do not pull your neck with your arms. Hold the crunch at the top of the contraction for 3 seconds and slowly return (4 count) to the start. Repeat for 10-20 reps.
  7. Oblique Crunches: To strengthen the anterior (front) and lateral core muscles and stabilization of the core
    Execution: Lye on your back with your knees bent placing your hands behind your head. Fix your eyes on something on the ceiling. Perform the drawing maneuver and crunch to one side brining opposite elbow towards the opposite thigh. Hold the crunch at the top of the contraction for 3 seconds and slowly return (4 count) to the start. Repeat for 10-20 reps.
  8. Wood Chops: To strengthen the entire kinetic chain (body) and stabilization mechanisms dynamically (moving) of the core
    Execution: Begin with a medicine ball overhead, feet shoulder width apart and with the belly drawn into the spine. With control, chop the medicine ball down performing a squatting action. Maintain stabilization of the core, keep the back flat and the feet flat on the ground. Return to the starting position and repeat for 6-10 reps.
  9. Diagonal Wood Chops: To strengthen the entire kinetic chain (body) and stabilization mechanisms in the transverse plane (rotational plane) dynamically (moving) of the core
    Execution: With a medicine ball begin with the ball over the right shoulder, feet shoulder width apart and with the belly drawn into the spine. With control, chop the medicine ball across the body going into a rotational lunge to the left side. Maintain stabilization of the core and keep the back flat. Return to the starting position reversing in the same manner so the ball is over the right shoulder and repeat for 6-10 reps. Perform beginning on other side as well.
  10. Band Twists: To strengthen core musculature, hips and stabilization mechanism of the core in a rotational plane
    Execution: The band must be attached to something in front of you. Begin with feet shoulder width apart, arms straight out in front holding the band with both hands, with perfect posture and drawing belly into the spine. With arms straight, rotate the band one direction following with hip rotation (rotate hip and foot up to toe). At end of rotation hold for 2-3 seconds. Rotate back to the starting point and progress in the same manner to the other side. Repeat for 10-20 reps.
  11. Band or Rope Resist the twist: To train stabilization strength and stability in the rotational plane of the core muscles
    Execution: Have a partner hold one side of the band while they stand on the side of you (your partner should be facing your side). Begin with your feet shoulder width apart, arms straight out in front of you holding the band with both hands, with perfect posture and drawing belly into the spine. In this position the partner should yank and pull on the band while you hold the band with straight arms right in front of you attempting to stabilize your whole body. Perform for 15-20 yanks and switch to the other side.

Conclusion

This article has given you the basics of what it takes to start developing core strength to improve your performance as a basketball player. Remember that these exercises are NOT an exercise prescription and that you should consult with a physician before attempting any exercise program. Every athlete is different and every athlete must take his own individual approach when developing their athletic ability. You can have an individual core, strength, speed, or power program designed directly for you by me using my virtual training program at www.fitnessgenerator.com/jeffhiguera.
References:
  1. Clark, M.A.; (2000), Integrated Training for the New Millennium, Thousand Oaks, CA: National Academy of Sports Medicine.
  2. Foran, B., (2001), High Performance Sports Conditioning, Champaign, IL, Human.

Jeff Higuera is the Sports Performance Team Leader for RDV Sportsplex in Orlando, FL. You can contact him via email at the following address: jhiguera@rdvsportsplex.com

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