What emphasis do you put on core training and when and where does it fit in your program?
Core training is done at the beginning, middle and end of all of our strength workouts performed in the weight room. At the beginning of our workouts we may do chronic abs which are a series of on the floor sit –ups done either coach directed or at the athletes direction targeting all areas of the abs. We may also do hanging abs, where we hang from the racks and lift our legs, knees or feet up to our stomach, chest or hands in a variety of exercises. We may also do some swiss ball exercises, some mediball drills or some rubber band or tubing exercises for our core. I always assign some type of core training prior to the work out in order to awaken and stimulate the core in order to foster correct neural recruitment to protect the core as the heavier exercises are executed. Years ago it was recommended that no core work be done prior to heavy weight training in order to prevent core fatigue and possible injury. I have found over the years that some core work at the beginning actually seems to help foster better mechanics during the lifting workouts.
At the end of our workouts we assign more ab/core work and a lot of this is of the weighted or heavier variety. We repeat our pre workout chronic abs but add ankle weights and a plate or mediball in our hands for extra resistance. We do burnout sets with the mediball. We prescribe swiss ball exercises for stability and strength when the athlete is already fatigued. We do more rubber band or tubing ab drills. I also have found that if I break up the ab work I can get better compliance from my athletes, especially when it is not coach directed.
Many of the exercises our athletes perform call the core into play. When an athlete cleans, snatches, squats or does combination lifts, the core is being called upon in order to support and stabilize the load. Many of our circuit workouts with dumbbells have an extreme core component in the execution of the individual exercises. In essence, any time our athletes are standing and lifting loads that are in their hands or on their shoulders, their core is involved to some degree. The higher the load is over their shoulders and the lower the hips are in the movement, the greater the core is being called into play. Going from bilateral support to unilateral support increases core involvement. Decreasing the stability of the athlete or increasing the instability of the surface the athlete is on increases the demand on the core.
In summary, the more ways we can target the core, the better we get at just about everything we do.
Is warm-up that important?
Warm – up is a critical component of the training and conditioning process in my philosophy as a coach. Warm – up will set the tone, tempo and attitude of the individual, group or team for the entire workout. If the warm – up is slow, methodical, sloppy, half – hearted, mechanical, or non – existent, then the workout, practice or competition will reflect that type of warm – up. However, if the warm – up is up tempo, crisp and possesses variety, then the following session will begin will reflect those same attributes.
I try to accomplish several things during warm – up. I want to warm the athletes up. But, I also want to create suppleness throughout the body, turn the neuromuscular system on, properly prepare the athletes for the workout to follow and progress the warm – up to the point the athlete is ready to handle the stressors of the upcoming workout. I call this sequence warm – up, loosen – up, turn – on, build – up and workout.
Warm – up consists of a variety of exercises and drills I implement in order to create an athlete that is prepared for the workout. When I was coming up, warm – up used to consist of “run around the goalpost” or “3 times around the gym” or “give me a lap around the track” and that was it. Today, warm – up is utilized for pre – hab injury prevention exercises, neural innervation to “turn on” the proper musculature, agility, mobility, core strengthening, joint loosening, balance enhancement, spatial awareness training, as well as building up to the speed, power and strength in the ranges of motion needed in the workout itself. In other words, as Vern Gambetta queried many times,
“Where does warm – up end and the work out begin?”
The warm – up is crafted based upon several parameters. The type of workout that will follow the warm – up, the sequence of the previous workout, the warm – up menu for the training period, the demands of the sport and the needs of the athlete. If the workout is a horizontal speed session, then the warm – up is more like a “track” warm – up, with lots of sprint technique drills. If the workout is a lateral speed and agility session, the warm –up is designed to prepare the athlete for hip, knee, ankle flexion, rotation and extension at the proper speed and depth. If the work out is a strength, plyometric, conditioning or work capacity session, then the warm – up will again reflect those differences.
During warm – up I prescribe lots of pre – hab drills in order to foster injury prevention. Things such as neck for football, multi – planer balance single leg squats and single leg good mornings as well as rubber band walks for ACL protection. Slide board drills for groin development/protection, hamstring slow speed strengtheners on glute hams, physioballs and with partners to name a few. Loosen – up consists of dynamic movements to prepare the joints and the body for the full range of motion demands of the workout. I do not do a lot of “stretching” prior to a training session. Old timey stretching/flexibility is saved for post workout time.
Turn – on is a reference to incorporating the neural component of the neuromuscular system. Many of my athletes have been in bed sleeping or sitting in class just prior to the training session. Many of the muscles have been somewhat dormant and need to be awakened or “jazzed up” for the workout. The core needs to be addressed, the glutes need to be made to function and on some specific athletes, the abductors and adductors of the hip need remedial work. I assign specific drills and exercises in order to get these areas fired up and functioning as they were designed.
Build – up refers to the athlete continuing the warm – up to the point in which they are prepared to move at the speed needed for the session and in the manner required for the drills assigned. If the athlete is doing an agility workout, they need to be prepared to bend, rotate, extend and explode in and out of cuts. If the training session is a horizontal conditioning session, then the athlete needs to be prepared to run at the tempo required for the sprints assigned. If the athlete is going from warm – up to the platform, then they need to be ready to pull and rack quality weight with posture, power and technique.
My warm – ups are generally 10 – 20 minutes in length and consist of a variety of drills, modalities, techniques, planes, tempos and ranges of motion. It is imperative the athlete be prepared for the upcoming session. I look at it this way. If the upcoming training session were a competition, would I want my athletes prepared to start fast, with great focus, function and fundamentals? I think we all would respond with a resounding “Yes!”