Article by: Doug Balzarini
I love telling my client or athlete that we are going to hit the “core” hard and then walk them over to the pull-up bar for pulls or the trap bar for sets of deadlifts. I cringe every time I hear someone say that it’s time to blast the core and lay on the floor and begin crunching away for 50 reps. The definition of one’s core has gotten lost in translation over the years and we need to better understand what it really is.
I like to refer to the core as – any muscles and structures that support and stabilize the pelvis, spine, and shoulders. I’d have to refer back to my old A&P text books to confirm it but I’m fairly certain this involves more than just our rectus abdominis. Because of this definition; exercises such as squats, deadlifts, tire flips, pushups and pull-ups are all considered excellent “core” movements in my book. Lying down and pulling on the back of your head to facilitate cervical and thoracic flexion is not my idea of healthy “core” work.
Most of the everyday Joe’s and Jane’s of the world are in a seated position 8+ hours a day. Their hip flexors, pecs, and anterior shoulder muscles are tight, and their gluteals are inactive. Their scapulae are stuck in protraction so why would we have them come in to our facility and sit them or lay them down?! We are providing our clients a disservice and, in the long run, doing them more harm than good. I like to refer back to one of my favorite exercise-related questions, “Why?” Why are we performing a particular exercise? You should be able to defend or explain every exercise you do with every client or athlete you train.
I like to refer to the core as the “transfer station” for the body. I’m sure I heard that term from someone smarter than I am and I apologize for not giving them credit. It is a term that makes a lot of sense to me. Our movements come from the ground up so when we are curling, pushing, or pressing something with our upper body, we generate our strength from the bottom and transfer it up to the moving parts. One great example of this is throwing a punch. We begin to generate that power from the ground all the way up to our fist. There are loads of studies out there to support this; two examples include: 1) Dyson, Smith, Martin, Fenn. (2007). Muscular Recruitment During Punches Delivered At Maximal Force & Speed. XXV ISBS Symposium 2007, Brazil, 591-594. 2) Valentino, B., Esposito, L.C., Fabrozzo, A. (1990). Electromyographic activity of a muscular group in movements specific to boxing. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 30, 160-2.
To Move Or Not To Move
While we train most muscles to move and accelerate, we should train our core musculature to decelerate, control, and transfer movements. They work to prevent motion and provide the solid foundation needed for safe, effective movement.
Midsection Moves For MMA
Your core/trunk/torso (call it what you want) is especially important for the sport of MMA. Having mobile hips and a strong, stable, and efficient core will lead to better footwork, stronger takedowns and takedown defense, and increased power in all of your striking. Now, I’ve made it no secret that I’m not an advocate of crunching movements; especially with the everyday population. That being said, MMA athletes are a different breed. If we are being sport-specific and training them functionally for their craft, then one could make a case that we should be performing various crunching movements. It’s a great conversation piece for us “exercise nerds” out there and one that I’m still on the fence with. I do have a few of crunch variations that I do with my combat athletes from time to time; however, for this particular article; I am choosing to keep it a “crunch-free” zone.
My Current Top 8
I say “current” because I’m always trying new movements and changing the list up.
Please give these a try and let me know what you think. I encourage feedback and would love to try any crunch free abdominal exercises that you have had success with.
Doug currently works at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE). A Massachusetts native, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State College. Since moving to San Diego he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, obtained an ACE Personal Trainer certification, the NSCA-CSCS certification, a TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, FMS training, Spinning certification, and received his CPR/AED instructor status. He has also appeared in 8 fitness videos, written numerous fitness articles, completed a MMA Conditioning Coach certification program and has competed in multiple grappling tournaments.
Prior to working at Fitness Quest 10, Doug worked for the American Council on Exercise as the Continuing Education Coordinator where he was responsible for managing over 400 continuing education providers.
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