The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Is Not Engaging the Core Hindering Your Performance?

Posted in
Fit Tips

Thursday, Sep 01, 2016

Many individuals who perform resistance training exercises unfortunately are not performing them in a biomechanically sound manner. As a result, they are often not challenging the muscle appropriately and / or are increasing the risk for injury. A strength coach I worked with would say in jest when observing this, “Well, they are working something.” But what good is “working something” if that is not what is intended or if it can potentially lead to harm. While there are many basic principles that are often violated, one common violation is not engaging the core properly prior to beginning movement. While the core is often trained for movements that produce spine flexion like a sit-up or for their aesthetics, a critical function of the core is to provide spinal stabilization. One of the primary muscles responsible for this is the transverse abdominus. Additionally, the transverse abdominus along with other muscles of the core, provides a force that it used by the various muscular subsystems of the body when they are creating movement; or put another way, the core provides a critical force that assists many of the body’s movements; or still yet, movement begins with the core. The more effective the core is at stabilizing the spine, the more efficient the movement, the greater the force that can be generated by the other muscles, the greater the performance, and the safer the exercise. Why wouldn’t you want to engage the core first?

Activating the core isn’t necessarily a simple task, especially after routine neglect. Often thought of as a low back exercise, the Quadraplex is a great exercise to work on spine stabilization through core activation as shown in this video. The main goal is to maintain the optimal position of the spine and pelvis during basic movement. Once mastered at this level, more complex movements can begin. While the limbs are moving during this exercise and will have a training effect, the main focus is the challenge to stabilize the spine versus the limb movement.

Preparation: Start in a four-point position on the hands and knees with the knees directly below the hips and the hands directly below the shoulders. Slowly inhale and allow the abdomen to distend while maintaining the position of the spine.

Movement: Slowly begin to exhale drawing the belly button in while raising the leg, no higher than parallel to the floor, and maintaining the position of the spine and pelvis. Hold the top position while continuing to contract the transverse abdominus. Slowly inhale, and lower the leg, again while maintaining the position of the spine and pelvis. Repeat.
This can be performed in the same manner raising the arm to parallel vs. the leg.

Amplification: Perform the exercise as described above but during the movement, raise the arm and opposite leg at the same time.

Modification: Eliminate the limb movement. Start in the same position as above. Slowly inhale allowing the abdomen to distend without moving the spine or pelvis. Exhale and contract the transverse abdominus by pulling the belly button up toward the spine, focusing on maintaining the position of the spine and pelvis. Continue to exhale all remaining air while maintaining the contraction of the transverse abdominus and position of the spine and pelvis.

If spine stabilization cannot be maintained through this exercise, it is likely that it isn’t being maintained in other exercises and modifying or even pausing those exercises should be considered until mastery at this level is achieved.

To learn more about the proper biomechanics for resistance training join us for Biomechanics of Resistance Training. And remember, you need not be a health and fitness professional to take part in our courses; everyone is welcome!