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A Cyclical Program for Core Efficiency

This is an excerpt from Conditioning to the Core by Greg Brittenham and Daniel Taylor.


A stable, strong, and powerful core lasts a lifetime. Core efficiency is not a passing fad or something that needs to be trained only while actively involved in sport. Core efficiency is an essential part of a weekly routine that will enhance your daily quality of life for years to come. With this in mind, we have developed a core program that is functionally cyclical - and without a conclusion. After establishing a starting point through the assessment protocols in chapter 18, the workouts begin at a predetermined point, but as you move steadily through each phase, you will never reach an end point. In fact, given the space limitations, hundreds of possible core exercises have been intentionally omitted from this text. Not to worry: Even if you burn through all of the drills presented in the previous chapters, the concepts and guidelines described in these following pages will certainly apply to your program design regardless of the source of the exercises you choose to incorporate. Exercise selection, load, reps, sets, temporal considerations, intensity, duration, and frequency can all be manipulated in a progressively challenging system - forever.

 

A Cyclical Program

The concept of a cyclical program might seem strange and is perhaps unfamiliar or uncomfortable for some. The truth is, you will never really be able to fully exhaust your ability or variable options during each phase. As you move through the stability phase and become more efficient at controlling your body, you will see improvements both physically and posturally, and also from a performance perspective. After four to six weeks and a successful follow-up retest, you will begin the strength portion of the training regimen. Although some stability-based components appear in these exercises, they are designed primarily to improve the overall strength of the musculoskeletal system. As you progress through the four to six weeks of this strength-focused phase, you will recognize improvement in several areas. Next, you move on to the power phase, in which the focus is almost entirely based on developing, commanding, and using speed.

 

Upon completion of these initial three phases, you will then cycle back to a stability phase. Since the training focus over the past two to three months shifted in each of the successive phases, returning to stabilization will ensure continued maintenance of this critically important dynamic functional quality. As you start to organize your second round through all of the phases (beginning with stability-based training), it is important to add variety with regard to the above-mentioned variables (exercise selection, reps, sets, intensity, etc.). This will ensure progressive adaptation. An example might be shifting from straightforward, ground-based elbow plank activities, which you will have mastered during your first stability sequence, to progressively more challenging exercises such as a stability ball elbow plank or other unstable and asymmetrical stabilization choices. Remember, this same conceptual protocol will be applied through the strength and power phases as well. Pay close attention when selecting exercises. For example, if you were overly challenged with a simple ground-based elbow plank, it would not be prudent to select a highly challenging unstable drill for the second go-around. As you become more and more familiar with the exercises in the book you will become adept at choosing those drills with a similar intensity. Not only does the body adapt more readily to drill variety, but it will also avert boredom.

 

In each of the exercise chapters (6 through 17), there are logical progressions in addition to judicious regressions to aid you in this adaptive process. You can choose to follow the exercises as outlined in this book, or as your understanding of the program concepts and confidence with the methodology expands, you can select additional exercises, including some we have not presented in this book.

 

Understanding the Program Phases

View the phases that follow as a spectrum of progressiveness: proximal to distal, slow to fast, stable to unstable, load absent to load present. In other words, move from low classification to highly concentrated intensities. The program phases will be systematic and developmentally efficient. Variables that will be manipulated include exercise selection, body positioning, load considerations, planes of movement, intensity, frequency, and duration. Progression will be predicated on previous successes (primarily with exercise performance accuracy) and periodic testing. Finally, the phases follow a global functioning perspective with regard to the entire muscle contraction continuum (force reduction, isometric and force production). Regardless of the exercise selection, unloaded or loaded, stable or unstable, or any other variable you add, always retain proper fundamental mechanics.

 

The foundation is the least aesthetically appealing aspect of a house, but the structure above would not be functionally achievable without the substructure’s sturdiness. Likewise, because of the less than dynamic nature of the majority of the activities, stability training is sometimes viewed as the least exciting of the three program phases. Most athletes find it more stimulating and innately fulfilling to do exercises that require movement, increasing loads, or the slamming of a medicine ball onto the ground. This is why even fitness enthusiasts and seasoned professionals alike tend to neglect training for stability and opt instead for the more sexy movement-oriented drills. Many people, especially those just starting a core program, plunge directly into the strength phase of their training - directed by any combination of individual comfort level, irrational misinformation from ill-intentioned physiotherapists, or nefarious product promises that ultimately do not live up to their claims. As we have stated repeatedly, working strength before stability is reckless and often leads to developmental setbacks and heightened injury potential.

 

Interestingly, many individuals never advance to the power-training phase, choosing instead to work only strength. It is true that power training should not be taken lightly, and that the body must be well prepared before attempting it. But the hard work involved in the previous phases, stability and strength, will sufficiently lay the groundwork for progressing to power. Do not let the explosive nature of the power drills deter you. Instead, view them as a necessary and essential piece of the complete core puzzle. As we age, our power levels diminish, and as we move into our later years, the deficiency of explosive vigor can detrimentally affect our quality of life. Power is relative to the individual, and can have far-different motivations - compare three-time Olympic and world champion weightlifter Pyrros Dimas, who wants to dominate his competition, with an elderly person who, when necessary, wants to get out of the way of an oncoming bus. Although it should be respected and earned, power training can be fun, and it is essential for success in the athletic world.

 

So that you clearly understand their purposes within the program philosophy and why each component is synergistically essential to the successful outcome of the total design, we will now review all three phases - stability, strength, and power - with additional detail. The level of importance for each phase is moment specific. You have undoubtedly heard the adage, "Live in the moment." For our purposes, the importance of the moment is the demarcated progression of advancing from stability to strength and from strength to power, and then repeating the cycle as development dictates.

 

The most important phase is always the one you are presently in. Progressing through the program is dependent upon mastery of the exercises at the previous phase. If you maintain a singular focus on one specific phase, or for that matter, one specific exercise, to the exclusion of the others, the probable results will be inefficient movement patterns and methodological deficiencies. Thus the crucial aspect of the program is the collective completion of each phase in its entirety. Along the way, and as you cycle through the phases again and again, you will always freshly appreciate your improved athleticism on the court, on the field, or in the backyard.

 

Stability Phase

Stability is one of the most important yet sadly misunderstood elements necessary for both heightened athletic performance and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Most of us have heard the statistics from the massive quantities of research on the topic: 80 percent of us will suffer debilitating back pain at some point during our adult lives. Some 16 million adults - 8 percent of all adults - experience persistent or chronic back pain, and as a result are limited in certain everyday activities.

 

As we have emphasized though, the back is often the most neglected part of the core-training continuum. Stability training is an essential foundation for every other part of athletic success. It is inaccurately burdened with the identity of static positions sustained for extended periods of time, which, while indeed an element of stability, does not fully represent its dynamic functionality within a comprehensive athletic context. Prominent physical therapist Charlie Weingroff provides us with an insightful perspective of stability, defining it as "the ability of a joint system to maintain position in the presence of change." With this acumen strongly influencing our philosophy, the following program will both statically and actively challenge the deep stabilizers typically associated with osteoarticular equilibrium to maintain postural alignment and dynamic postural efficiency during functional movement patterns. If we can accomplish this challenging task and then link it to strength and power, we will have laid the groundwork for a championship contender.

 

Take a look at the corresponding stability guidelines. As with the other program phases, stability training covers a four- to six-week cycle. The core musculature generally tends to be slow-twitch, which dictates the suggested repetition range. In addition, some movements are classified as total-body or complex exercises. Thus there might be as many as six or seven movement variations within the same exercise. We will identify these exercises on a drill-by-drill basis with a suggested repetition range specific to that particular complex. To keep the training session progressing smoothly and to maintain athlete productivity and focus, the various core regions should be executed in a circuit procedure. This system of training is sometimes called supersetting , in which one drill moves directly into the next with no rest interval. The prescribed rest interval will follow each cycle. However, if you ever need to rest in order to ensure proper technique with subsequent exercises, then by all means, rest. Never sacrifice mechanics for any reason; if a brief rest is necessary to maintain accuracy, then rest is warranted.

 

Stability Phase Guidelines

 

Note: Drill selection can remain constant or can vary from session to session or even set to set.

 

Strength Phase

As we discussed in chapter 18, on completion of the stability phase, there will be a retest before the strength phase begins. Once you pass the testing you are now ready to move into the strength phase.

 

We can increase the level of difficulty of an exercise in many ways. Simply increasing the proprioceptive requirement by using a multisensory environment makes a relatively simple drill more complicated. Shifting the drill from stable to unstable, adding perturbation techniques, tossing a ball to the athlete while in a challenging posture, or any other type of multimodal manipulation is often more substantially valuable than increasing external load. Thus, in this phase, the progressive distinction of increasing intensity might range from discreetly manipulating the weight of the body or as demanding as moving against an external load such as a cable weight stack column.

 

Refer to the corresponding strength guidelines. The repetition range will be lower than in the stability phase, whereas the time for isometric-based (static) exercises will again be predicated on individual capability, as screened through the tests in chapter 18. When selecting appropriate load, use good critical judgment; additional weight should challenge the exercise but not impair overall form. In other words, never sacrifice technique or postural control for additional reps, sets, or supplemental load. As with the other two phases, the strength phase is performed in circuit fashion of three to four rotations with minimal breaks between each. Safety considerations regarding precise technique always apply.

 

Strength Phase Guidelines

 

Note: Drill selection can remain constant or can vary from session to session or even set to set.

 

Within the strength exercises, you will find a group labeled "total core." These complex exercises aggressively challenge each of the areas outlined throughout the text. Although all our exercises are globally focused, some will suggest an anatomical emphasis. These exercises will be apparent and are necessary for establishing a global foundation and, ultimately, performance efficiency. The total-core exercises are far more inclusive in nature. Outside of their physical impact, doing these exercises is useful for many reasons; for the more advanced athlete, they can be included in a typical circuit.

 

Because of its large blood supply in the region, the core repairs rapidly, lending to quick recovery. Thus when you have suitably prepared yourself through training in the stability phase and have passed the retests, advancing into the strength phases with a focus on higher volume training (from either sets, reps, or duration or a combination or all three) is warranted. Also, in some cases you can pair a total-core exercise with an anatomical region that might need emphasis. An example would be pairing the Turkish Get-Up (see chapter 14) with Prone YTA movement (chapter 12).

 

Many people are short on time. When necessary (while not ideal), you can use one or more total-core exercises for an entire core workout. If you do this, you will need to do multiple sets. Doing three or four sets of one total-core exercise is not enough to effect positive adaptive change. Upward of six sets would certainly be apt.

 

Power Phase

The power phase will begin after successfully testing to determine readiness. The important element in this phase is speed of movement, so the weight you select must reflect your ability to control the load quickly. Too heavy will equal too slow a movement and will provide minimal benefit. Of course the weight you select should never control you.

 

Refer to the corresponding power guidelines. Adhering to the previous guideline parameters, the rep range for the power phase is again lower than in the stability and strength phases. No exercises outlined in the power section involve static movement isometrics, so programming time will not be an issue. The entire power set moves in a circuit of three or four cycles, with 60-second breaks.

 

Power Phase Guidelines

 

Note: Drill selection can remain constant or can vary from session to session or even set to set.

 

Note that at this stage there are no prescribed scapulothoracic exercises. Explosively drawing back your shoulder blades in an isolated fashion is generally not a good idea, primarily because it puts many of the supporting structures of the shoulder girdle at risk. Additionally, during many of the power exercises, the scapulothoracic musculature plays a key role in an integrated fashion and thus requires no additional stress.


Read more from Conditioning to the Core by Greg Brittenham and Daniel Taylor.



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Conditioning to the Core
A complete guide to training the torso for elite athletic performance. Color-coded stability, strength, and power training exercises, programs, and assessments provide all the tools for achieving high-performance goals.
$21.95
Conditioning to the Core eBook
A complete guide to training the torso for elite athletic performance with exercises, programs, and assessments for achieving high-performance goals and full-color anatomical art and photos.
$21.95


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