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Torso training basics

By Michael Boyle

There are four basic functions of the torso muscles.

  1. Stabilization is the primary function of the muscles of the torso and should be addressed in the first two to three phases of all programs. Stabilization is developed in three positions:
    a. Standing
    b. Bridging (feet and shoulders on the floor, knees bent to 90 degrees)
    c. Quadruped (on all fours)
  2. Lateral flexion develops the quadratus lumborum as well as the obliques.
  3. Rotation is the key to most sport skills, particularly striking a ball with an implement or throwing an object. Rotation is addressed by a rotational progression with body weight and with the medicine ball.
  4. Flexion is an action that occurs rarely in sports.

Most programs generally require too much flexion and extension and not enough lateral flexion and stabilization work. Rotation with resistance is sometimes done, but rotation with velocity is frequently not addressed. The popularity of the stability ball has led to an increase in stabilization work, but it has not spread to enough programs. In some cases the stability ball has actually led to the use of exercises that are too advanced for the athletes. Stabilization work should be done initially on the floor to take advantage of the stable surface. This allows athletes to develop proper movement patterns. Remember that unstable surface training is a progression, not a place to start.

The best torso work is probably done in a sport-specific or, more appropriately, a sports-general position: standing. This makes medicine-ball throws and cable-column exercises probably the best overall torso exercises. Medicine-ball throws and standing cable-column exercises should be done at least as often as conventional abdominal work. (Conventional refers to exercises that are commonly considered abdominal or torso work, such as lateral flexion, stabilization, and flexion-extension exercises.)

Advantages of Medicine-Ball Training
The medicine ball allows the user to work in a sports-general position or pattern. These patterns are similar to the golf swing, tennis swing, baseball swing, and numerous other striking skills.

Medicine balls bridge the gap from conventional strength and endurance exercises for the torso to power development for the torso. Think of medicine-ball work as plyometrics for the torso. The medicine ball allows the muscles to contract at speed similar to that encountered in sports.

The medicine ball teaches summation of force, from the ground through the legs, through the torso, and finally out through the arms. This is the essence of torso function. The athlete learns to transfer force from the ground to the ball, with the torso as the vital link.

Medicine-ball training can be done alone if a concrete block wall is available.

Work with the medicine ball has a total-body conditioning effect.

Disadvantages of Medicine-Ball Training
You don’t feel it. Athletes often judge torso work by the “burn.” You do not feel the effect of medicine-ball training until the next day.

You need space. Medicine-ball training takes up a large amount of space and requires masonry walls to throw against.

Coaches need lots of medicine balls in a range of sizes.

Advantages of Cable-Column Training
Cable-column torso work is done in a standing position.

Cable-column torso work allows you to progress from stabilization exercises to dynamic resisted exercises.

Cable columns allow the use of progressive resistance in torso exercise.

Disadvantages of Cable-Column Training
The equipment is costly.

Exercises such as the chop and lift are not easy to teach or learn and require time and energy from coaches and athletes.

There is often psychological resistance to any new concept. The idea of doing ab work while standing with primary emphasis on isometric stabilization is a tough concept to sell to some athletes and coaches.

This is an excerpt from Functional Training for Sports.

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