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Train the core for peak performance

By David Oliver, Dana Healy

The off-season and preseason phases of a training program are the most valuable times to prepare the body’s overall strength and fitness for the more specific training that will come as the season progresses. During these two periods of training, core training should focus on high-volume drills that include a combination of stability, balance, strength, and endurance. As training progresses toward the in-season, core training should increase in intensity and become more sport-specific. Once the competitive season begins, it’s time to pare down core training and focus on maintaining the strength gained.

Core training should be incorporated into your program so that you reap the benefits while still meeting your other training goals for the day. You can do this by integrating core training into a warm-up or cool-down, or into the body of your program. As a warm-up, the core exercises should be less intense and geared toward the total body. This helps increase body temperature and prepares the body for more intense work. Performing the core work at the end of a program prevents fatigue setting in before an intense workout that requires the core to be fresh. For example, on a day your workout requires heavy squatting, remember that the midsection is an integral part of the supporting muscle groups for those exercises. If you do too many core exercises before the squatting workout, the trunk area may become fatigued and negatively affect the squatting workout.

Core work can also be placed within a workout, executed between strength exercises as a superset or circuit-type program. This keeps the heart rate up during the training session, but allows you to work alternate muscle groups. An especially intense or specific core workout can be enough of a day’s workout by itself in some cases.

Where you place the core work within your session may also depend on what part of the training year you are in. You will want to focus more on general core work in the off-season and on core work specific to your sport during the in-season.

The core work we recommend is not limited to isolated abdominal and low back exercises. Some of the best core work includes the contraction and stabilization of several joints and muscle groups, which make the workout more sport-specific. Thus, when designing strength programs and choosing exercises, it is important to examine how several muscle groups and joints work together to create a specific movement.

This is an excerpt from Athletic Strength for Women.

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