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Moving from Simple to Complex Core Exercises

This is an excerpt from Developing the Core by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and edited by Jeffrey Willardson.

Keep It Simple

Start by training the four basic trunk movement patterns with dynamic or static exercises. Beginners would do well to include exercises that train single-plane basic movement patterns. Single-plane exercises are usually easy to coach and easy for the exerciser to learn and master. Exercises such as the crunch (trunk flexion), back extension/hyperextension (trunk extension), Russian twist (trunk rotation), and side bend (lateral flexion) adequately train the core musculature. Please see table 5.1 for other single-plane exercises that could be included in a training program.



Incorporate Dynamic and Static Core Exercises

Static and dynamic conditioning of the core musculature is important in activities of daily living (ADLs) and in sport. Static strength of the core musculature is necessary to stabilize and hold a particular body position for the purpose of pushing or pulling with the upper extremities. For example, keeping the torso taught is necessary to safely and efficiently place a heavy box on an overhead shelf or defend a position when playing basketball.


Examples of activities requiring dynamic conditioning of the core musculature include shoveling snow and pitching a baseball. Complete conditioning of the core musculature should include performing isometric and dynamic exercises through multiple planes. Well-conditioned core muscles increase proficiency in performing multijoint movements such as squatting and lunging and may decrease the chance of injury.


In cases where dynamic exercises are contraindicated because of pain or injury, static core exercises may be used, provided they do not cause any pain or discomfort to the exerciser. For example, a person who experiences low back pain during a dynamic trunk lateral flexion exercise such as side bends can train the same musculature isometrically.


Performing a static exercise such as a side bridge trains the muscles involved in lateral flexion without dynamic movement and may allow the exerciser to do so without any pain.


Table 5.2 includes sample static exercises to strengthen the core muscles responsible for stabilization against, or movement through, the four basic movement patterns.



Move From Simple to Complex

Exercises should progress from simple to complex as the body adapts to the training stimulus. In theory, the idea is to become strong and proficient in performing the basic trunk movement patterns and then progress to more complex movements that require more skill. When proficiency in performing single-plane movements is achieved, multiplane movements can be incorporated into the training program.


The basic core movement patterns of trunk extension and trunk rotation can be trained independently by performing hyperextensions and the medicine ball twisting wall toss. These single-plane movements should be mastered before progressing to multiplane exercises such as the woodchop complex, which incorporates both trunk extension and rotation simultaneously.


Advanced programming might include a combination of trunk movement patterns with additional multijoint movements.

Read more from Developing the Core by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and edited by Jeffrey Willardson.

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