The typical “throw harder, jump higher, run faster” training programs utilized by coaches and athletes aren’t nearly enough to improve sport performance. Conditioning regimens should instead be focusing on a functionally trained core region. According to former New York Knicks conditioning coach Greg Brittenham, an athlete’s legs may appear to drive his or her movement, and the dexterity of the arms is obviously crucial, but in reality all force generated by upper- and lower-body musculature either originates, is stabilized by, or is transferred through the trunk and low torso and thereby demonstrates the vital role the trunk plays in athletics. Be it a football lineman’s block, a volleyball player’s spike, or a tennis player’s forehand return, all require a strong center of the body.
Author of Conditioning to the Core, Brittenham says that instead of looking to the outside for extrinsic activities that may help them throw a 90-mile-per-hour fastball in baseball, dunk over a defender in basketball, or score a bicycle-kick goal in soccer, athletes need to look to within—their core. “This has huge fitness and athletic ramifications, especially when you look at the core from a performance standpoint,” he says. “If we strengthen the core, or the transfer of energy, the efficiency of our actions and the next-level performance variables will most certainly increase while, simultaneously, the risk of injury will decrease.”
Brittenham stresses that the core should be trained in the same way it was originally developed, in a specific sequence with stability training preceding strength training and strength training leading power training. To illustrate, he compares this training to the first big event in a baby’s life—when he or she develops enough core control or stability to roll over. The developmental process of moving from the realm of primitive and postural reflexive actions into the phase of rudimentary movement patterns is of utmost importance. The baby’s further development will be inhibited if this transfer does not take place or is delayed, something Brittenham sees as a similar problem regarding the successful implementation of an exercise regimen.
“Now that the baby can roll over, she is now in a position to draw the limbs under her mass. As the muscles become more potent, the crawl is soon to follow. This is a display of strength,” Brittenham explains. “For a crawl to be effective and synchronized, the core must be strong enough not only to stabilize the pelvis and spine but also to pass the aforementioned forces to the limbs to create movement.”
Finally comes the baby’s epic first wobbly steps. Brittenham acknowledges that while these steps may not be as impressive as a fully fledged run, the ability to control the core in a vertical fashion while lifting limbs and balancing is the beginning of true core power. As a healthy child matures, development moves gradually away from gross motor patterns associated with the center of mass, out to the smaller muscles of the extremities, which are responsible for the fine motor skills.
“Whether you perform a fine motor skill, such as throwing darts, or a gross motor pattern, such as blocking a blitzing defensive back, you must have a strong core to ensure safe, efficient, and effective function,” says Brittenham. It’s this better transfer of power throughout the various links in the body that will eventually help an athlete to add a few extra miles to the fastball or to evolve from a perennial rim toucher to a full-blown slam dunker.
In Conditioning to the Core, Brittenham and co-author Daniel Taylor offer a functional approach to core training for athletes seeking a competitive edge. The book is highlighted by color-coded stability, strength, and power training exercises, drills, and programs to help readers readily use the information to meet their respective goals. Conditioning to the Core includes the most effective assessment tools and proven training programs, complete with sport-specific examples, tips, and applications.