For the past few years athletes and coaches been inundated with references to “core development.”   Unfortunately what has become common terminology “core development” has not necessarily translated into common knowledge and more importantly common practice.  For the most part little has been conveyed to athletes and coaches on first what qualifies as the core and second how to specifically target  the muscles groups that make up the region commonly referred to as the core.  Although the major muscle groups are important in the functions of the abdominals and the back, there are other muscles that need to be trained to be sure the core is completely developed.  For athletes looking to prevent injuries and perform at a high level core development is essential.   A underdeveloped core can lead to a number of injuries that take an athlete off the field.  An athlete with an underdeveloped core might have problems with lower back pain or abdominal strains and/or groin strains.  Other injuries such as hip flexor strains, pelvic misalignment and compensation musculoskeletal injuries can often be a direct result of a underdeveloped core.    From a performance perspective a poorly developed core will impair an athletes proper gait mechanics, cause poor postural alignment and inhibit the transfer of force application necessary to reach maximum velocity running.   A poorly developed core also limits an athletes ability to decelerate or accelerate with minimal loss of speed and force.

Half the battle of developing the core is learning the specific muscles involved so you can correctly assess where you might be deficient.   The other half of the battle is developing exercises that will address these areas.  Training routines that once only targeted the upper and lower body have been replaced by integrated designed programs that now include many different methods to improve speed power and strength.   Although many structural lifts such as cleans and squats do integrate the core structure and aid to develop anterior and posterior development.  Still, even with the progression of  to more complex training, specific core training is still, for the most part, not a cornerstone of those programs.  Additionally, often core training is regimented to the conclusion of a training session which may not be the optimal time for an athlete to efficiently perform the specific movements of core training due physical and mental fatigue.  Consequently, it is suggested that core training be performed  at the beginning of the training session as opposed the the end of a session.  In fact some studies suggest that specific core stabilization and dynamic movements can be a neuromuscular stimulant and aid in more ballistic strength, speed and power movements.

The most common inference to the core is the abdominals and the lower back.  More specifically, the abdominal wall which consist of the rectus abdominus,  internal and external obliques, and the transverse abdominus, have been defined as the core and been the primary focus of core development routines.  These three muscle groups are responsible for a broad range of functional movementsflexion, extension, rotation, lateral bending, as well as compression of the trunk.  They also work in conjunction with one another to create movement of the trunk in the three planes (frontal, sagittal and transverse), but also serve to support and stabilize the spine during dynamic movements.  However, the scope of the definition of the core and the movements associated with it can not be limited to these three muscles.

The lumbo-pelvic-hip complex or LPH is a conglomeration of 29 different muscle groups attached to the core.  This complex musculature is responsible for stabilizing, transferring, reducing and producing force during closed kinetic chain movements (where the foot is making contact or “touching down” on a solid surface like the ground).  Additionally, the muscles of the LPH complex are responsible for maintaining balance, and serve as a base of support over the center of gravity during functional range of motion movements.   Open chain movements, (where the foot is not in contact with  a surface “recovery position”) involves less dynamic movement, consequently diminishing the activity of the LPH.

One of the muscles of the LPH, the multifidus, is responsible for stabilizing the spine and the pelvis directly prior to movement of the limbs. This muscle works in conjunction with the transverse abdominus to perform this preparatory action.  The muscles of the pelvic floor are also fully activated during this segment of movement.  The pelvic floor is also responsible for supporting the pelvic organs and abdominal contents, especially when standing and exerting force during movement.  However, the transverse abdominus and the multifidus are the only muscles active during all trunk motions.

The other two muscles in this region of vital importance to core development are the psoas and the iliacus.  These two muscles (lilopsoas) are commonly referred to as the hip flexors due to the common insertion they maintain at the femur.   The psoas also connects to the lumbar region of the spine and is responsible for flexion of the of the trunk, rotation of the femur, and flexion of the hip with the iliacus.  In terms of core development, these muscles are vitally important because of their significance in terms of their relationship to injury.  If the iliopsoas is progressively shortened, injury to the lower back can be acute or chronically occur.   Likewise, the psoas originates in the spine at the same location of the latissimus dorsi’, this can also pull on the levator scapula, causing shoulder issues.  Consequently, when developing a program that incorporates flexion movements, it is necessary to compliment the shortening activities with extension and lengthening techniques.

It is critical to emphasize the importance of comprehensive core development around the pelvic region, particularly for athletic activities that involve rapid acceleration of the lower limbs, as well as abduction and external rotation about the hips.   A condition know as osteitis pubis is consistently in sports such as hockey, soccer, hurdling, and football (especially kickers/defensive backs).  This condition is caused by abdominal shearing forces across the pubic symphysis.  The pubic symphysis is is a cartilage joint that connects the pubic bones with the pelvis.  The condition stems from and elongation and/or weakness of the abductors that can be coupled with poor flexibility of the pelvis and and sacroiliac joints.  The condition might manifest symptoms similar to a groin strain but generally emanates from the lower abdominals, and consequently cause discomfort in this region as well.  It is critical here to make sure the adductors and abductors of the hip are strengthened while also maintaining a certain degree of flexibility about the groin.

Many athletes experience lower back discomfort as a common ailment of training and competition.  This can be contributed to the vast amount of muscles that surround and intersect within in the region and can be easily overlooked in a core training program.   Subsequently, in combination with the pelvic stabilization and strengthening, activity of the gluteus medius, gluteus maximus and piriformis should be included to completely stimulate and stabilize the posterior aspects of the hips and pelvis.  If too much attention is spent on the anterior musculature (abdominals) then muscle imbalances can occur, which can lead to the previously mentioned  conditions and other strains throughout the core region as well.

In conclusion, it is important to recognize the core as a very broad scope of muscles that work in unison to create and stabilize movement.  Abdominal and lower back specific training are essential elements to consider when designing core development programs.  However it is vital to also consider the entire anterior and posterior musculature of the upper body through the hips in order to fully build a comprehensive core program.  By considering and understanding the the total scope of the core,  athletes can minimize the amount of time they spend in the trainers room and maximize their performance on the field.

For more information on developing a comprehensive core development program for your athletes contact me at

From the Flight Deck,

Coach Murdock

  1. […] might want to an article I wrote for our September InFlight newsletter back in December of 09’ Developing the Core.  For the purposes of this post I’d like to talk about the benefits of training the core on an […]

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