The role of our CORE!


Following on from the blog last week emphasising the importance of strength work in our triathlon training, here we are going to look specifically on why as athletes we should spend some time strengthening our core, and actually what that is!

The core acts as a stabiliser, recruiting the muscles that stabilise the Lumbo-Pelvic -Hip complex. If these are weak (and sitting in cars, slouched over computers certainly contribute to weak cores) we are unable to activate these stabilisers, which means other muscles will start to over compensate and before you know it, injury occurs. Therefore whilst I do not feel it is necessary to spend hours pumping iron in the gym, ( though take note older athletes, time spent in the gym can be well spent, ( ) I do believe time  retraining the body and brain to reactivate these muscles is invaluable, so as athletes you can perform your sport with a strong balanced mid section. This will only aid performance by improving overall power and speed,  help prevent further injury, improve agility balance and co-ordination. Also completing core exercises, or those designed to develop and fire your major muscle groups such as the glutes are better performed with free weights. Why? Well, you need to recruit your static and dynamic stabilizer muscles to maintain form and balance as apposed to sitting on or working with a “machine based exercise” It helps to develop your proprioception and means your whole body is involved in the movements.  Also focus on movements that are specific to your sporting movement. For example, Forward lunge into a dynamic hop, single legged squats, infact any form of squat that works your glutes, balance, and leg major muscle groups will only support your running and cycling. Introduce hops or steps for developing power, even better. Exercises that work the core and upper body as well will only help your swimming. The strength and conditioning class are very familiar with the plank complex with press ups! Further examples are Plank rows, kettle bell swings, (engaging the glutes, quads as well) Resistance bands are also great, you can do internal external pulls, bent over rows, all great for your swimming! It is not necessary to spend hours per day on this, 15-20 mins every other day is great. Think about incorporating a series of exercises post run or ride to do alongside a stretch? Add a few planks into your stretch routine. Its amasing how you can fit these in, even when time is short!

My last point is remember flexibility. An example in the sport of triathlon is the tendency to get rather tight around the shoulders, from swimming front crawl, sitting on the bike, then no doubt followed by sitting at a desk or in a car.  Ask many triathletes to perform a perfect push off in a streamlined position from the wall, you may find they are unable to get their arms straight above their head, let alone close to their ears! Therefore incorporate some specific stretching routines, and work on strengthening the weaker apposing muscles.  If  you know  your pelvis tilts forward when you stand, you probably have tight hip flexors and weak glutes, so focus on stretching the hip flexors, and plenty of glute work! If when you squat down, you cannot help but rise onto your toes, your soleus muscle (behind the ankle at the rear of your lower leg) is tight, limiting your full range of movement.  If your knees come closer together when you squat, it might be because you have tight adductor muscles or because they are overworking due to weak quads or glutes. Then think about what will happen if you are running long distance like this without stabilising the muscles? These are just a few examples, but what I hope it illustrates, is like everything there is a cause and effect. Many injuries will result from weaknesses, inflexibility, or perhaps over use. Having an awareness of your own body is really important, in terms of your strengths, but also your weaknesses, and think about what you can do to perhaps minimise these. If still unsure there are many ways you can test for postural alignment and specific muscle imbalances. If you are a member of a gym, the associated personal trainers will be able to take you through some simple tests, your coach, or if you see a physio or have regular sports massages, ask the professionals!

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