In sports, if an athlete ends up on their back, its never a good thing, so why do so many athletes train their core that way? There is a misconception among most youth, high school, and even collegiate athletes that training the abdominals is the same as training the core. The intent is there, but the practical application is not.
So what are the functional applications of core training?
Stability - The most important function of an athletes core is to stabilize. Without core stability, the vertebrae in our spine are unlikely to be correctly aligned. In sport, great core stability is needed in sprinting to stabilize the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex as the arms and legs produce large amounts of force at high speeds. Without this stabilization, athletes cannot put maximum force into the ground and will not be efficient in their movements. This includes static holds, anti-extention and anti-rotation exercises.
Reactivity - Core training also needs to be reactive and dynamic to match the demands of the playing field. In sports involving rotational power such as baseball, lacrosse, softball, tennis, etc. athletes must not only be stable and powerful, but be able to transmit large forces through their ground to their upper extremities in less than a second. To do this, the core must have the ability to transmit this force efficiently and rapidly. In football, or basketball, being bumped or hit while trying to maintain position are re-direct requires great core control and reactivity.
Deceleration - In any sport, an athlete may be required to slow their body down and either absorb, or re-direct force. Think of a defensive back or wide receiver coming out of their break, a basketball player landing after jumping, or a soccer player planting their leg to cross the ball across the box. Its common for general abdominal training to be mainly concentric muscle actions that produce force by shortening the abdominals (think crunches) and not so much the eccentric phase. To train this phase, athletes should use movements that force the core to resist the movement of the joints around it.
Example of exercise: 79. Lumberjacks
Strength - There is a reason why an individual can leg press significantly more weight than they can barbell back squat. The reason is the stability of the spine cannot support the same load in a squat as it can angled back on a leg press machine. A stronger core will allow athletes to generate more force through the ground and allow them to do it while keeping good posture. Athletes should always choose to do more functional type training where their bodies can produce force through the ground, just as in sport.
Power - Power = Force x Velocity over a given distance. According to this equation to produce large amounts of power an athlete not only needs to be able to move weight, but must move it fast. In order to develop a powerful core, athletes should not practice slow movements that try to isolate the abdominals, such as an ab crunch machine. Although an athlete can increase the concentric strength of the abdominals this way, its also a great way to damage the vertebrae of the spine. Train fast to be fast, train powerful to be powerful. Slow controlled movements have their place in a strength and conditioning program, but should be used to progress athletes at beginning stages, not get them ready for game day.
Example of exercise: 103. Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch
Scrivener, R. Redefining Your Core. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal 10(1) 14-15, 2012.