Core Strength for Athletes

By Kathleen Choate, ATC, CSCS, CEAS, Athletic Trainer

Summer is upon us and by now, most students have been out of school for a month. I can’t believe we are halfway through summer break and preseason starts in almost a month! I’m always impressed at the number of athletes that work on their conditioning and skills over the summer. I thought it would be helpful to throw an idea out there for athletes to work on over the summer break as part of their off-season conditioning.

Core strengthening came to mind, because it’s an area where I see most of my athletes are weak. It’s an important component for athletes to possess, because it helps with your posture, balance, and it’s where much of your power comes from with most athletic movements. When you throw a ball, you rely on your core strength to stabilize you. This helps the body with the counterbalance and produces a more forceful throw. Many injuries can be traced back to a weak core as the cause or part of the cause of injury. By conditioning the core, you can help to both prevent injuries and enhance your athletic performance.

What is the “core?” I imagine that most people will think of abs when they think of the core with the go to exercises being crunches and sit ups. I’m here to tell you that there is so much more to it than that. The muscles that make up the core are referred to as the lumbopelvic-hip complex. Speaking in more general terms, they are the muscles the make up your abdominals, back, and hips. More recently, the definition of the core has expanded to any muscles that attach to the axial skeleton. That means the muscles from your pelvis all the way up to your shoulder and neck area are considered a part of the core.

There are many great exercises to choose from to condition your core. The following are some examples to get you started. If you have a prior injury or pain doing these exercises, consult with a healthcare professional. If you have never performed them, especially the more advanced exercises, I recommend having a strength and conditioning professional guide you through until you develop good technique. A strength and conditioning professional would also be a great person to consult with if you would like an individualized program.

Beginners: If you’re ready to get started on core conditioning, I’d suggest starting with front planks and side planks, modified on your knees if needed. Make sure your body is flat like a board and you are breathing normally! Start by holding them for a short period of time like 10 seconds and work yourself up to a longer period of time as long as you are maintaining good technique and breathing. Air squats or unweighted squats, lunges, step ups, and wall sits are also great to incorporate at this stage.

Intermediate: Make sure you’ve mastered the beginner’s exercises with great technique before moving on to these. Here you will start adding weight and more movement. Try weighted squats or deadlifts, weighted step ups, weighted lunges (or hold the weight on only the left or right side), crunches or sit ups, and front or side planks with a leg lift.

Advanced: This is where the heavier weights and more complicated movements come in. Remember, if you haven’t done this before or don’t have the perfect technique yet, try consulting with a professional that can teach you proper form. For advanced exercises, consider incorporating the push press, snatch, Russian twists, and Roman chair exercises.