Importance of Core Strength for Increasing Speed and Power

By Austin Womack – STAQ Performance Coach

I’m going to go ahead and assume that you understand core strength is important. Ever wonder why your coaches make you do abs every workout? Every wonder why you always see those infomercials on TV promoting the latest and greatest product: The Bulletproof Ab Shredder 9000?

Because core strength is important! You hear this all the time.

The purpose of this article is to discuss exactly why increased core strength is directly related to increased speed and power. Let’s start with what the core is. My personal definition of the core is the spine, pelvis, and the musculature that surround those two structures.

The big focus of this article is:

1. how to get into a neutral spine/pelvis, and
2. how to keep that position throughout different movement variables.

A neutral spine is one that is not too kyphotic or lordotic in nature. A neutral pelvis is one that is not too anteriorly, posteriorly, or laterally tilted.
Once you understand what a neutral position is it is time to test this position against resisting external forces. Always start simple and progress from there. One of the simplest core positioning exercises is the plank. The plank is an anti-extension exercise meaning our core musculature is acting to resist the spine from going into lumbar extension. Once you’ve perfected the ability to control your spine/pelvis during an isometric exercise like the plank it is time to increase the difficulty of the exercise. This can be accomplished with a variety of exercises. Shoulder taps is a simple plank progression that we use to add a rotary stability component to planks. This progression forces the core to resist both extension and rotation.

There are many, many exercises you can to do build core strength and stability in this fashion. This article is going to focus more on the WHY and not the HOW, so to see more exercises you can check out our YouTube page (link) or just search terms like “anti-extension core exercises” on YouTube.

Why is this important when we are trying to build strength and power?

First, we have to understand that power comes from violent and efficient extension of the ankle, knee, and hips joints. You may be familiar the phrase “triple extension.” That’s exactly what we’re talking about here. This phrase is used often when dealing with Olympic lifting variations such as the clean and snatch. Triple extension is also a critical component to powerful movements like the vertical jump, broad jump, and top end speed.

When we’re talking about core stability and power working in conjunction the hip joint is the area we want to focus on. Athletes and coaches both need to be able to differentiate between hip flexion/extension and lumbar flexion/extension. When we get large ranges of motion through hip flexion/extension WITHOUT losing the position of our spine we increase our ability to produce and absorb force.

The problem is when we perform an exercise like a vertical jump and crank the lumbar spine into extension. This does two things.

1. It decreases the stability of our core because our spine is out of a neutral alignment.
2. It limits our ability to produce force because we are not getting full hip extension.

We know that the glutes are the main driver of hip extension, and we know that the hip extensors can produce much more force than the lumbar extensors. Most athletes have strong, adequate glutes so we just need to make sure that they are using them!

One exercise we use to promote this concept is hanging wall drill. Because the arms are overhead our body will have a tendency to fall into extension patterns. We want to resist this. This will automatically force the athletes focus on stabilizing the core and maintaining proper position throughout.

We also want to emphasize hip extension over lumbar extension, just like we talked about above. One cue we use to help the athlete focus on this is “don’t let your belt buckle point to the ground.” This cue helps the athletes kinesthetically understand that we don’t want the pelvis to tilt anteriorly, thus dumping them into lumbar extension.

The key is to understand that this is concept is effected by the athletes’ natural positions. Some athletes may be more kyphotic or lordotic in posture and so your cues will need to be adjusted accordingly. Find out if your athletes are more auditory or visual learners and give them cues that will get them into the best position to produce and absorb force. Ensuring that your athletes are paying attention to details like this is what makes a long-term development model successful.

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