Power Training for the Core
By Tom Seabourne, PhD Karate masters have known for centuries how to harness core power, the next logical step to putting some punch into your client's fitness program.
ow many possible ways can a personal trainer serve up abdominal exercises before a client loses interest? Core programs once focused primarily on sit-ups and crunches, but creative adaptations today have provided more choices to complement such traditional on-the-floor training methods. Trainers are getting clients onto their feet to work the core! For its efficacy, simplicity, and entertainment and motivational value, power training--a cultivation of explosive reaction through martial arts-inspired exercises--may be the missing ingredient you need to craft a well-rounded and more interesting core training plan for your clientele.
The Rate of Force Production While we don't always contemplate the importance of core power while hoisting a trash can, carrying groceries or mowing a lawn, the fundamental forces of the core are at work as we do these things. Opening a jar of pickles and holding onto a slippery three-year-old are also power moves we take for granted. The human form requires sustained momentum to perform, and momentum is power. The rate of force production depends upon training methodology. If your client always moves slowly, what will happen when he attempts to sprint through an airport to catch a plane that's about to leave? He will either injure himself, or he will miss his flight. Clients that lack power can incur injury when performing simple activities. Perhaps your client has a sore shoulder after a company softball game. This may be caused by the lack of
power in his abdominal muscles. Although he is strong from hundreds of super-slow crunches, he may not have developed the necessary power to throw a ball or a punch properly. Instead of generating power from his core, he "pushes" the ball or arm punches, putting unnecessary strain on his rotator cuff. In karate, every hand and foot technique begins and ends in the core. The midsection can be trained to move with speed and explosive power to develop awesome force to deliver a punch, kick or strike. Elite athletes also have learned from martial artists how to build their centers of power; Muhammad Ali studied with them to increase the blinding speed of his already punishing jab. And although your client may not aspire to be the next Jackie Chan, core power training may be the next logical step you add to his or her fitness program.
Getting Started Before your client begins power training, it is a good idea to strengthen and stabilize the muscles that surround the abdominal and lower-back areas, according to Paul Chek, founder of the CHEK Institute in San Diego. Chek describes these as the pelvic floor muscles, external obliques, internal obliques, rectus abdominis, multifidus, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae and transverse abdominis. The client should be physically prepared for spinal flexion, extension and rotation. The "outer unit" muscles are the superficial muscles of the spine and abdomen. "Inner unit" muscles are the lower back, gluteals and diaphragm. These are also "posture muscles." The inner and outer units move in concert to create fluid, controlled and powerful action, Chek says. Level 1 exercises presented in this article are designed to prepare your client for power training. Although Level 1 exercises are to be performed slowly and with perfect form, these movements are ideal practice for the more rigorous Level 2 and Level 3 power programs. When Level 1 exercises can be completed with excellent form, balance and body control, allow your client to progress to Level 2 and finally to Level 3. Maintaining perfect form during high-speed training is crucial to injury prevention. Zatsiorsky (1995) suggests that your client allow her body to slowly adapt to rate of force production
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A Power Core Program Can Enhance:
exercises. She should periodize her program so that she is physically and mentally prepared for each drill. Zatsiorsky studied training logs of former Olympians and found that many trained with such a high volume of sets and repetitions that their injury rate was also high. Another preventive measure to avoid injury is to consult with your client's physician or physical therapist if you have any concern about the level of difficulty in the drills. Also consult increasing reps, sets or loads. Performance I mental toughness power is improved I multi-angle muscle movement when the muscles are I range of motion trained at an increased I isometrics rate of force producI balance & stability tion, or simply, with I rate of force development more speed. When a I mind-body link client begins a power Power vs. I breathing (mindfulness & focus) training program, first Strength Training I sport enhancement emphasize perfect Power training is different than traditional strength training form. Once achieved, the speed may be increased. An increased rate of force in that overload is not achieved by with these professionals when the client has been diagnosed with any disease or orthopedic concern that would make a power training regime questionable.
A Basic Internal Power Program
This program will teach your client to: I develop functional internal power and explosive strength for everyday activities and sport. (There is no resistance other than your client's body.) I contract muscles more forcefully I stimulate neural pathways to develop a more efficient sequence of motor unit firing I strengthen the impulses that inhibit the slowing effects of an unwanted simultaneous contraction of an antagonist muscle (Zatsiorsky 1995) Explosive strength is the ability to exert maximal forces in minimal time. Therefore, these power training exercises should be performed while your client is physically and mentally fresh so that he can fully concentrate on his movements. Throughout this section, reference is made to Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3. This is an informal scale, based on the intensity of the exercises in conjunction with your client's readiness, to help you make training decisions. Make conservative choices when determining training intensity for each person and use common sense when moving your clients up through each level. Each exercise is based on your client's individual rate of force production. I Level 1--Weekend Warrior. Works out about twice a week at a low to moderate level. Form is your first priority with your Level 1 clients. Their training should be directed mainly, although not exclusively, toward that regard. Level 2--Competitor. Works out three times a week at a moderate level. Level 2 clients can focus on both better form and improved rate of force production. For clients who already have significant core strength, the rate of force production drills may provide them with a potent stimulus for enhancing their core power. I Level 3--The Sportsman. Works out four or more times a week. Enjoys competing both in and out of the gym. Level 3 clients may rely more on increases in speed to increase power output because their core strength and form may be optimal. For example, if your client's goal is to increase power and he has reached a strength plateau, then increasing his rate of force production is an efficient way to maximize power.
Level 1: I Stand facing your client at arm's length. I Instruct the client to imagine he is about to be punched in the abdomen, but emphasize that no contact will be made during this exercise. I Have the client exhale forcefully through pursed lips and visualize a muscular suit of armor surrounding his belly. I Gently throw a no-contact punch toward your client's midsection. I Instruct him to exhale through pursed lips in preparation for contact. His explosive exhalation creates a powerful muscle contraction. I Throw 10 punches with each arm, adding 2 per arm, per week. Level 2: I Warn your client that you are about to make very light contact to his abdominals with your knuckles. (Make sure it's all right with him.) I Stand about an arm's length away from him. I Gently throw a punch toward his midsection. I Barely touch your client's abdominal area, with the contact being the cue for him to exhale through pursed lips, eliciting the abdominal muscle contraction response. I Throw 10 punches with each arm, adding 2 per arm, per week. Level 3: I Stand facing your client with your hands up and your elbows close to your body. Have the client mirror your stance. I Begin trading light contact punches to the abdomen. I Cue him to exhale through pursed lips whether he is punching or accepting a punch to his midsection. I Continue trading punches to all areas of the abdomen for one full minute. Remind him to use the pursed-lipped breathing technique as a training tool to build strong, powerful abdominals. I Throw 10 punches with each arm, adding 2 per arm, per week.
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Power Training for the Core
production manifests itself as your client improves efficiency, control and rhythm. Working from a scale of 1 to 3 (as described at the beginning of the exercise section), start clients at Level 1 and a slow speed, and gradually increase the pace as they approach Level 3. If Level 3 clients begin to lose their form, bring them back to Level 1. Increasing the rate of force production in the core is as important as enhancing power in each appendage. According to Dennis Keiser, president
Level 1: Instruct the client to: I Begin in a box stance with left foot pointing straight ahead, comfortably forward of the hip, and right foot pointing directly to the right. (You should be able to trace an imaginary right angle that would intersect directly under the tailbone.) I Flex the knees over the toes, keep weight evenly distributed. I Contract the core while simultaneously pivoting on the ball of the right foot so that both feet are pointed straight ahead. I Keep left knee bent while right leg straightens slightly, but with flexed knee. I Pivot back into a box stance and repeat the Box Pivot with the other leg. Level 2: Have client use the same form as in Level 1, but add a little pace to the pivot. Instruct the client to: Elevate the body on each pivot, rising up and down on each repetition. I Rest a few seconds between each repetition. I Exhale through pursed lips on each pivot for the entire set.
of Keiser Corporation, a dynamic and powerful connection exists between the legs, chest, back and arms. Since the rate of force production of every body part is connected, core muscles are more powerful when they are trained in conjunction with the upper and lower body. A softball batter who trains only her arms will not hit the ball as far as a player who trains her lower body and core as well. A client who trains her legs, but not her arms will not hit as far; and if her core is not
powerful, the kinetic link that joins the arms and legs will be missing, Keiser says. Even if he is not an athlete, if you can help build your client's rate of force production, it will turn up the power he generates in his fitness, tennis and cycling, or break his fall when he slips on a patch of ice.
Mind-Body Synergy The mind plays an integral role in power training and performance. Elite athletes in most sports appear
Level 1: Instruct the client to: I Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed straight ahead, knees slightly bowed, as if riding a horse. I Bend knees so a plumb line dropped from each knee would hit the end of the toes. (If there is any knee pain, discontinue exercise.) I Contract the pelvic floor muscles, squeeze the buttocks together and contract the abdominal muscles. Keep the back in neutral alignment and hands on hips. This is a static, isometric contraction of quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings and core muscles. I Hold 3 seconds, breathing normally; repeat 10 times. Level 2: This is a dynamic strength exercise using the core to stabilize movement. Instruct the client to: I Adopt same stance and isometric contraction described in Level 1. Begin lifting gently up and down on the balls of the feet a maximum of three inches. I Repeat 10 times.
Level 3: Instruct the client to: I Maintain same good form as in Level 1 and Level 2, moving slowly through each repetition. I Once balance is established in both directions, let the whip-like effect from the core power each pivot. I Exhale forcefully on each repetition and twist from the core as fast as possible. I Use the arms (elbows bent, palms parallel to the floor) to help maintain balance as each repetition is executed with great speed and power. I Rest a few seconds between each repetition.
Level 3: This is a base-building, total-body, dynamic power exercise. Instruct the client to: I Repeat Level 2 up through lifting motion. I Generate more power by hopping. To do this, add a little force to the upward lift so that the feet barely leave the floor. I Complete 10 hops. I Add two hops per week until the client can execute 20 consecutive hops with perfect form.
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supremely relaxed. Some don't seem to expend much energy, but their recordbreaking performances belie appearances. As an exercise, cue your client to summon core power with concentrated attention. For example, ask him to close his eyes and relax. Have him imagine he is performing the Straddle Pivot (see exercise section) from his power training routine. Suggest he "feel" his right external obliques contract to allow him to pivot his body to the left. If deep
focus is present, harnessing his body's power should occur in a quiet, seemingly effortless manner. This mindbody correlation underscores that it is not how fast your clients can move, it is how fast they think they can move.
Recruiting Muscle Fibers We recruit muscle fibers through a process of signals to our central nervous systems (CNS). Imagine what might happen if a person attempted a seated
row on a machine and the hook was not attached properly. He "thought" he was about to pull 100 pounds. His rhomboids and latissimus dorsi muscles were activated and prepared to hoist a load. When the hook failed, his increased rate of force production practically propelled him out of the gym's back door. Your client's CNS sent a signal to his muscles to recruit the type of fibers in the correct order necessary for him to complete the row. Motor units are
Level 1: Instruct the client to: I Begin in box stance described in the Box Pivot exercise. I Bend knees over toes and keep weight evenly distributed. I Contract obliques, simultaneously pivoting on the ball of the right foot so that both feet are now pointed straight ahead. I Keep left knee bent; right leg straightens slightly, but with flexed knee. I Extend elbows into a palm heel block during the pivot by pressing elbows close to the body and extending arms straight out, palms facing partner, fingers pointing upward. I Pivot back into box stance, simultaneously retracting hands and flexing elbows. I Repeat the Box Pivot and palm heel blocks with other leg. I Do 10 repetitions on each leg. Level 2: Instruct the client to: Begin in box stance, contracting abdominals with a slow exhalation. Simultaneously contract each muscle group in torso, pelvic floor, arms and legs so that as he slowly pivots from box stance to front stance, all muscle groups in the body are contracted. I Pivot, exhaling slowly through pursed lips so that when exhalation is completed, the pivot is finished and all muscles are contracted. I Extend elbows into a palm heel block during pivot. I Return to box stance and simultaneously retract hands and flex elbows. I Inhale deeply and repeat the double palm heel block and pivot sequence with other leg. I Remember to keep elbows close to body, feeling the centered power in the core. I Do 10 repetitions on each leg.
Level 1: Instruct the client to: I Begin in a straddle stance with feet a little more than shoulderwidth apart and knees slightly bent. I Stand comfortably with weight evenly distributed. I Contract the left obliques by slowly turning the body to the right, staying centered, pivoting on the balls of the feet. This core-initiated contraction enables the client to turn so the toes of both feet are now pointing to the right at a 45-degree angle. I Keep right leg bent, but slightly straighten left leg, keeping knee flexed as he turns to right 45 degrees. This completes one repetition. I Turn to the left while left leg remains bent and the right straightens slightly. I Do 10 repetitions on each side. I Move slowly through the entire range of motion and breathe normally through each repetition. Level 2: Repeat moves in Level 1, but add a little pace to the twists. Instruct the client to: Elevate the body on each pivot so that he rises up and down on each repetition. I Rest for a few seconds between each repetition. I Exhale on each repetition throughout the entire set of exercises.
Level 3: Perform exactly the same movements described in Level 1 and Level 2 but this time, cue your client to allow power to emanate from the core to drive each pivot. Move slowly until the motor pattern is developed, then let the fun begin! Instruct the client to: I Exhale forcefully on each repetition as he twists with controlled speed. I Use arms to help maintain balance as each repetition is executed. I Rest a few seconds between repetitions.
Level 3: Instruct the client to: I Begin in box stance.
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Power Training for the Core
contracted on an all-or-none principle. Slow-twitch (ST) fibers are recruited first, then fast-twitch (FT). In order to develop a powerful core, a maximal number of both ST and FT motor units are recruited. These motor units work in concert over a very short period of maximal voluntary effort (Fleck & Kraemer 1987). Your client nearly went through the door because he consciously prepared to push as fast and powerfully as he could.
Tune Into Power Great athletes and martial artists tune into their power, showing that activation (optimum muscle readiness) and focus are prerequisites to successful performance. As a pitcher hurls a ball to the plate he is most likely not thinking, "Retract my arm, step forward, flex my elbow, extend my elbow, follow through." In that second, it is the athlete's relaxed focus that logs the strike. A tense, tight athlete rarely triumphs
over a flexible, powerful one. In fact, trying hard to create power leads to rigid, mechanical moves. Teach your clients to relax during and between movements, for if they are relaxed, they can move quickly. (For a full discussion on relaxation, refer to IDEA Personal Trainer, January 2001, pp 26-31.) Rate of force production, activation and focus are the essence of your client's power and are the beginnings of any exciting workout; but if her body
Contract abdominals and pelvic floor and explode into a double palm heel block. I Exhale through pursed lips as during pivot from box stance to front stance. I Contract all muscles in the body at this end range of motion. I Move back into box stance and simultaneously retract hands and flex elbows. I Take a deep breath and repeat move with other leg. I Remember to keep elbows in close to body, feeling the power centered in the core. I Do 10 repetitions on each leg.
Level 1: I Stand facing your client with left foot forward, elbows and hands up. I With one palm resting against the back of the other person's hand, maintain light contact, moving hands in a clockwise motion (client's hands will move counterclockwise) Be sure there is no unnecessary muscular contraction as you allow your hands to flow in a relaxed, circular pattern. Level 2: I Continue circular motion from Level 1. I Once this circular flow becomes automatic, as if playing a game of tag, try to make contact with client's body with one of your hands. I Client should deflect your hand with his hand while maintaining the perfect flow of the circle. I Avoid any muscular effort or sharp movement. I After one minute, allow your partner to try to tag you. I Deflect the tag in the same manner the client did. Level 3: I Continue progress from Level 2. I Close your eyes and have your client close his. Attack each other and defend yourselves at will.
SIX TIPS FOR A PRODUCTIVE POWER WORKOUT
1. Guide client on all moves and use a
mirror for self-monitoring. Later, he should feel the movements without evaluation.
2. Check posture often: eyes straight
ahead, back neutral, scapulae retracted, shoulders parallel and knees flexed. Do 10 repetitions of each exercise. Add two repetitions of each exercise each week until client can perform 20 consecutive repetitions with perfect form. Cue client to focus exclusively on each repetition. Instruct client not to flex knees too far if he experiences knee discomfort. Bring client up to a 45-degree angle, similar to a quarter-squat position. Begin each repetition from the core.
Block and attack with no thought. Feel the power generated from the core.
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and mind are not synchronized, it will be difficult for her to enjoy a great core training session. Help her become aware of her potential power by linking her mind and body. This union will empower her to unleash energy she never realized she possessed. And, after all, that is the core of the matter. Tom Seabourne, PhD (exercise science), is an ACSM-, CSCS- and ACE-certified fitness professional. Seabourne recently coauthored with Scott Cole The Best Abs on Earth, due to be released in fall 2002 by Human Kinetics Publishing. He is a former collegiate tennis player and two-time national AAU heavyweight taekwondo champion, Pan-American champion and World Taekwondo Championship silver medalist. He also holds several ultraendurance national cycling records.
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