Core training is most often referred to as exercises that work your rectus abdominis. Sometimes the concept of core training will go as far as including the external and internal obliques and the lumbar erectors, but it rarely goes past that stage. The term “core” in itself is very loosely used to describe either abs training or stability training, or sometimes both. But the reality is that your core can include every muscle that runs across your hips, spine (including the cervical spine) and shoulders.
So we definitely need to broaden our horizons when we think about core training and realize it’s much more than just the muscles around our belly. Here are some of the most overlooked aspects of core training:
- Cervical spine alignment (packing the neck)
- Inner core activation (pelvic floor, diaphragm, transverse abdominis and multifidus)
- Breathing patterns
These are 3 things that go hand in hand with each other, as well as with traditional core training and in my opinion they’re probably the 3 most overlooked aspects of core training among athletes and regular gym-goers.
The trend since Stuart McGill’s work came out is to use neutral spine whenever we train the core and lift weights. The goal is to reinforce this pattern as much as possible. But we often forget that the neck is part of the spine and that should also be trained to be neutral. There is a much deeper core activation when the neck is packed in a neutral position and it provides for greater stability. The cervical spine often gets into hyperextension when training, especially with posterior chain exercises. The tendency is to keep the eyes up while the angle of the spine gets closer to parallel.
This position puts a lot of strain on the inter-vertebral discs of the cervical spine on top of having sub-optimal spine stability all the way down to the lumbar spine (each segment of the spine interacts with each other). Keeping the neck in a neutral/packed position will facilitate a proper breathing pattern (Try and take a deep breath- without thinking about it- first, in a relaxed position with your neck not in a neutral position, and then try it again in a packed neck position. Notice how the breath with the packed neck position is much more of a belly breath, compared to more of a chest breath without your neck packed). And that in turn will facilitate activation of the inner core muscles.
The bottom line is that everything in your core is interrelated together and when everything is indeed coordinated, you gain amazing stability that you wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s why it’s so important to train your inner core, your breathing patterns and your packed neck position. From an injury prevention and a strength gain standpoint it can make all the difference.
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