The ‘Basic Four’ Core Training Program

Core Exercise Facts and Recommendations

The ‘Basic Four’ Core Training Program• Take the Core Muscle Strength & Stability Test once a month to measure progress.
• Practice the basic core exercises (curl-ups, side-bridges, bird-dogs, kettlebell swings) five to seven days per week. These exercises develop muscle endurance rather than strength, so you can practice them more often than traditional weight-training exercises.
• Train movements— not muscle.
• Do most core exercises on a solid surface. Most studies found that exercising on unstable surfaces (i.e., Swiss or BOSU balls) is less effective for loading the core muscles than training on solid surfaces. However, instability training adds variety to your program, so it has some value.
• Training on unstable surfaces increases the load on the spine. Build fitness in your core support muscles before incorporating exercise ball training into your program.
• Muscle endurance is more important than strength in determining core stability. Don’t concentrate on core muscle strength and power until those muscles have good endurance.
• Don’t do core training first thing in the morning. The water content of the spinal disks remains high for at least 45 minutes after getting out of bed. Also, don’t do any high-force exercise after sitting for prolonged periods. Prolonged lying or sitting increases the risk of injury to the disks.
• Avoid full-flexion exercises (bend over at the waist toward the knees), such as sit-ups and trunk-flexion machines. Also, avoid forceful motions in the trunk to the ends of the range of motion. It takes very little stress to rupture spinal disks when the trunk is in full flexion.
• When beginning a program, learn to handle your bodyweight before using resistance. For example, if you can’t squat properly without weight, you may get injured if you squat using weight.
Cardio exercise, particularly fast walking with full arm swing, is important for building core muscles and reducing fat around the abdomen.
• Avoid using exercise machines that restrict motion and support the body, because they interfere with motor control necessary for smooth movements and preventing injury. Core training should emphasize whole-body motions rather than isolating muscles and joints.
• Tense (brace) your core muscles, particularly the abdominals, when lifting weights or performing total-body movements in sports such as softball, tennis, or golf. This involves squeezing and tensing your core muscles during exercises, which protects the spine. Breathe normally when bracing the core. Do not suck in your gut (called hallowing) because this decreases the broad abdominal base that supports the spine.
• Use good form when doing exercises. Muscle fatigue destabilizes the spine and can lead to injury.

The Core Muscle Strength & Stability Test

This test measures endurance of many of the core muscles.
• Have a partner time the test or place a stopwatch on the ground where you can see it easily. Your score is determined by your time (see chart). You have good core fitness if you can complete the test. If you cannot complete the entire test, keep track of your points. Take the test at least once a month to measure your progress.
• Begin in a plank position and progress to as many levels as you can. You score 70 points if you can do all eight levels.

Level Cumulative Points Your score
1 10 Hold the basic plank position for 60 seconds.
2 15 Lift your right arm off the ground and hold this position for 15 seconds.
3 20 Return your right arm to the ground, lift the left arm off the ground and hold this position for 15 seconds.
4 25 Return your left arm to the ground, lift the right leg off the ground and hold this position for 15 seconds.
5 30 Return your right leg to the ground, lift your left leg off the ground and hold this position for 15 seconds.
6 40 Lift your left leg and right arm off the ground and hold this position for 15 seconds.

Source: Modified from Brian Mackenzie, Sports Coach, www.brianmac.demon.co.uk

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