Core Training: What Is The Core?

This week’s theme is Core Training for hockey players.

Today you will discover what the core is and why it actually is (or is not) important. Later in the week I will explain why I haven’t had any athlete crunch in over seven years and finally I will give you a nice core training circuit, that will not only help you on the ice, but will help you develop those washboard abs that seem to be so popular 🙂

Here we go…About 15-years or so ago, “core training” became a thing.

I don’t remember who started it, but it became big. At the time I think it also just became a replacement term for ab training, so debate followed.

What exactly is the core?
Where does it end and begin?
What are the exact muscles involved?
What is the goal of core training?

Then came the snobbery (I was on this team for a while), where proper strength coaches refused to use the term “core” training because it was misleading or too general or too popular. Instead we used terms like trunk stabilization, integrated torso, shoulder, hip dynamic control… you get the idea. We wanted our language to be more precise.

But it also led to confusion.

Think about it this way…

When someone asks if my training program will make the quicker on the ice. I don’t reply, “Do you mean will my training program teach you to adequately sum your force application according to Henneman’s Size Principle while reinforcing dynamic joint centration and efficient biomechanical patterns?”

No I don’t. Instead, I answer your question with a “Yes” even though all of those underlying principles go into consideration when I design any program. I know what you mean when you tell me you want to be quicker.

And… I know what you mean when you ask for more “core strength”.

Actually, you can mean one of two things (or a bit of both)…

1) You were told by someone, read somewhere or saw a pro hockey player on TV talking about how hockey players need core strength, that it is the foundation of movement
2) You want six pack abs so you can look good with your shirt off (or look at your abs in the mirror at home and be impressed) – yeah, I know you do that.

Let’s tackle the first one today and the second one later in the week.

Why Is A Strong Core Important

The analogy that is thrown around is the idea that you cannot fire a cannon from a canoe – actually you could, but the cannon ball would not go very far. Why wouldn’t it go very far?

Think about it for a second, I am not just going to feed you the answer this time – think…
It doesn’t go very far because the canoe is not stable right?

The force being generated by the explosive power of the canon gets dissipated. Some of that force goes into pushing the canon ball forward, but some also goes into pushing the canoe backward. So even though the energy input is the same, there is very little expression of power.

This is a great analogy, you can have really, really strong legs, but if your core is weak, then you cannot express that power, you cannot hold your position when battling for a puck along the boards or you side bend in your body when driving post to post in the net.

You leak energy in your torso. When you drive with your legs, some of that power is lost in non-productive trunk movement. A strong “core” lets you apply power from either the top down or the bottom up – so either you generate a force with your legs and hips, that transfers through a strong torso and into your upper body – – think of a slap shot.

So where is the core?

I think of the core as anything from your arm pits to mid-thigh – that includes your hips, abdominals, back extensors, back stabilizers, lats, pecs…you get the idea.

This is one of the big reasons I do not use crunches or Russian Twists with the athletes I train at all – – and haven’t for 7 or 8 years. More on that in the next article of the series.

Core training, has very little to do with your Abs and everything to do with the chains of muscle that run from your hips to your chest in straight lines, diagonal lines and spiral lines. It requires activation of the right muscles at the right time; are you using your deep stabilizers like the Transversus Abdominus as a primary stabilizer of the spine and torso or are you putting that responsibility on your superficial rectus abdominus?

If not – time to do some re-training of the deep stabilizers.

Is the Iliopsoas in the right length and position to walk the line between hip flexion and trunk position? If not, then finding the proper length with stretching or strengthening becomes a key core training goal.

Not Much Core Training In Your Programs

I laugh (and then shake my head in that disappointed parent way) when I get an email from one of you noting “there isn’t much core training in your programs”. What they really mean is, there aren’t many crunches in your training programs, which is exactly right (for reasons I will share in another article later this week).

But my programs are filled with core training:
• Front squats
• Deadlifts
• SL Stiff Legged Deadlifts
• Single Leg Squats
• Push Ups
• Standing Cable Press
• Body Row
• Bear Position Row
• Bear Crawl
• Hip Drive
• Tall Kneeling Landmine Press… you get the idea

In fact, almost any exercise where you are standing (or kneeling) and moving a resistance is a core training exercise. And yes, we still do all sorts of plank variations…
• Front Plank
• Side Plank
• Stability Ball Plank Saw
• Stability Ball Stir The Pot
• Glute Bridge
• Glute Bridge March… you get the idea.

And we use Medicine Balls too…
• MB Push Pass
• MB Rotary Pass
• Staggered Stance Rotary Pass
• Seated MB Chest Pass
• Overhead MB Slam… you get the idea.

You can hopefully appreciate how very few (none) of these exercises use the abdominals in isolation, they are always working as part of a chain of muscles, the exact same way they work on the ice.


PS – live FB Q&A today (Tuesday, August 23) at 3pm ET here >>