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Core Strengthening Programme

Core Strength Programme

Introduction

What is the Core Strengthening Programme?

The Core Strengthening Programme is an exercise programme that aims to improve stabilisation and support to the spine. This is achieved by re-training specific trunk muscles, which may be under used. Faulty movement patterns occur as larger muscles have to try and stabilise the core, compromising their functional role in movement.

Once these stabilising muscles have been re-trained the muscles of the arms and legs will have a more stable base to work from. This allows you to carry out arm and leg movements with more control and strength and is thought to improve the quality of your movement.

How will it help during sport?

  • It will provide more support for your back and may reduce the risk of back injuries
  • It will provide a more stable base for arm and leg movements, improving the control and quality of your movements
  • It will improve your muscular coordination during movement
  • As the stabilising muscles gain more endurance you will be able to perform movements without your technique deteriorating excessively, due to fatigue, further reducing the risk of injury
  • Your ability to hold off opponents in contact sports should improve

Programme Overview

The programme is broken down into stages and must be completed step by step. You should not progress to the next stage until you have mastered the exercises of the previous stage. If the exercises feel too easy to begin with it is likely that the larger muscles are being used as compensation for the weaker deep muscles. It is vital to get the basics correct and feel the smaller muscles working so that faulty movement patterns are not adopted.

The stages are:

Stage 1 – Learn to contract the deep muscles which stabilise the spine. At first this takes quite a bit of concentration. Each individual will master this at their own pace. There is no set time, but perseverance is the key.

Stage 2 – Increase the endurance capacity of the deep stabilising muscles of the spine, by practicing to contract them in different situations for as long as you can and gradually adding larger movements whilst keeping the core strong. This will become easier with practice.

Stage 3 – Begin arm and leg movements whilst contracting the deep stabilising muscles of the spine. This will be slow and controlled at first to ensure the movement pattern is ingrained.

Stage 4 – Progress to the core strengthening exercises and more functional movements, while contracting the deep stabilising muscles.

Stage 1: Contracting Deep Muscles

There are two main deep stabilising muscles that support your lower back: the multifidus and the transversus abdominis.

multifidus muscletransversus muscle

In order to practice getting transversus and multifidus muscles to contract, it is easiest to get on all fours. Without moving your back, or pelvis, draw your stomach up gently – try to bring your belly button up towards your back. This is a very subtle movement so it is best to get your technique checked by a physiotherapist.

Important notes:

This movement should not be confused with breathing in – it is important to breathe normally while activating the stabilising muscles. A good technique is to keep talking or sing to music as you practice the contraction so you have to breathe! Do not use the muscles at the front of the stomach – using your ‘six pack’ is not the correct technique.

Once you have mastered the contraction, try to hold the contraction for four seconds, and repeat the exercise in sets of ten. Once you have mastered this, you’re ready to move on to the next stage.

Stage 2: Increasing Deep Muscle Endurance

Using the same techniques described in stage 1, you should eventually aim to hold the contraction for as long as is possible. You will find that once you have activated the muscles to this level it will become second nature to you.

To progress from stage 1, simply increase the duration of the contraction to ten seconds, then twenty, while continuing to practice in sets of ten. Then progress the contraction to as long as possible, aiming for five minutes, then longer.
At this point, progress to contracting the deep stabilisers in different positions such as sitting and standing.

Practice while you are doing everyday activities, such as sitting at the computer, watching TV or on an exercise bike.
Once you have mastered this you will be ready to progress to stage 3.

Stage 3: Arm & Leg Movements

The whole point of the Core Strengthening Programme is to increase the support for your back and trunk in order to provide a more stable base for arm and leg movement. The best position to start these exercises is on all fours.

core strength exercise 1

Commence by contracting the deep stabilisers (as described in Stage 1) and hold this contraction. Then raise your right arm straight out to the horizontal. Perform the movement slowly and in a controlled fashion – there should be no wobbling or unwanted movement of the trunk. Hold the arm up for four seconds and then slowly lower.

core strength exercise 2

Repeat for the left arm.

Next, whilst maintaining the same position, contract the deep stabilisers and then slowly lift your right leg up straight to the horizontal. Hold it there for four seconds and then slowly lower. The movement should be controlled and there should not be unwanted movement of the trunk or pelvis.

core strength exercise 3

Repeat for the left leg.

Once you have mastered these exercises, whilst maintaining a contraction of the deep stabiliser muscles, you can start doing the core strengthening gym exercises. When we move, whether it is walking or running, we use one leg whilst swinging the opposite arm in what is called a kinetic chain.

The exercises of the Core Strengthening Programme are a progression from the previously described core stabilisation exercises. It is very important that a controlled contraction of the core stabilising muscles is maintained during all of these exercises.

Stage 4: Core Strengthening Exercises

Essential kit that you’ll need for these exercises are:

The core strengthening exercises featured in this guide are suitable for most levels of fitness, but for best results it is always beneficial to do them under the supervision of a chartered physiotherapist. The physiotherapist will be able to monitor your technique and suggest appropriate modifications where necessary.

As a rough guide to the progression of the programme, the timescales below may be helpful. However, for exact sets, repetitions and their progression it is best to consult a healthcare professional or certified conditioning coach.

Progression of Core Strength Exercises

Beginner

It’s best to aim to do two different circuits (trunk, arm, leg, back and gluteal) per week, with three days between each circuit. Rotate through all the different circuits to make sure all areas of the body are worked over the course of a few weeks. If you are unaccustomed to this type of exercise then you can expect some general muscle soreness for a couple of days after exercise when you are starting out.

As an example,the following progression may be appropriate to do every Monday and Thursday:

Week Circuit Sets Exercise Repetitions
1 1 4
2 1 4
3 1 6
4 1 8
5 1 10
6 1 6
7 1 6

Intermediate

After becoming familiar with the exercises, the feeling of muscle soreness after exercise should go away. Usually, it is then possible to do the exercises every other day by rotating the circuits to work on different areas of the body. For example, this progression may be appropriate to do Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

Week Circuit Sets Exercise Repetitions
8 2 6
9 2 6
10 2 8
11 2 8
12 3 6
13 2 10
14 3 8

Advanced

By doing the exercises regularly over a period of months, it is possible to do more work with less rest time. However, remember to rotate the circuits to make sure all areas of the body are worked. For example, it may be possible to do these exercises five days of the week:

Week Circuit Sets Exercise Repetitions
15 3 8
16 3 8
17 3 10
18 3 10
19 4 8
20 4 10
21 5 8

Trunk Circuit Exercises

Shoulder, Trunk and Adductor Exercise

Position your shins on the top of the swiss ball with your hands on the floor. Slowly roll the ball round to your right, then over to the left.

Shoulder, Trunk and Adductor Exercise 1  Shoulder, Trunk and Adductor Exercise 2

Hamstring Exercises

Lie on your back with your heels on top of the swiss ball. Dig your heels into the ball and lift your pelvis up. Hold for 4 seconds.

Hamstring Exercise 1 Hamstring Exercise 2

Hip Flexor, Hamstring and Glute Exercise

Lie on your back with your heels on the swiss ball. Arms across chest. Lift up your pelvis and hold. Lift up alternate legs and hold for 4 seconds.

Hamstring Exercise 1 Hip Flexor, Hamstring and Gluteal Exercise

Hamstring and Glute Exercise

With your knees and ankles 15 cm apart, balance with your back on the swiss ball. Your knees should be at 90 degrees. Tighten your bottom and push your pelvis up. Raise your alternate legs to horizontal and hold for 4 seconds.

Hamstring and Gluteal Exercise Hamstring and Gluteal Exercise 2

Sit Ups

Sit with the small of your back on the swiss ball and with a medicine ball between your knees. Fold your arms across your chest and slowly sit up.

Sit Ups

Trunk and Glute Exercise

Balance with your back on the swiss ball, your pelvis pushed up and your knees at 90 degrees. Hold the medicine ball out with your arms straight above you. Keep your pelvis pushed up and rotate the medicine ball slowly to the left then to the right. Keep your arms straight

Trunk and Gluteal Exercise Trunk and Gluteal Exercise 2

Trunk Exercise

Sit on the swiss ball and balance with your feet off the ground. How long can you balance before touching the ground?

Trunk Exercise

Arm Circuit Exercise

Press Ups

Balance your knees on the swiss ball and hands on the floor. Slowly lower your chest to the floor then raise up.

Press Ups 1 Press Ups 2

Pelvic Lifts

Sit on the floor with your hands behind your shoulders and your heels on top of the Swiss Ball. Lift your pelvis up and hold for 6 seconds.

Pelvic Lifts 1 Pelvic Lifts 2

Shoulder, Trunk and Adductor Exercise

Position your shins on the top of the swiss ball with your hands on the floor. Slowly roll the ball round to your right, then over to the left.

Shoulder, Trunk and Adductor Exercise 1 Shoulder, Trunk and Adductor Exercise 2

Arm, Trunk and Abductor Exercise

Lay on your side on an exercise mat. Keep your hips pushed forward and legs and trunk straight. Push up on your forearm and hold. Steady yourself and raise your top leg up and hold for 4 seconds.

Arm, Trunk and Abductor Exercise

Trunk and Pelvis Exercise

Keep your hips pushed forward and the body and legs straight. Push up on your forearm. Hold for 6 seconds. If these exercises are too hard, the start position can be altered to having the knee on the ground instead of the foot. Roll over and work other side.

Trunk and Pelvis Exercise

Leg Circuit Exercise

Lunges

Standing feet 20 cm apart. Lunge forward, alternate left and right.

Lunges

Abductor Exercise

Lie on an exercise mat and keep your toes pointing to the floor. Raise your ‘top’ leg and hold for 2 seconds. After each set roll over and do the other leg.

Abductor Exercise

Adductor Exercise

Raise your ‘bottom’ leg and hold up for 2 seconds. After each set roll over and do the other leg.

Adductor Exercise

Quadriceps Exercise

Rest your back against the swiss ball with your knees bent. Push back and straighten your knees.

Quadriceps Exercise Quadriceps Exercise 2

Hamstring Exercises

Lie on your back with your heels on top of the swiss ball. Dig your heels into the ball and lift your pelvis up. Hold for 4 seconds.

Hamstring Exercise Hamstring Exercise 2

Hip Flexor, Hamstring and Glutes Exercise

Lie on your back with your heels on the swiss ball. Arms across chest. Lift up your pelvis and hold. Lift up alternate legs and hold for 4 seconds

Hamstring Exercise 1 Hip Flexor, Hamstring and Gluteal Exercise

Hamstring and Glutes Exercise

With your knees and ankles 15 cm apart, balance with your back on the swiss ball. Your knees should be at 90 degrees. Tighten your bottom and push your pelvis up. Raise your alternate legs to horizontal and hold for 4 seconds.

Hamstring and Gluteal Exercise Hamstring and Gluteal Exercise 2

Back Circuit Exercises

Trunk and Pelvis Exercise

Lay on your side on an exercise mat. Keep your hips pushed forward and your body and legs straight. Push up on your forearm. Hold for 6 seconds. Roll over and work the other side. If these exercises are too hard, the start position can be altered to having the knee on the ground instead of the foot.

Trunk and Pelvis Exercise

Back Extensor Exercise

Slowly lift your head and shoulders up off the floor. Hold for 6 seconds.

Back Extensor Exercise

Back Extensor and Glute Exercise

Keep your knee straight and slowly lift your leg up. Hold for 6 seconds then relax. Repeat with opposite leg.

Back Extensor and Glute Exercise

Back Extensor and Glute Exercise

Slowly lift your opposite arm and leg. Hold for 6 seconds. Repeat on other side.

Back Extensor and Glute Exercise 2

Arm, Trunk and Abductor Exercise

Keep your hips pushed forward and your legs and trunk straight. Push up on your forearm and hold. Steady yourself and raise your top leg up and hold for 4 seconds

Arm, Trunk and Abductor Exercise

Press Ups

Balance your knees on the Swiss Ball and hands on the floor. Slowly lower your chest to the floor then raise up.

Press Ups 1 Press Ups 2

Pelvic Lifts

Sit on the floor with your hands behind your shoulders and your heels on top of the swiss ball. Lift your pelvis up and hold for 6 seconds.

Pelvic Lifts 1 Pelvic Lifts 2