- Runs rocky trails in the mountains
- Scopes out the best runs on the slope
- Personally researches best trails for mountain biking
- Finds the best backcountry ground for snowboarding
Talk about a killer resume! Alas, for most of us, our 9-5 tasks involve sitting at a desk, in front of a computer. Some of us even get to tack on an extra hour or two of additional sitting during that lovely commute.
My point is that as a society, we sit. A lot. Being in a forward flexion motion for the better part of the day is not only bad on our posture, but it doesn't do much to strengthen the core muscles.
While having ripped, 6-pack abs might not be very high on your priority list, I'm betting that being a strong and healthy athlete on the trails is.
No matter your trail sport of choice — running, hiking, skiing, biking — it's all powered by a strong core. Having strong abs is essential to bettering yourself, and more importantly, keeping you injury-free.
Benefits of a Strong Core on the Trail
- Help protect the low back from exerting itself more than it should
- Help you take in more oxygen during endurance or power sports
- Helps you move more efficiently while doing anything that involves rotating, forward flexion, extension, or lateral flexion
- Provides better balance and stabilization
- Provides better mobility to distal joints, like the hips and thoracic spine
- and that's just naming a few!
Now let's talk about the 3 primary functions of the core:
1. Anti-extension — or, resisting extension or hyperextension of the back. If you were to catch a ball, or say, ride your mountain bike over a big rock, your strong abs would prevent your spine from going into extension, thereby protecting your back and giving you more control of your terrain.
2. Anti-rotation — or, resisting rotation in the lumbar (low) spine. As an example, imagine yourself skiing down a tough slope, rotating the body from left to right. Having a strong core in this area not only prevents premature fatigue, but it also helps to prevent injury to keep those rotations in a controlled manner for the spine.
3. Anti-lateral flexion — or, resisting lateral/side flexion. Picture yourself navigating a winding trail with lots of switchbacks. That's a lot of side-to-side movement, and having strong anti-lateral flexion muscles (also known as oblique's) gives your more power, stamina, and control during that movement. This one also helps big time off trail, when carrying your gear. Strong oblique muscles keep your torso upright and avoiding fatigue when carrying heavy gear to and from the trails.
Notice I didn't mention "to crunch" anywhere? As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, we're primarily a forward flexing society. As I write this article, I'm in a seated position — a.k.a. forward flexion. Crunches may get you visible abs, but the exercises below will get you a strong core that translates to strength, power, and stamina on the trails.
Function: as the name describes, it's for anti-rotation.
How-to: Loop a resistance band or set a cable at chest height. Step out to the side to pull the band taut. Brace the abs and squeeze the glutes and extend the arms straight out in front of you. Bring the arms back to the chest and repeat. Progress by using more weight, a heavier band, or stepping further out.
Forearm Rolling Plank:
Function: Anti-extension; Anti-lateral flexion
How-to: Start in a forearm plank with one forearm lined up in front of the other. Rotate into a side plank, while bringing the elbow behind the back, squeezing at the shoulder blade. Come back into a forearm plank, and then rotate to the opposite side.
Medicine Ball Twists:
Function: Anti rotation
How-to: Hold a medicine ball in front of you with arms slightly bent. Bracing the abs, rotate your torso left and right. Progress the exercise by rotating quicker and extending your arms further.
Function: Anti-lateral flexion
How-to: With your feet/lower legs secured under a sturdy object, lying on your side with hips, torso and shoulders in line, contract the abs to lift the torso up off the ground. Pause at the top, and return to starting. After completing the determined amount of reps/time, switch sides.
Peel Down Sit Ups:
How to: Hold a medicine ball or weight out in front of you with your arms extended and knees bent. Brace the abs and slowly bring your back down to the ground, vertebrae by vertebrae. Keeping your abs activated and low back pressed to the ground, bring the ball over head, and sit back up.
While these exercises will help strengthen all facets of the core muscles, it's worth mentioning that bracing the core is an art in itself. Make sure that in each exercise — and in almost any exercise - you're utilizing all 5 ways to brace the core.
Disclaimer: Although I am an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, please check with your physician before beginning any new exercise program.