Continued – A Balanced Approach

May 16, 2012

“When working your core, remember to pay attention to your posterior muscles”

By Bob Kaehler, MSPT, CSCS

If your training program includes core exercises, make sure you also incorporate posterior core work to keep your routine balanced. With core training focusing largely on the abdominal and anterior trunk musculature, the posterior muscles tend to get less attention. These include the thoracic and lumbar paraspinal muscles—muscles on either side of the spine—the glutes, and the hamstrings. Each of these groups play an important role in helping to control the spine when the upper and/or lower extremities resist against it, with or without movement and with or without external weight.
The posterior-trunk, hip, and lower-extremity musculature create an extension moment (a tendency to extend or arch the low back) around the lumbar spine when these muscles are contracting.   This counteracts the flexion moment (curling of the spine), which is created by the anterior muscle groups of the core. Posterior core exercises fall into four categories: fixed trunk with moving legs; fixed legs with moving trunk, where arms and legs are fixed; and with all extremities moving.
Fixed trunk with moving legs exercises include prone leg lifts, which can be done while lying prone (on the stomach) over an exercise ball, on a bench with your waist at the edge and feet on the floor, or on the floor. The arms are fixed either on the floor or on the edges of the bench and the legs are raised off the floor to the ideal height until the body is in at least a straight line (standing position) or the feet are slightly higher than the hips.  Fixed legs moving trunk exercises are done just as they sound: by fixing the legs and moving the trunk. Readers will recognize these as back extensions. Exercises include straight-leg dead lifts and back extensions. Back extensions are done on a chair, hyperextension machine, exercise ball, or on the floor. In each case, the feet are fixed to a solid object.
Because the hands are free, you can easily add resistance to this category of exercises. Exercises in which all four extremities are moving include the Superman exercise, where you lie on your stomach, on the floor or atop an exercise ball, and lift your arms and legs off the floor together. This category allows you to add resistance to all four extremities at once for increased resistance. The fourth and final category of exercises has all four extremities fixed on the floor. A posterior plank or bridge is a common exercise here. Start by lying in a hook position with your knees bent-up, feet flat on the floor, and your arms at your sides, palms down. Once you have set your starting position, raise your hips off the floor until your shoulders, hips, and knees are in a straight line. For an added challenge, do these exercises with your feet placed atop an exercise ball instead of the floor.
While there are many different core exercises, you should aim for as much variety in your program as possible. This means choosing exercises from as many categories as you can. The goal of posterior-core strengthening is to make the spine the stability point when you are moving the extremities, hips, and trunk around it. By improving strength and control around your spine, you will not only improve your rowing performance but also help reduce the risk of injury. When adding resistance to the hands or feet, make sure that you are able to keep the spine under control. Too much resistance can lead to poor technique and spine positioning.


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