I joined the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) in 1984 and earned the CSCS certification in 1987. While I really appreciate the opportunities the NSCA afforded me early in my career, as time goes by, it seems the organization is becoming less and less relevant to me. There is less and less material of interest to coaches of serious athletes. The personal trainers greatly out number the coaches now. While there is certainly some overlap in the interests of the many types of practitioners who now make up the NSCA, many of the "oldtimers" have lost enthusiasm for NSCA events. The NSCA Conventions are now overwhelmed with women in spandex carrying Evian bottles and munching on Pria bars and men who do tricks on stability balls. They even had cup stackers on display in the exhibition hall of the last one I attended. The cover of the June 2010 Strength and Conditioning Journal only gives further evidence of this shift. Having said that, the June 2010 S&C Journal is one of the better ones they have put out lately. There were several articles I found of interest.One was about the idea of "training to failure". The article summarized research on this issue and concluded that training to failure may have some benefit for stimulating hypertrophy, but is counterproductive for power development. Of course this is not news, but the article is well done and referenced if you need to explain this concept to an athlete who reads the current "Muscle and Fiction" magazines. Of course scientific proof seldom overides the motivational effect of high definition pictures of massive drug induced bodybuilders on young men. Real athletes though, are motivated by results and not just appearance. There was also an article on set volume, or the number of sets per exercise which are most effective. Research seems to show that (News Flash!! )multiple sets are more effective than single sets. lol In my opinion the best article was on core training by Dr. Stuart McGill. While the idea of "core training" has become a trendy buzzword across the fitness landscape, Dr. McGill is a true expert in this area and a voice of common sense, backed up by years of practical research and hands on experience. Any coach would benefit by reading this summary article or his books on low back disorders and training. He makes the point that this article is only a brief and inadequate synopsis of his books. If you really want to understand core stability, I highly recommend that you read his two books on low back disorders and training. Some of the main points he makes are: There are no "recipes" for back performance or pain reduction. Each case has to be individually accessed and prescribed.Most problems are caused by improper movement patterns. These can be corrected. Repeatedly bending the spine will cause disc deterioration. Full range spinal motion is neither necessary or desirable. It is important to strengthen the muscles that support the spine without stressing the discs. This includes substituting pulling in exercises for the standard crunches and situps in many cases.Here is an excerpt from the S&C Journal article:
"Consider the usual and popular approach to train the abdominal wall muscles by performing sit-ups or curl-ups over a gym ball for example. But consider the rectus abdominis where the contractile components are interrupted with transverse tendons giving the “6 pack” look. The muscle is not designed for optimal length change but rather to function as a spring. Why have these transverse tendons in rectus abdominis? The reason is that when the abdominals contract, “hoop stresses” are formed by the oblique muscles that would split the rectus apart (26). In addition to the spring-like architecture of the muscle, consider how it is used. People rarely flex the rib cage to the pelvis shortening the rectus in sport or everyday activity. Rather they stiffen the wall and load the hips or shoulders-if this is performed rapidly such as in a throw or movement direction change, the rectus functions as an elastic storage and recovery device. When lifting weights, it stiffens to efficiently transmit the power generated at the hips through the torso. Those individuals who do actively flex the torso (think of cricket bowlers and gymnasts) are the ones who suffer with high rates of spine joint damage and pain. Now, revisit the common training approach of curling the torso over a gym ball that replicates the injury mechanics while not creating the athleticism that enhances performance. This is a rather poor choice of exercise for most situations. Yet many clients will expect that a gym ball be used. Disguise your intentions with these clients and retain the gym ball, but change the exercise from a spine compromising curl-up to a plank where the elbows are placed on the ball. Now, perform a “stir the pot” motion to enhance the torso/abdominal spring and spare the spine-this is often a much superior exercise for most people."
I have often employed a similar movement where the athlete stands in front of a lat machine and uses either a rope attachment or a towell or rope drapped around the handle (bar). The rope is then pulled down to the back of the neck and the athlete curls downward, moving the elbows towards the knees. This can be performed both facing towards and away from the machine.This is truly functional core work without compression or shearing forces. Another interesting concept is the idea of "superstiffness". Following is another excerpt:
"Eight essential components of superstiffness
1. Use rapid contraction, then relaxation of muscle. Speed results from relaxation for speed but also stiffness in some body regions (e.g., core) to buttress the limb joints to initiate motion or enhance impact (of a golf club, hockey stick, fist, and the like) (50).
2. Tune the muscles. Storage and recovery of elastic energy in the muscles require optimal stiffness, which is tuned by the activation level. In the core, this is about 25% of maximum voluntary contraction for many activities (4,8,5).
3. Enhance muscular binding and weaving. When several muscles contract together, they form a composite structure where the total stiffness is higher than the sum of the individual contributing muscles (6). This is particularly important in the abdominal wall formed by the internal and external obliques and transverse abdominis, highlighting the need to contract them together in a bracing pattern (15).
4. Direct neuronal overflow. Strength is enhanced at one joint by contractions at other joints-martial artists call this “eliminating the soft spots.” Professional strongmen use this to buttress weaker joints using core strength (53).
5. Eliminate energy leaks. Leaks are caused when weaker joints are forced into eccentric contraction by stronger joints. For example, when jumping or changing running direction, the spine bending when the hip musculature rapidly contracts forms a loss of propulsion. The analogy “you can push a stone but you cannot push a rope” exemplifies this principle.
6. Get through the sticking points. The technique of “spreading the bar” during the sticking point in the bench press is an example of stiffening weaker joints.
7. Optimize the passive tissue connective system. Stop inappropriate passive stretching. Turn your athletes into Kangaroos. For example, reconsider if a runner should be stretched outside of their running range of motion. Many of the great runners use elasticity to spare their muscles or to potentiate them to pulse with each stride. However, do consider stretching to correct left/right asymmetries shown to be predictive of future injury.
8. Create shock waves. Make the impossible lifts possible by initiating a shock wave with the hips that is transmitted through a stiff core to enhance lifts, throws, strikes, and the like."
Every thrower and/or lifters would benefit from understanding and implementing these concepts. Again, I suggest reading the entire books if this piques your interest.
Finally the last excerpt on program design and exercise selection:
"ORGANIZING THE LATE-STAGE PROGRAM
Finally, consider exercises such as the squat. Interestingly, when we measure world-class strongmen carrying weight or National Football League players running planting the foot and cutting-neither of these are exclusively trained by the squat (see Ref. (44)). This is because these exercises do not train the quadratus lumborum and abdominal obliques, which are so necessary for these tasks (53).
In contrast, spending less time under a bar squatting and redirecting some of this activity with asymmetric carries such as the farmers' walk (or bottoms-up kettlebell carry-see Figure 12) (53) builds the athleticism needed for higher performance in these activities in a much more “spine friendly” way. The core is never a power generator as measuring the great athletes always shows that the power is generated in the hips and transmitted through the stiffened core. They use the torso muscles as antimotion controllers, rarely motion generators (of course, there are exceptions for throwers and the like, but the ones who create force pulses with larger deviations in spine posture are the ones who injure first). Thus, the core musculature must be very strong and capable of control to optimize training of other body regions and to facilitate best performance. But power training should be reserved for the hips, not the core.
Once your client has excellent movement patterns and the appropriate blend of stiffening and mobility, they may progress from corrective to performance enhancing exercise. Here, you may consider organizing training to include a push, pull, lift, carry, and a torsional buttressing task. The exact exercises are tuned to the client. For example, a push may be a push-up (14,49,51) or a one-armed cable push with a controlled and stiffened core. A pull may be a pull-up or a sled drag (13). A carry may be a one-armed suitcase carry, which uniquely trains the quadratus lumborum and lateral musculature, or a one-handed bottoms-up kettlebell carry to enhance core stiffening and the skill of steerage of strength through the linkage. A lift may be a bar lift, kettlebell swing, or snatch. A torsional task is not a twist but a torsional challenge with no spine twisting, such as a lateral cable hold where the arms are moved to different positions anteriorly (see Figure 13) (44). Finally, composite exercises may be introduced for special situations that require core strength, endurance, and control but then assist the development of rapid force.
I am concerned that this short article shortchanges the reader as it simply cannot convey the components necessary to be an elite trainer but, at least, it may elevate awareness of some of the issues. I wish you a similarly enjoyable journey as I have enjoyed in conducting scientific studies and application of the principles to reduce pain and enhance performance."
Are these articles worth the price of NSCA membership? Personally, I don't think so. Either borrow the journal or check it out of the library and get ahold of Dr. Stuart McGill's books if you really want to learn about "Core Stability" It will open your eyes to see beyond the current popular trends and fads concerning strengthening your middle in a truly functional way without injury as a by-product.