I’ve written about the “core” or “trunk” or whatever else you like to call the area between the shoulders and hips before. I’ve discussed the many muscles that crisscross this area and how many contribute to our ability to stabilize ourselves against gravity and external loads.
While it’s fun to get all geeky and talk about the interconnectedness of our bodies or how the fascia weaves continuously through and around our muscles it may be more helpful to just simplify what is needed. Because back pain is such a common affliction and the core can play a huge role in alleviating this issue let’s cut to the chase.
To protect against injury we need to be able to create adequate “stiffness” around the spine. Because we are three-dimensional beings this means the front, sides and back have to all be up to the task. While it’s almost too simplified, a very basic way to see where you’re at is to do a few plank varieties for time. Starting with the side plank, which many find the most difficult, you should be able to hold this position for at least 40 seconds.
In the standard front plank you are shooting for at least 60 seconds.
Additionally, for beginners, I will often administer a glute bridge test as well to see where the posterior chain is at. With the glute bridge I am also looking for 60 seconds and hoping it’s the easiest of the bunch.
The reason the aforementioned tests are almost too simple is because they leave out other stabilizing abilities our core has, namely: anti-rotation. In addition to leaving this plane of motion out I am also a big fan of chops, lifts and loaded carries, which will tax the core musculature as well. However, because these are done in a vertical position they tax the core in a different and arguably more functional way. This is because vertical is where we spend a lot of our time especially when we’re under load, i.e. carrying and moving stuff around.
So in closing; definitely get good at doing planks and such, which is basically learning how to create stiffness around the spine. However, don’t forget we are (hopefully) active beings and expanding our stabilizing abilities to the vertical position including chopping, carrying and the rotational plane is ideal.