The spider has eight legs that are very mobile. They are responsible for all of the spider’s movement. The spider’s body is nothing but a “core”, and is the stabile attachment point for all the legs. It does no movement of its own to contribute to the spider’s mobility.
This idea should not be far removed from how an elite athlete should move. The core is stabile and relatively immobile while the limbs are responsible for the movement. The core might be responsible for slight adjustments in posture and positioning, but it is inefficient at gross movements or corrections, as mentioned here.
Story #1: I thought I had a great core. I remember doing some sort of (stupid) core strength test at a tryout camp, where I had the longest plank. I’m sure that zero attention was paid to my form and that’s how I was able to manage a 2min15s single arm, single leg plank with a dowel on my back. Regardless, I thought I had a strong core.
Story #2: I went to a power skating camp when I was younger. Like many power skating camps, they wanted to see an upright torso angle and a very large knee bend. Expecting that the money my parents were paying for this hockey camp was paying for valuable information, I listened closely to them. I was very proud when after my third year of attending this camp they had no negative feedback on my video, indicating that I had perfectly assimilated their technique into my stride. However, the only way I was able to get my torso upright was to jut open my ribcage. And this also led me to over emphasize my knee bend my entire career up until recently.
Story #3: A few seasons ago, I asked my teammate for feedback. He is a goalie, very perceptive and intelligent. He said that I was very readable. In order to solve that, I tried to be less predictable. I don’t know how…and my “trying” didn’t yield results.
Expert Movers – All Star Athletes
See if you can pick out the commonality between the next three videos given what I’ve mentioned about the spider.
If you noticed that their core is very stable and hardly moves or deviates. Meanwhile, their hands and legs are responsible for movement and manipulating the ball/stick/puck, then you’re on the right path.
Motor Programs – Efficiency in Learning, Efficiency in Execution and the Proximal to Distal Gradient
So the best athletes have excellent core control. I’ll explain in a bit, and refer back to Story #1 (the 2:15 plank) how typical “core training” won’t create the excellent core control needed by elite athletes. The best athletes are able to keep their core stable in many positions and in many movements.
Going back to Story #3, I’ve realized that I essentially had a different core position for each skill: skating forward, turning, shooting, passing, hitting. This made it very easy for a goalie or other player to read me because they knew what I was going to do depending on how I was leaning. In contrast to Patrick Kane (or Curry & Messi), they maintain a very stable core position in many movements. This makes them less predictable and harder to read.
Having less core positions, or the same core position that applies to more movements leads to efficiency in learning. There are less core positions that apply to more movement, which makes learning a matter of adding variations than adding different motor programs. For example, if an athlete (like I did) has a different core position for skating with the puck, without the puck, and for shooting, each motor program is distinct and needs to be learned independently. Transitions between the three core positions also need to be practiced. All of this leads to the player requiring more time for practice. If instead, the player has the same core positioning for all three skills, the additions of skills are variations of the main motor program, and not distinct motor programs. Also, transitions between the skills are more subtle and require less or no practice…making skill acquisition more efficient.
This fits into what I wrote about the proximal to distal gradient. Subtle movements should take place at the proximal joint (the spine), while gross movements should occur at the distal joints (hips, knees, ankles, shoulder, elbows, wrists). Subtle movements should take place at the proximal joints because that is where stability and tension is best held. If stability and tension is not held there, then they will be held in joints and limbs that are supposed to be fluid. For me, I didn’t hold tension as much as I should in core, and instead held it in my shoulders.
Core Training: What to do
Situps, planks, bear crawls, boss balls, crunches, ab rollers, leg lifts, ab belts, etc, etc, are absolutely useless if they are not respecting what the core’s function actually is. After working with Sergey Nazarov of Fitnastika in Vancouver, he explained to me that the core’s purpose is to minimize the distance from the ribs to the pelvic. [Lightlbulb] Didn’t take me long to see that in about 9/10 of my movements occurred with my ribcage flaring.
I’m not afraid to go back and blame this on 1) my hockey and 2) Story #2. Due to position required in hockey (knees bent, hips back, torso leaning forward), and the instruction from this power skating (or should I say core power eliminating skating) had me flaring my ribcage to get my torso upright. Unfortunately, this habit somehow stuck with me. I’d also say that the forward arm swing that they preached also led me to develop a dysfunctional core while skating. Obviously, this isn’t anyone’s fault…the power skating camp wasn’t intentionally trying to make this happen, and I obviously didn’t know the consequence…regardless, it occurred. I’m writing this article so that it might not occur to you and your youngster.
In hockey players, here are a few things you can do to improve core function:
- Do not have a forward arm swing. Let your arms drive naturally.
- Do not force an upright torso. Teach/learn a hip hinge instead which will lead to a modest forward lean angle.
- Focus on keeping the ribcage down and hips back in all exercises and movements. Skating, stick handling, shooting, lifting, running.
Of course this little three bullet point list won’t give you all the answers. Stay tuned for some video instructions or come out to beautiful Vancouver Island for some coaching. Make comments below if you have specific questions.
How people who can benefit from this post:
Whether you have great core function in all movement, or just a few, you can probably improve your library of movements with solid core positioning. You might have great core positioning and function in 9/10 movements, but not notice that that last movement that you’re having trouble with is due to improper core positioning. As I started to be more aware of my core positioning, I started rooting out movements that I thought “I’m just not good at”, as movements where I moved my core incorrectly.
Good luck stabilizing that core.