My favourite advanced trunk endurance exercises.

To be a great coach they say you need to be a great thief.  Or in other you need to be a very keen observer of what is going on around you and willing to snap up good ideas and training strategies at any chance possible.  I think this is absolutely true for not just coaching, strength and conditioning but also physio.

I have been lucky enough to travel the world working in professional sport and I have always been on the look at.  Here are some my favourite advanced trunk endurance exercises, some of which I developed and some of picked up along the way.

The Woodchop Switch

For this exercise you need either a heavy duty band pulling off the wall or a cable machine.  Start in a lunge position hold the handle of the band or cable out in front with arms straight at shoulder height.  Switch quickly the leg in front on the lunge and stabilise yourself with the arms out in front again.  The aim is to land as stable as possible through the trunk and pelvis.  Hold the position for 5 seconds and then switch again.  Keep switching for 10 reps as a starting point and build up the reps to 20, 30 etc and also progress by the resistance on the band or cable.

The Two Point Plank

The plank or front bridge is on the elbows/forearms and toes holding the pelvis and spine in neutral.  Always during plank avoid having your backside up in the air, your pelvis sagging so that the back falls into an arched position or a rounded upper back position.  For Two Point Plank, take off either the right leg and left arm or the left leg and right arm. And continue to hold the desired position of the spine and pelvis.  Either hold this position or keep alternating.  Add weight in the form of a plate onto the lower back when athletes really improve.

Bench and Ball Hip Sliders

Grab a weights bench and a swiss/exercise ball.  Your feet go on the swiss ball  and hands on the bench so you are holding a plank position through your trunk.  Hold this position particularly keeping the pelvis square and not rotating.  Keep your toes pointing to the ground and take your foot out to the side and back.  So you are going heels apart approximately 30 seconds and then heels together and so on.  Repeat each leg 10 times to begin with but then you can progress towards 30 reps and even add weight to the lower back also.

The Star Side Plank

A side plank is when you rest on the forearm of one side and the side of the feet of the other.  For a star side plank, hold a dumbbell in the hand and hold the arm up so it points to the sky.  Separate the heels so the feet are about 30-40cm apart.  The pelvis has to stay facing the wall and no turn upwards and the toes have to point towards the wall.  This ensures the lateral hip stabilisers are working and not just the hip flexors.  Hold for as long as possible and you can increase the weight of the dumbbell.

Hand and Toe Donkey Kicks

In this exercises you start on your hands and knees.  Then lift your knees up so you are just on your toes and hands and hold this position.  Through the exercise, you must keep your shoulder blades drawn back and down and allow yourself to round your upper back (or go into to what we call a thoracic kyphosis).  Lift the toes on one foot and then kick back squeezing the butt/glute on that side so that the leg goes into a completey straight line with your spine.  Repeat this ten times on that side and then the other and keep repeating until too fatigued to hold the intended posture.  The aim is to get to at least 60 kicks, that is 30 on each side, and then add weight onto the lower back in the form of a plate.   This will both make the holding more difficult and it will also ensure good positioning of the lumbar spine to keep the weight balanced.

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Going beyond just trunk endurance

As far as injury prevention goes, we talk a lot about trunk endurance.  And rightly so as the is evidence supporting the ability of the trunk muscles to perform for a long period of time and support the lumbar spine, pelvis and hips to prevent injury is positive and conclusive.  But like any advancement of knowledge or practise, things need to be taken further.

So what do we do with an athlete who has already achieved what we would consider a good level of trunk endurance with the common exercises at your disposal like planks, (front bridge) side plank (side bridge), back extension hold etc.  Firstly, you can increase it further because you can never have too much trunk endurance and the increased endurance will only serve to further prevent injury.  However, for ongoing performance improvement in terms physical capabilities, systems need to be continually challenged and overloaded for the necessary adaptations to take place.  In this case being the ability of the trunk muscles to work at the highest level possible to prevent injury and to hold the dynamic posture required by the sport for a high number repetitions under increasing fatigue.

There is much room for improvement in both knowledge and practise on how we can achieve this.  Look to progress the basic trunk endurance exercises to more complex versions to challenge not only trunk endurance, but also neuromuscular control, the ability of the body hold posture with less support or under more unstable conditions and recruit more concurrent muscles to stabilise the body in the desired position.  Then look to increase the holding times or repetitions of exercises and then again look to again increase complexity, decrease support etc.  And this is an ongoing process as the athlete continues to improve.  Not finding ways to challenge and progress an athlete will cause stagnation in the performance of the stabilising systems. This is very relevant for both end stage or high level rehabilitation programs and as part performance training programs.

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How I define core stability and classify core stability exercises

What is “Core Stabilty”?

This is a question that so many people will give you a different answer to.  No one is really right or wrong.  But what is important is that you work from a solid foundation of understanding about how the human neuromuscular skeletal system works.  It is also very helpful to have a framework and exercise classification system to use when approaching rehabilitation and athletic performance.

I consider the “core” to have the following functions:

– Connect the lower to the upper body and ensure an efficient transfer of energy

– Provide the link between big powerful muscles to ensure they can work together in a coordinated fashion

– Keep the pelvis, spine and scapulas in the desired position during movements to protect connective tissue structures

So this is also how I define “core stability” – The neuromuscular systems ability to perform the above 3 functions.

If these are the functions, then these are the main muscle groups involved working from the ground up.  I never like to define core by the muscles because muscles never work in isolation and core must be trained through mostly functional movements rather than just training a muscle.  It is helpful however to have a good awareness of the main muscles involved:

–       Deep external rotators of the hip

–       Lateral hip stabilisers (Glute min and med)

–       Glute max

–       Erector spinae

–       Quadratus lumborum

–       Iliopsoas

–       Transversus Abdominis

–       External and Internal Obliques

–       Rectus Abdominis

–       Serratus Anterior

–       Lower Trapezius

–       Rhomboids

–       Levator scapulae

–       Upper trapezius

This is the exercise classification system I use.  I have been practicing as a sports physio and strength and conditioning coach for a long time and have found this as the most beneficial way to approach your core stability exercises.

1. Trunk Endurance

Exercises that require holding a desired position for a long period of time.  These exercises train the ability of the muscles to work for a long period which is very important for both the general population and athletes.

2. Through range core exercises

Exercises that involve training the physiological movements of the spine and hips

3. Single leg stability exercises

Exercises that involve improving the ability of the muscles to stabilize the pelvis and spine when on one leg

4. Scapular stability

Exercises that involve being able to both hold the scapula in a desired position under load and move the scapula with the desired rhythm in relation to glenohumeral movement.



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