Core Training for Swimmers
In recent years, Core Training has been the subject of countless articles and books for athletes and non-athletes alike. Originally prescribed by physical therapists to patients with low back pain, Core Training is now commonly practiced by athletes with the desire to improve physical performance.
WHAT IS THE CORE?
Though most everyone has heard of the core, it is still an often misunderstood topic. Popular exercise magazines would have the public think that the core is simply a fancy term for the abdominal muscles and a few sets of crunches would suffice in keeping it strong. The term “core” actually refers to select groups of muscles that contribute to the muscular-based stability of the trunk. Such stability ensures the transition of forces between the upper extremities and lower extremities. In addition, the stability of this region contributes to the protection of the spinal column and assists in injury prevention.
The core is made up of intrinsic and extrinsic stabilizing muscles. Intrinsic stabilizers are deep and relatively small muscles that are attached to the spine. These muscles help to keep the spine properly aligned and give it rigidity. These “guy wires” act like those attached to a telephone pole. Each muscle has the specific task of counterbalancing its opposite. Extrinsic stabilizers include the more superficial, well-known muscles of the abdomen, as well as the muscles of the low back and hips. Compared to the intrinsic stabilizers, the extrinsic stabilizers are relatively long muscles. The primary role of these muscles is to control movement of the trunk and hips. Instability in this region can lead to malalignment of the vertebral column, and eventually, injury (Neumann).
HOW IS THE CORE TRAINED FOR SWIMMING?
Core training, like any component of a well-planned swimming conditioning program should be functional, progressive, and age-appropriate. It should focus on force production, force reduction, and the overall stability and alignment of the spine (Clark). Swimmers should begin a core training program by working to develop core stabilization. Core stabilization exercises generally involve very little, or no, motion and are intended to improve static muscular endurance and stability. Examples of core stabilization exercises are drawing in the abdomen, traditional planks, side planks, and floor bridges.
The next phase of core development is core strength. Core strength exercises are intended to improve movement of the spine while the athlete braces, or draws in, the abdomen. Core strength exercises involves significantly more movement than core stabilization exercises, are performed at moderate speeds, and are progressively more difficult to perform. Examples of core strength exercises are stability ball twisting crunches, leg lifts, and hyperextensions for the low back region.
The last phase in core development is core power. Core power exercises are designed to improve the speed of force generation. These types of exercises are typically performed in an explosive fashion, through a full range of motion. Due to the ballistic nature of core power training, it is critical that the swimmer have developed adequate core stability and core strength from the first two phases. Examples of core power training exercises are medicine ball pullover throws, overhead medicine ball throws, and partner-assisted leg throws. Each phase of core strength training should be performed for 4 weeks before progressing to the next phase (Clark).
Core training is a fundamental part of any modern sports performance program. Core training is especially important to swimming because of the need to repetitively transfer large forces back and forth between the upper and lower extremities. In addition to protecting the spine and low back, core stability, strength, and power is essential in the maintenance of efficient swimming technique. A properly designed core training program will enhance a swimmer’s ability to control force transmittal and movement throughout the trunk and is a major contributing factor in the competitive success of swimmers at any level.
Clark, M., Lucett, S. NASM Essentials of Sports Performance Training. Baltimore, MD: Lipincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 2010.
Neumann, D. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2010.