Core training is not a new concept for most lacrosse coaches. They know that the midsection is highly utilized in the game, so it makes sense that developing a strong core will improve their athletes’ performance on the field. And not only does core training correlate to better performance, but it can also help prevent injuries that stem from having weak midline control.
Unfortunately, there is a breakdown in application, and this can result in inefficient and ineffective styles of core training. Core training reaches far beyond just sit-ups and crunches, and training your core musculature properly will yield big results.
Defining the Core
Commonly mistaken as just the rectus abdominis muscle on the front of the stomach, the core is made up of muscles on all sides of the trunk. The core muscles wrap around the spine and help keep it stable under load or during movement, like a thick cylinder of supportive muscle.
The muscles of the core do less to produce movement, and instead function primarily to resist movement. This is why the concept of core “stability” is so important, especially for athletes.
The more rigid and stable your core becomes, the more efficient the energy transfer from the hips and shoulders can be. A weak or unstable core is like trying to drink a milkshake through six straws stuck end-to-end—you’re not going to get very much milkshake that way. But a strong core is like one giant straw, that allows efficient milkshake (energy) transfer from the glass (your hips and shoulders) to your mouth (your lacrosse stick). More stability means more force transfer, and that is a very good thing.
Challenging the Core
So, to increase the strength and stability of the core, we need to challenge it to both resist force and act as a conduit for force generated from the legs and shoulders.
This is what makes squats and deadlifts such effective lifts for athletes in increasing sport performance, as both lifts challenge the athlete to maintain neutral spine positions under load.
Athletes often have weaker core musculature than they do squat and deadlift strength, and this weakness is easily spotted when form breaks down. Front and side planks are great tools for developing core stability, and they are easy for athletes to learn and scale.
In all core exercises, it is important to focus on maintaining a neutral spine and rigid core.
Exercising the Core
Performing specific exercises to strengthen the anti-rotational and anti-flexion/-extension mechanics of the core muscles can greatly impact overall force production.
Increasing the core’s ability to resist a distracting force from multiple different points allows for more training variation, and a more holistic approach to core strength.
Increasing overall core stability will allow athletes to perform squatting, deadlifting, and pressing movements more efficiently and ultimately make them even more effective training tools. Any proper training program must have a balanced approach to developing the core.
Transferring Core Strength
Transferring that core strength into sport-specific movements is the key to improving an athlete’s performance while reducing injury risk. Athletes with poor core control will often compensate by developing either tight hamstrings or an overactive low back (or both).
Both scenarios place an athlete at a higher risk of obtaining an injury do to improper positioning. Correcting poor core strength and utilizing better positional awareness in dynamic movements will help it translate to the field. Practicing ballistic med ball throws and loaded rotational movements help put a stable core to the test, as well as reinforce those patterns in more sport specific movements.
Ingrain proper movement patterns and you’ll see the benefits in your game. A stronger core means more powerful shots, hard hits, and being harder to stop when you make a move to the crease.
Core strength is just one piece of the puzzle. Be sure to get on a training program that emphasizes core strength beyond just endless sit-ups.