Archive for core

021: Why The Front Plank Is A Dumb Exercise (Podcast)


Hi Everyone!

You might be surprised to read that I think the front plank could be considered a sort of "dumb" exercise, IF YOUR goal is to improve your durability as a runner and reduce your risk of injury.

As an endurance athlete, core stability is what you're after. Certainly, the front plank can help develop strength and endurance in the front of the body, but if your goal is to improve durability and speed, the front plank fails miserably.

Lots of people like to work on the muscles that make them look good in a bathing suit. If that's your aim, carry on.

BUT... if your mission is to create a good, solid, stable core in three planes of motion, the half front plank with a reach AND the side plank will give you a much better payoff for time and energy spent. These plank exercises challenge transverse and frontal plane motions respectively, and they are too often ignored.

In addition to this podcast, click on the image below to check out a 59-second video I did for Instagram and Facebook, where I show you one other, different but much more productive way to train core stability!

To your success,

~Coach Al

021: Why The Front Plank Is A Dumb Exercise (Podcast)


Hi Everyone!

You might be surprised to read that we think the the front plank is a dumb exercise. The triathletes and runners on our team RULE the plank, but a focus on the front plank is not part of our training. Here's why....

As you've undoubtedly seen, the front plank is common in training venues and gyms. Problem is, it's not the best exercise to create core STABILITY. As a competitive, endurance athlete, core stability is what you're after. Certainly, the front plank can help develop strength and endurance in the front of the body, but here's the problem.... The exercise is over used, and if you've looked around your gym, it is often poorly done.

Lots of people like to work on the muscles that make them look good in a bathing suit. If that's your aim, carry on.

BUT... if your mission is to create a good, solid, stable core in three planes of motion, the half front plank with a reach AND the side plank will give you a much better payoff for time and energy spent. These plank exercises challenge transverse and frontal plane motions respectively, and they are too often ignored.

If you're not familiar with the half front plank with reach, here's Dr. Strecker in a training video for our triathlon team. We don't usually share these, but OK, just this once--it's that important. 🙂

If you want to know more about core stability, we have a podcast here on the topic. We also have a three-part series of posts on "What You Don't Know About the Core CAN Hurt You," which you can find here.

019: Core Stability: It’s Not About A Muscle (Podcast)


Hey Everyone!

When we start talking about core stability, let's start with this....

It’s not about a muscle.

side plankCoach Al and I recently discussed an article where the author had examined a large body of research and claimed to have elucidated the most important exercises for “core training” in runners. The studies looked at the multifidi and transversus abdominis using electromyography (EMG), which measures muscle activity. With this information the author concluded that dead lifts and back squats are the best core exercises for runners.

The trouble is, core stability is not about a muscle. Body parts do not function in isolation. You are a person, an entire human being. You are not a knee or a hip or an ankle. You are not a bicep or a tricep or a quad. Your movement is orchestrated by an amazing brain and nervous system. The whole is most definitely greater than the sum of the parts. To judge the efficacy of a core exercise by the activity of a muscle or two is completely ludicrous! EMG measures muscle activity, not core stability. Stability is a skill, it is well-orchestrated motor control. Assuming otherwise is a huge mistake.

Take, for example, a rowing team. Nine athletes in a long skinny boat with oars. Eight of those athletes row while the ninth steers and directs the activity. All of the guys with oars are strong and fit and capable of producing a great deal of force, but unless they work as a team in synchronicity they don’t move at all. Core stability is no different, folks.

Here's what you need to know about the core, how to train it and work that stability! Enjoy!

Helping YOU Be Great!

Dr. Kurt Strecker

We hope you enjoy our podcasts and find them useful for your training and racing. Any questions? Hit us up in the comments, or on Facebook. Let us know of any topics you would like us to cover too.

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Gait analysis

What You Don’t Know About the Core Can Hurt You (Part 1 of 3)

This is the first post in our three-part series on core development. There others are Core Training: Why Hard Effort Does Not Always Equal Success and Core Class, Boot Camp... Great Ways to Get Stronger? Not Necessarily....

The lumbar spine is not meant to greatly twist and flex, and the disks in the back are harmed by those movements. Sit ups, crunches, leg lifts and the like are completely counterproductive to your goal of becoming a better athlete.

The lumbar spine is not meant to greatly twist and flex, and the disks in the back are harmed by those movements. Sit ups, crunches, leg lifts and the like are completely counterproductive to your goal of becoming a better athlete.

There is so much misinformation out there about core "strength" and core "training." Athletes have been misled by years of improper training guidance, including any number of popular core (fad) "strength" programs that are at once deceitful in their marketing promises, and often very harmful.

If you are an athlete interested in good health AND better performance, it is time to learn the real story of the core--what it is, how it works, what it is designed to do, and how to develop proper core strength and stability.

What Is the Core? What Is Its Purpose?

You may think of the core as isolated abdominal muscles such as the familiar transverse abdominals, obliques, and anterior abs. In fact, your core is the ENTIRE trunk from your hips and pelvis to your neck and cervical spine. Its purpose is to be your body's foundation for

all of your sport movements. The purpose of this foundation (your core) is to STOP or control motion, not create it. This is critical! In fact, athletic stability stops or controls motion (in the pelvic girdle for example) in the presence of motion somewhere else in the body (such as in the swinging arms and legs of a runner). This is a hugely important concept that we will cover more in-depth below. We will also talk about how the core is designed to provide "reactive stabilization" and work as an integrated unit synergistically with every other part of your body.

Your Core Must Be Stable

The true goal of core development is to create STABILITY, which is central for superior athletic performance, protection from injury, and overall good health. The pelvis and the lumbar spine, in particular, must be rock solid. Why does this matter?

Most athletes have no idea, but core stability is how you transfer power to your arms and legs. Without stability in the pelvis and the lumbar spine, your big agonist muscles, or prime movers (glutes, quads, hamstrings, lats) cannot activate. Most athletes haven't a clue that their ability to generate ballistic output and speed originates from a neutral pelvis and a stable lumbar spine--never from the limbs alone.

The more stable the core, the more power you can generate with your extremities.

Pursuit Athletic Performance On Core Strength and Stability

The lumbar region in the human skeleton

Core stability allows your entire kinetic chain to fire at optimal efficiency. So if you swim, bike, run, moving from a neutral pelvic position with a stable lumbar spine is the fundamental basis for your ultimate performance potential. All your hopes, dreams, and goals for training and racing start with a stable core.

Reactive Stabilization. What's That? And Why Should I Care?

The core is also designed to reactively stabilize during dynamic movements. In other words, the core kicks in to prevent inefficient motion in the presence of motion elsewhere in the body. For example...

As a runner swings her arms and legs, a properly-functioning core reacts to stabilize the spine, pelvis, and shoulders and allow for the transfer of power to the legs. This reactive stability, coupled with proper mobility, muscular balance, and overall functional strength, allows for the optimal firing of your big prime movers. The supporting stabilizing muscles can then go to work to keep good biomechanical form over long distances.

Reactive stabilization of the core is very close to the silver bullet athletes are constantly searching for.

Employing a stable core is how your true athleticism emerges as you stop wasting energy and are able to transfer EFFORT from your sport-specific movement into SPEED throughout your training and racing.

Have a Strong Core? It Can Still Be A Weak Core

This is a really important paradox for athletes to be aware of. Even if your core is strong--i.e. isolated abdominal muscles are well developed--if it is UNSTABLE, there is no doubt you are LEAKING SPEED. The instability is guaranteed to lead to compensation in all of your movement. As a result, you are forced to use the wrong muscles to power your way through training and racing. Your risk of injury is also much, MUCH higher.

Working the Abs

Many athletes have been led to believe they are enhancing their training by doing exercises like sit ups and crunches. Many popular "cult" training programs that are thought to be "cutting edge" and cool, include these kinds of exercises.

Core stability has no relationship whatsoever to working abdominal muscles in isolation.

Exercises like these allow motion to occur through the lumbar spine, negating, as we explained earlier, the functional purpose of that area of the body. The lumbar spine is not meant to greatly twist and flex, and the disks in the back are harmed by those movements. Sit ups, crunches, leg lifts and the like are completely counterproductive to your goal of becoming a better athlete. Strong abdominal muscles in an unstable core do nothing to stabilize you at the precise moment you need to mitigate unwanted movement to create power and speed.

To ignite your core into the wellspring of powerful athletic movement that it is designed to be, you must train the "core" in a functional, sport-specific, and authentic way. Quality functional movement and strength training is the way to go.

Training Core Stability

To build a stable core we recommend you have a scientific gait analysis conducted at a reputable institution. Find the root causes of your weakness and imbalances then, with help from a carefully-selected trainer, objectively and scientifically rebuild thorough core stability. You need to carefully research various trainers and select one who has a deep understanding of core stability and functional strength training. Rather than crunching, you should be working a perfectly executed (we can't stress the perfect execution part enough) planking regimen. A well-designed regimen will include front and side planks,  moving planks, and longer continuous plank holds.

When you have a truly stable core, it is then--and only then--that you can safely and effectively increase load and dynamism in training. It is then that your sport-specific training will really begin to work, and the results you have been searching for will begin to manifest.


We will continue this series on the core with two additional posts. We will examine the insidious infiltration of the "training" mindset into core development. Then we'll delve into how core development is more than just picking some random exercises and expecting great results.

Core Class, Boot Camp…Great Ways to Get Stronger? Not Necessarily… (Part 3 of 3)

This is the final post in our three-part series on core development. There others are What You Don't Know About the Core Can Hurt You and Core Training: Why Hard Effort Does Not Always Equal Success

Hello Everyone!

Coach Al here. I am wrapping up our series on core development with this video blog post. I want to take the time to delve into another serious misunderstanding that pervades the athletic world about core development work and functional strength training. It is the idea that if you go to a class or boot camp, or you work really hard using the latest, popular DVD, then the benefits of improved performance and diminished risk of injury will come.

There is no doubt that a strong and stable body will keep you healthier and make you faster. However, taking classes or following a routine on a DVD amounts to nothing more than selecting exercises at random as they do not not address your particular issues and weaknesses. Without first knowing how YOU MOVE in order to tailor strength work to your particular needs, you will not secure the benefits you seek and deserve. A generic, random approach to core development and functional strength work is NOT smart training, and is not a good use of your time.

I hope you will listen and come away with a better understanding of what it takes to get truly strong. If you do the work, you deserve to reap the benefits of better performance, reduced injury, and enhanced overall health.

The other posts in this series I recommend you take the time to read are What You Don't Know About the Core Can Hurt You and The Insidious Infiltration of a Training Mindset into Core Work.

Core Training: Why Hard Effort Does Not Always Equal Success (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second post in our three-part series on core development. The others are What You Don't Know About the Core Can Hurt You and Core Class, Boot Camp…Great Ways to Get Stronger? Not Necessarily…

Hi Everyone!

core trainingIn this series of posts we are working to dispel widespread misconceptions about core development that pervade the athletic world—particularly the running and triathlon communities. We have gotten great response to our first post, What You Don't Know About the Core Can Hurt You. If you haven't read it, we hope you will take the time to learn why a stable, rather than just a strong core is essential for athletic performance. Here, we delve into what we see as an insidious infiltration of the "training" mindset into core development work.

Sweat. The burn. Effort equals success, right?

No doubt hard training is very important, and it has its time and place. But there is a particular problem with bringing a no-pain-no-gain mindset into core development work. So many athletes go to core class or pop in a DVD and think, "It's hard. I'm shelled. I must definitely be getting stronger."

The problem is effort does NOT necessarily mean success when it comes to properly developing the core.

First of all, the bust-a-gut programs many rely on for core training may be filled with--let's say it straight here—stupid exercises. MANY of the mass-marketed programs out there promote movements that are downright dangerous. Also, a lot of those exercises may be very wrong for YOU to be doing, depending on your issues. But athletes are taught that if they find the work extremely difficult—nigh on impossible is even better—then the benefits will manifest.

How many times have you seen people in the gym doing plyometric single-leg-squat jumps or balancing on a BOSU ball? We bet one in a thousand has the strength and stability to do those kinds of movements correctly. Most are not even close.

Instead, what you see is crazy compensation. Bodies are wavering all over the place. The pelvis is far from neutral, the lumbar spine is twisting and flexing, there is collapse of the knees toward the midline of the body. The exercise is FAR beyond what they can manage, yet athletes carry on because it's "hard," it's a "challenge."

Doing core work with bad form filled with compensation is NOT building strength or stability. Instead, it feeds weakness and instability, the antithesis of what athletes want and need to attain.

Here's the thing...the exact opposite approach is needed in developing the core.

On a daily basis we explain to athletes who come through our Gait Analysis Lab the progressive nature of building true core strength and stability. Virtually every athlete has no understanding of what it means to do core exercises really well in order to derive the benefit therein. There is a very big difference between doing "simple movements" with precision, versus shredding your trunk. Done correctly, athletes are surprised at how challenging, difficult—and productive—"simple" core movements are when done CORRECTLY.

We guarantee if you are pursuing core "training" that is beyond your ability, you are absolutely compensating like crazy to get the work done. That is absolutely NOT training that benefits athletic performance.

It's the express train to injury.

Side Plank: Some Days You Have It, Some Days You Don’t

The Side Plank Conundrum: Why Does My Ability Wax and Wane?

side plank In our team forum, a few of the athletes on our triathlon squad were having a discussion about the waxing and waning of plank strength. Plank strength is big topic at Pursuit Athletic Performance. We coach our athletes to build up to a 2.5 minute side plank hold with perfect form. (You can read more about proper plank form in this post.) Our athletes accomplish this feat of functional strength through guided progressive front and side plank training. They work on on various configurations of the exercise including continuous holds and others versions of planks that include movement. When an athlete can hold a 2.5-minute side plank, as a coach that tells me a lot. That athlete now has built quite a lot of the pelvic stability, which is very important for holding the run together in the latter part of a race--particularly in the marathon and long-course triathlon.

So what's with the waxing and waning of plank strength? Why can you bust out a long hold some weeks, only to be begging for mercy in half that time the next?

Based on my experience, I can confidently say that overall, general fatigue, coupled with specific trunk/core fatigue, has a huge impact on our plank "status" from one point in time to another.

For example, if you were to stop challenging your body to get "faster" and "stronger" in your run and on the bike, and laid very low on the OTHER strength exercises you were doing....MAYBE EVEN took a little siesta from training all together for a few days by lying on the beach, I can almost guarantee with great certainty, that you could THEN get down on the floor, and absolutely blow your plank PR to smithereens!

What's going on with that?

We rarely appreciate just how much our trunk and "core" are engaged in all of the training we do, ESPECIALLY when we're moving well! The trunk's doing what it is supposed to do--tie everything together, get things "linked" up. And that is exactly what we want the core to do. The effect, however, is that we create fatigue chasing fitness in those other ways...and fatigue doesn't "go away" or resolve as fast as we'd sometimes like.

In fact, try doing a long side plank hold after your longest or hardest run of the week?. You might not be able to do even a fraction of what you could do PRIOR TO the run. This is one reason why I program plank training before a run or bike because of the resulting fatigue from the sport specific session that we often DON'T anticipate. What I mean is, we expect our legs to be tired......but not our core/trunk. We should.

So, relax and go with the flow, but stay the course. It is that simple.

On days when you can feel you "don't have it," don't force it. Just do the best you can with what you've got without banging your head against the wall, and come back another day to get after it again.

On an additional note--as your race specific training and overall intensity goes up, the amount of times you spend doing these plank progressions should decrease due to the fatigue I just discussed. BUT...that doesn't mean you give up. You should still include plank training on a regular basis!

Staying true to the fundamentals and basics EVEN WHEN the other training and goals grab more of our attention, is an absolute necessity for success!

Plank On!

Coach Al

Coach Al Seminar: Triathlon Training for the 21st Century–Movement Quality First!

coach al, triathlon, triathlon training, core, deep front line, pursuit athletic performance

Coach Al is not only a renowned movement expert, but also our poet warrior here at Pursuit Athletic Performance. He gave the talk, Triathlon Training for the 21st Century: Movement Quality First at the Boston multisport expo, and we are still receiving outstanding feedback and questions from athletes in attendance that day. We have put the talk together to share with all of you.

Triathlon Training for the 21st Century is Coach Al's "I Have a Dream" speech. His dream?

  • That every athlete, whether a triathlete, runner, cyclist, swimmer, gymnast--whatever the sport--will learn how quality movement patterns MUST be in place FIRST in order to unlock full potential.
  • That seven out of 10 runners won't be injured every year.
  • Finishing an Ironman triathlon will not mean creating major health problems like arthritis that last a lifetime.
  • Athletes learn to train in ways that not only create balance in the body, but balance in their lives. We don't have to give up our lives in order to achieve our athletic goals and dreams.
  • That athletes experience finish line euphoria every day of their lives by waking up without aches and pains, ready to train, race, and excel year in and year out.
  • That workouts you do for your health do not end up sacrificing your health.

These are just some of the deep and probing issues Coach Al explores in this talk. He also takes you inside the physiology of the "deep front line," an astounding view of the inextricable connectedness of our entire body from the lower extremity, through the torso, and up into the cervical region--the entire core--all of which is impacted by the breath. The deep front line plays a major role in unlocking our overall ability to move properly. There is a lot of learning here about what true athleticism entails.

We know you will learn a great deal when you watch this talk. We think you will be inspired. Our hope is will begin to extricate yourself from the false training messages that bombard us daily, and begin to see that true athleticism, true power and speed isn't hiding in a box of fancy running shoes. It's hiding deep within YOU. It's there ready waiting to be unleashed through "quality movement first."

Click on the photo above, or click here to access the seminar. Enjoy! And feel free to get back to us with thoughts and questions.

Form Talk–Abdominal Bracing for Better Core Stability

Dr. Kurt Strecker, Pursuit Athletic Performance

Dr. Kurt Strecker, DC, CCSP

When working with a client today, the issue of proper form when doing functional strength work came up, as it invariably does. When lying in the supine position, virtually every client has been taught to "suck in the belly button," "hollow out the abdomen," or "press the lower back into the floor." It's ubiquitous, but it leads to incorrect form. Since everyone does it, I want to explain why it isn't optimal And what you should do instead.

The technique of the "abdominal hollow" originally appeared to be very beneficial. Latest research suggests otherwise. The protocols we've developed here at PAP are largely based on the work of Stuart McGill, PhD, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Dr. McGill has done more research on spinal biomechanics than anyone on the planet. He has examined thousands of "core exercises," and elucidated the muscle activation and corresponding tissue loads, particularly as they relate to spinal discs. So based on what is optimal, what should you do instead of an abdominal hollow?

You need to employ an "abdominal brace."

It's easy. Rather than hollowing out your abdomen, or pressing your lower back into the floor, tighten your abs as if you're about to be punched. That sets you up properly by stabilizing the trunk much more effectively. This applies whether you are doing your core exercises or lifting a cinder block. This mechanism should be automatic, but sometimes it doesn't work quite as well as it should and we need to retrain it a bit.

While it may seem that using an "abdominal brace" rather than an "abdominal hollow" is a minor issue in the scheme of our athletic endeavors, it really is quite important. Using proper form, and paying attention to the minor details makes a huge difference in the benefits you gain from doing the work. Plus, it's a simple form fix, so you might as well do it right. Practice!

For those of you who want to get deeper into the technical details, here's a good article by Malik Slosberg, DC, MS. in Dynamic Chiropractic--Core Stabilization Strategies: Abdominal Hollowing vs. Bracing. Enjoy!


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