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Core strength gotta have it.

The new buzzwords in rehabilitation and training are core strength or core competency and the functional kinetic chain. When you move your body through space, whether running, walking, or just getting out of bed, your body employs a functional kinetic chain and requires core competency for stabilization, acceleration and deceleration. When you run, you may be focused on your legs and feet, but your core is very hard at work distributing body weight and maintaining balance and posture, absorbing force, and transferring ground reaction forces: in short, keeping you on your feet.

What's It All About?

What is a functional kinetic chain? It is the integrated effort of the joints, bones, muscles, and neurological system to move your body through space. Functional strength is the ability of that neuromuscular system to move, stop and stabilize your body. No matter what you're doing, it requires core strength to do it. Whether you are interested in peak running performance, injury rehabilitation, or injury prevention, core strength is now being recognized as the place to start.

The core is the lumbopelvic-hip complex. It is your center of gravity and the origin of all movement. When the core functions well, movement is coordinated, efficient, and stable. A strong and competent core can help you avoid common running injuries because movement can be smooth and efficient. As core competency and overall neuromuscular efficiency decreases as you fatigue, the stability of the kinetic chain is sacrificed.

What does this mean to your body as your feet repeatedly hit the ground while running? Impact forces may be distributed poorly and you may compensate with an altered gait that results in mechanical stress and repetitive trauma. One of the most important places repetitive trauma may be experienced is in the spine, and therefore, a strong core is one of the most important insurance policies you can acquire to protect the health and well-being of your spine, along with all other components of the kinetic chain.

How Do You Get It?

Muscles work concentrically (contractions that start movement), eccentrically (contractions that stop movement), and isometrically (contractions that hold a position). In functioning, muscle forces are accelerating, decelerating, or stabilizing your body as it moves. In order to develop core strength, you need to involve all of those forces. Although traditional crunches and back extensions help to develop core strength, core competency exercises often involve balancing and demand the efforts of many muscles to work synergistically. Doing squats on a balance board, for example, is less an exercise in absolute strength than a neurological exercise in stabilizing the body on an unstable base. Core strength training involves neurological adaptations at least as much as gains in strength.

Key words in the jargon of core strengthening are stability balls, medicine balls, and balance boards because these tools require you to continually adapt to constantly changing forces in order to maintain balance while moving. You may be able to knock off 20 excellent push-ups, but it is a humbling experience to try just one with your feet perched atop a large exercise ball. Likewise, you might regularly do squats with 150 pounds, but your first empty-handed squat on a balance board will be a challenge.

In just the same way that running improves running, performing these kinds of exercises results in extremely satisfying gains. Within a short period, challenging the kinetic chain with core stabilizing exercises produces rapid, remarkable adaptations. You will probably want to try those first pushups when no one is looking, but within a surprisingly short time your neuromuscular system will make the improvements necessary to maintain balance (and your dignity).

Gravity Hurts

Balance is a battle with gravity, and when it wins you can get hurt, so be careful. When using dynamic surfaces like balance boards and exercise balls, make sure you work out with a wide safety zone free of corners, stairs, barbells and other hazards. Start low, start slow, and don't add weights until you've mastered the exercise empty handed.

Core competency can help with another gravity battle--keeping your running program injury free. Another bonus--as your core becomes more powerful, your running is likely to become more efficient and faster.

(Biomechanics, 2000, February, pp. 67-73) For equipment information check www.balldynamics.com, www.performbetter.com, and www.bodyblade.com.

Improving your strength can reduce your risk of a running injury and improve your running ability.
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Title Annotation:functional kinetic chain
Publication:Running & FitNews
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Words:729
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