Have you ever tried to throw a ball while treading water in a swimming pool? Water polo players notwithstanding, there is little to push against, so no one can throw far. That’s because of Newton’s third Law of motion – for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. If we throw something forward, our body absorbs the same force in a backward motion. If the forward force is greater than our body’s ability to absorb and if we are not braced against something solid, we will move backward. The principle is that we can only generate force in one direction when doing so against solid resistance, either within our body or from some external fixed point, in the opposite direction.
When punching or otherwise striking with the hand in martial arts, power is first generated by upper leg, hip, abdominal, and paraspinal muscles in a region of the body known as the “core”. The ground is the stable platform against which this power works, and a twisting motion is produced above. The core forms rigid cylinder in the midsection (center of gravity) of the body, stabilizing the spine in all positions of movement. Power for movement then travels through upper spine and rib cage to the shoulder, and down through the arm and hand. Power is generated at every level, with greater power being generated by larger muscle groups. The same basic process occurs when throwing a ball or doing some other forceful upper extremity movement.
Movements of the legs are similar. Whether kicking an opponent or kicking a ball, the power begins in the muscles of the stabilizing leg, supported by the earth, and is transmitted to the rigid cylinder of the spine, and tense musculature around the back and abdomen known as the core. The power then transmits to the kicking leg.
The common theme is that the core is the center of gravity of the body and the place from which power for movement ultimately derives. The foundation of strength in any part of the body must be strength in the core. Core muscles include:
1. Single segment paraspinal muscles (multifidi)
2. Multisegment paraspinal muscles (erector spinae)
3. Abdominals (transversus abdominus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominus)
4. Back and pelvis (quadratus lumborum)
5. Upper abdomen (diaphragm)
6. Pelvic floor
7. Lower extremity (gluteals, hamstrings)
The goals of strengthening the core are to improve strength and especially endurance in the back muscles, restore control over the abdominal muscles, and improve coordination and position sense in all of the core muscles. Additional goals include restoring normal spinal rotation and lateral bending, improving gluteal and lumbopelvic activity. Finally, core exercises improve posture, a vital part of musculoskeletal health.
Exercises (repeat each of these ten times)
1. Abdominal bracing – tighten the abdominal muscles without sucking your stomach in like you are going to take a punch. Hold for 30 seconds.
2. “Bird dog” exercise – get on hands and knees. Extend right arm and hand in front of your body, and left leg and foot behind your body. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides. It can also be done while standing on one foot or lying on an exercise ball.
3. Plank core strengthening exercises – lay prone on the floor. Lift your body up on your toes and elbows with your back straight. Hold for 30 seconds.
4. Side plank core strengthening exercises – lay on your right side on the floor. Lift your body on your right elbow with your body straight. Hold for 30 seconds.
Ultimately, having a strong and functional core improves every aspect of musculoskeletal health and fitness. It also helps prevent back pain and other common health problems. Of the Seven Secrets of Health, never forget that the Core is Key.