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In the first article of the core conditioning series, the core was defined as the lower trunk musculature. The major muscles of the lower trunk musculature are the rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, transversus abdominis (deep abdominal muscle) and erector spinae (lower back muscle). So far, we have addressed the development of core stability, strength and power by training mostly the muscles of the abdominal region but the posterior side muscles also have important functions in the core.
Anatomy and Muscle Function
The muscles of the low back serve to support the spine, and attach to the spinal column, pelvis, and extremities. They are stabilizing the spine but also in performing key movements in softball. These muscles may become injured, and contribute to low back pain. Here is an overview of the main muscles:
- Spinal Erectors (Erector Spinae) - These are muscles that run all the way down the lower back. They exist to support and hold the spine erect and straighten the back from a bent position (trunk extension).
- Gluteus maximus - A large muscle lying at the back of the hip. It extends the thigh and rotates it outward (hip extension).
- Abductors (Gluteus minimus and medius) - They are part of the gluteal muscle group situated in front of the Gluteus maximus. They raise the leg to the side.
Low Back Strength and Stability
Low back strength and stability are vital to prevent injuries and optimize performance. These muscles contribute more than we think in every action performed in softball. They have an important roles and overusing them without proper training could potentially lead to injuries and pain. In order to maintain spinal health, it is important to train these muscles. Another key thing is to avoid developing strong abdominal muscles while neglecting the lower back muscles. This would results in muscular imbalances, which often lead to injuries.
Key Points For Training Trunk and Core Power
- Consult a health care practionner if you a history of low back prior to perform any low back exercises.
- Stop if any of the exercises is pain inducing.
- Every exercises should be performed slowly an in a controlled manner
- Low back exercises should be done throughout the year to ensure low back health
- Be careful not to hyperextend when doing low back extensions.
Each exercise should be performed three times a week for a 4-8 weeks period. Ideally, you want to keep one or two of these exercises at any time of the year to maintain low back strength and health. Remember to always use proper form to get maximum benefits.
Swiss Ball Back Extension - View Exercise
- Lie your stomach and hips forward on a ball with your feet behind you on the floor or hook onto something and place your finger tips on the back of your head with your elbows wide in the start position
- Slowly arch your back, curling up so that you feel a contraction in your lower back.
- Your head should remain stationary throughout this movement.
- Hold for a second and then slowly lower to the starting position. Hold for 1-3 seconds then return to the start position and repeat.
- Do not arch your neck when lifting upward.
- Do 2 sets of 20 repetitions.
Swiss Ball Alternating Superman - View Exercise
- Lie flat on your stomach on a swiss ball with the tip of your feet pressing the ground.
- Lift the arm and the opposite leg thinking of reaching out instead of reaching up.
- Don't over stretch the lower back in the end position by keeping the head in the line with the spine.
- Hold the position for a few seconds before lowering the upper body completely.
- Complete the count without rest in-between.
- Do 2 sets of 20 repetitions.
Single Leg Hip Extension - View Exercise
- Place one foot on the floor and raise the non-working leg into the air.
- Raise your hips about 5-6 inches by squeezing your buttocks together and pressing your feet into the floor.
- Hold the position in the air for a few seconds before lowering back into the initial position.
- Tighten your abs to maintain a neutral spine position.
- Do 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions on each leg.
Medicine Ball Torso Circles - View Exercise
- Hold a medicine ball with both hands.
- Perform big circles going from the top all the way to the toes.
- Flex the hip and bend at the waist to increase the range of motion.
- Keep the arms extended.
- Do 2-3 sets of 12 repetitions on each side.
There are other good variations of these exercises that can be done off the floor. These are used more in a rehab setting but can still be very useful in preventing low back pain. Exercises such as squats, deadlifts and good mornings will also highly contribute in training the back extensors.
The core is often defined as the centre of power. We put a lot of time into training the legs and the upper body while the core is often neglected. The core represents the link between the upper and lower body and if the link between the two is weak, we have an important decreased in performance while the likelihood of injuries is greater. A complete core conditioning programs involves the abdominal, hip and low back muscles. Proper core conditioning is often the missing link in softball training programs.
About The Author
Marc Dagenais, B.Sc., MHK, CSCS, is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Personal Trainer in addition to working as an assistant softball coach for Simon Fraser University. He also runs a website on performance enhancement, training and conditioning for softball - http://www.softballperformance.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.