Build a Resilient Spine: Create Power for Sport Performance

A body built for high performance starts with the core.

The ultimate goal of any core exercise should be to protect your spine. Spinal stiffness and core stabilization strategies should also transfer directly into your bigger lifts. That’s why it’s important to implement specific core exercises that place a focus on the forces you want the spine to resist:

The ultimate goal of any core exercise should be to protect your spine. Spinal stiffness and core stabilization strategies should also transfer directly into your bigger lifts. That’s why it’s important to implement specific core exercises that place a focus on the forces you want the spine to resist:

  • Anti-extension (excessive lumbar arching)
  • Anti-flexion (excessive trunk flexion and forward slouching)
  • Anti-rotation (avoiding a force that is trying to twist you to one side)
  • Anti-lateral flexion (excessive side-bending)

These exercises maintain the core heath you need to support athletic endeavors.

Athletic Endeavors Demand Core Strength and Power

Tell me the last time you saw someone pull 500lb off the floor who didn’t engage his or her core and trunk muscles. Or when was the last time you witnessed an athlete clean and jerk 300lbs without creating core tension?

These things do not exist.

It’s imperative to have effective core function during heavy lifting; however, you also need these fundamental training patterns imposed on your core and spine to meet the demands of various sports and athletic endeavors.

Consider a professional baseball player swinging a bat, a professional basketball player cutting through the lane, or a professional soccer player striking the ball. All of these athletes are generating power and strength through their core.

Add these four exercises to your training program to ensure that you’re creating a strong and powerful core from every angles and in all planes:

  • Plank Body-Saw (anti-extension)
  • McGill Side Bridge With Rotation (anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation, and anti-extension)
  • Dead-Bug With Overhead Resistance (anti-extension)
  • One-Arm Suitcase Farmer’s Carry (anti-flexion, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion)

Plank Body Saw

The plank body-saw is supremely effective in teaching the anti-extension pattern.

Take your basic RKC Plank and step it up a few notches by adding the dynamic component of resisting a linear change of direction. This is where the sliding surfaces, such as a pair of sliders, comes into play. You end up moving back and forth like a saw, and it’s pretty damn tough.

Do This:

  1. Begin in an RKC plank position.
  2. Place your toes on a pair of sliders.
  3. With palms flat on the ground, drive your elbows into the ground and push your body away, down toward your feet.
  4. Move only roughly a few inches, pause, and return to the starting position. That equals 1 rep.
  5. Complete 10 reps for 1 set.
  6. Perform 3 sets.

McGill Side Bridge With Rotation

This exercise is an advanced progression of the original McGill Side Bridge. The only difference is that you set up facing down in prone, rather than on one side. A great deal of body control is needed to rotate, explode up, and then stop at a dime at the top.

Consider these questions before performing the exercise:

  • Can you keep a tall, rigid spine?
  • Can you still keep this tall, rigid spine when moving powerfully in a rotational pattern?
  • Can you control your body enough to freeze on demand?

Once you’ve mastered the McGill Side Bridge with rotation with pristine form and technique, the answer to these questions will be a resounding “yes.”

Do This:

  1. Begin in an RKC plank position, but with feet slightly wider than usual. This will provide a more stable base during the rotational component.
  2. Rotate and drive up to the left with power and speed. Pause.
  3. In a slow and controlled manner, return to the starting position.
  4. That equals 1 rep on your left side. Perform 10 total reps.
  5. Switch sides and repeat.
  6. Perform 3 sets per side.

Dead Bug With Overhead Resistance

Whoever thought of giving this exercise the name “Dead Bug” was really onto something. Seriously. You look like a dead bug. I’m a huge fan of the basic Dead Bug exercise, but I love how this advanced progression places even more emphasis on increased core engagement due to the overhead resistance from the band.

Plus, now you look a bit more like a zombie laying flat on your back on the floor. Maybe we should change this exercise name to “Dead Zombie” instead? You heard it here first.

On a more serious note, the Dead Bug with overhead resistance is on my top-shelf of core exercises to teach an athlete how to avoid excessive lumbar extension, and more importantly, how to lock down their core muscles during lower extremity movement.

It’s a challenging exercise. You need to create enough core engagement and abdominal strength to avoid letting the band win.

Do This:

  1. Lay on the ground with your arms straight above your shoulders. Each hand holds either end of a resistance band. The band should provide enough tension to force you to use your abs. Maintain a flat back on the ground.
  2. Bend your knees directly above your hip joints and dorsiflex your ankles with your toes pointing up toward your hands.
  3. Keeping straight arms and constant band tension, extend your left leg. Pause. Return your left leg to the starting position.
  4. Alternate on your right side. That’s 1 rep per side.
  5. Complete 12 reps per side for 1 set.
  6. Perform 3 sets per side.

One-Arm Suitcase Farmer’s Carry

Although the one-arm suitcase farmer’s carry doesn’t look like much, you’re actually doing a hell of a lot of work. I’m a big fan of creating tension to understand stability. We need to be able to create and own tension during stability, especially when a dynamic movement component is added.

Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in you hand and squeeze the handle hard. Do the same in the other hand, but with a much lighter object like an empty water bottle or squishy ball. Now go for a walk. Although the left side carrying the weight is working harder, the right side is also working as well, even if in a smaller capacity, to keep your entire core working as a system.

If you’re core doesn’t feel engaged after one set on each side, your weight is too light. However, it’s very important that you don’t go too heavy to the point where you sway to one side. The goal is to maintain a tall, upright posture throughout each set.

Do This:

  1. Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell with your left hand. Choose a weight that is heavy enough to provide a challenge, but not so heavy that it forces you to slant to one side.
  2. In your right hand, hold something like an empty water bottle or a small, squishy ball. Squeeze the life out of this object to help create tension on the non-weight bearing side.
  3. Stay tall and walk 40 yards. Switch arms and repeat. That’s 1 set.
  4. Perform 3 sets per side.

Your Body Is a High-Performing Machine

Protecting the spine is accomplished through core strength and the ability express power with body control. These are the tenants to a spine built for high-performance.

Everything we do in training should have a direct carryover into sport and athletic endeavors. Training the core is no different. Cover every aspect and angle of core strengthening and spinal stabilization to ensure a strong, resilient spine that’s build to last.

More Ways to Keep Your Back Healthy:

Headline photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Photo collage courtesy of Matthew Ibrahim.

Leave a Comment