Perhaps you have read my blog post on just what exactly your 'core' muscles are and what they do (if you haven't take a look here) but just exactly how does having a strong, efficiently functioning set of core muscles affect your performance when you are on your board?
Well, first up all boardsports require a great deal of trunk rotation, flexion and extension, something your core is primarily responsible for. They also all require balance, again something that having a quick reacting, strong mid-section is going to be able to help you with.
Just how it helps and what muscles are involved depends on what boardsport we are talking about.
Surfing, Snowboarding, Kitesurfing and Windsurfing
During these activities you are standing sideways on the board whilst looking and moving forward creating a continuous rotational force. It doesn't matter which stance you take, regular or goofy, you will be in a somewhat twisted position for the majority of the time.
If your core is underdeveloped or weak you will:
* Find it harder to simply stay balanced and on your board. A strong core helps you maintain your centre of gravity better. As a kitesurfer wearing a harness you will be able to brace against the force of the wind and kite better.
* Be less able to cope with the sudden adjustments required when you hit bumps and jolts that the constantly changing sea and snow throw at you. In essence, you will fall off more.
* Find your turns will be slower and weaker as you will not be able to generate the torque needed through your core that ultimately transfers down to your board.
* Find paddling difficult and tiring if you are a surfer. Your core muscles provide the strength to lift your chest off the board when you are paddling and also provides the foundation for a quick pop-up to your feet once you have caught a wave.
* Be more at risk of injury as a strong core will also somewhat protect you when you do fall off and stop you being thrown around quite so much.
Balancing on your board, facing forward with your feet close together is hard on a constantly changing surface such as water. Many people find that when they do learn to keep their balance on the board and stand upright they fall in when they put the paddle in the water and go to take a stroke!
As a paddleboarder you will find:
* A strong core not only assists with the initial balance hugely but will be able to adjust quickly and efficiently to every small wobble to keep you upright.
* Your core provides the anchor of strength for each paddle stroke. As soon as the paddle hits the water your core engages forcefully for you to pull against. Stronger core = stronger paddle stroke.
* A weak core will mean you won’t be able to spend so long out on the water before your paddling ability drops and you become tired.
* Your paddle efficiency will increase greatly as your mid-section becomes tighter and more harmonious in its movements. This means you will travel greater distances on less strokes and become less fatigued in the process.
So What Can You Do To Improve Your Core Strength?
There are hundreds of exercises and variations you can do to start improving your core strength but I will highlight a few of my favourites below. Feel free to comment if you have found any that work particularly well for you.
Really, the key to getting stronger in this area is consistency. You only need 3 or 4 exercises to hit the core muscles from all sides but if you don't do them, you obviously won't see any improvement.
1) Hollow Body Holds
Lay on your back on the floor.
Lift your legs, bend your knees and tuck them in towards the chest.
With your arms straight and at your sides lift your shoulders off of the floor as high as you can and make the space between the bottom of your rib cage and pelvis as small as possible. It is important that this tight abdominal position is held throughout the exercise.
Whilst the shoulders want to be as high off the floor as you can manage the lower back needs to be pressed into the floor at all times.
Once you have found this position, try to extend the legs out and move the arms back overhead without letting your core muscles relax or the lower back lift from the floor.
Keep a relaxed breathing pace throughout - don't hold your breath.
The straighter the arms and legs are out from the centre the harder it will be.
A full position would be with the arms as extended out behind you as possible and your feet approximately 6 inches from the floor. All the while with your core tight and your lower back on the floor.
This is a static hold so practice holding for different lengths of time and with different arm and leg positions. A good aim would be 60 seconds in the full position.
2) Back Extensions
Lie face down on the floor.
Squeeze your heels together throughout, keep your eyes down on the floor to protect your neck and place your arms by your sides.
Slowly lift your chest up off the floor as high as you can whilst squeezing your shoulder blades back and together.
Lower back down slowly the floor.
More advanced versions are with your hands by your temples or straight out in front on you like superman.
4 sets of 10-15 reps will be a good place to start.
3) Side Plank Raises
Lay on your side and place your elbow directly underneath your shoulder and rest on your forearm.
Place your feet either on top of each other (harder) or next to each other (easier).
Lift yourself up on your forearm so your hips are off the floor.
Then, keeping straight, dip your hips down to the floor and then back up squeezing your oblique muscles (or love handles!) as you do.
A harder version will be a side plank but resting on your hand and not your forearm. Keep your arm locked out straight throughout. This will not only make the hold a lot harder on your shoulders but will increase the range of motion for the hip dip too.
Perform 4 sets of 10 reps on each side.
4) Hanging Leg Raises
Hang from a pull up bar with your hands a little over shoulder width apart and thumbs round the bar.
Keeping your arms straight, lean backwards very slightly whilst forcefully engaging your lat muscles under your arms.
As you do this lift your legs upwards keeping them straight and pressing your heels together.
Aim to get your feet up to the level of your hips (a 90 degree lift)
Lower back down to a hang.
Keep these as strict as possible and try to eliminate any swing.
If this is hard for you to do try bending the knees at first as you lift your legs. Aim to get your knees level with your hips. As you get stronger you can progress to straight legs but a lower height lift until finally you can perform the whole movement.
As a more advanced version try lifting your toes, with straight legs, all the way up to the bar. This takes a great deal of lat (your under arm muscles) strength as well as core strength to achieve.
4 sets of 10 slow and controlled reps will do the job.
How Often Should I Do Them?
It really depends on your current level of fitness and training.
If you have been training regularly and are confident of your ability I would say hit the above circuit up at least 4 x a week, ensuring you make the exercises harder when you need to (the last few reps of each set always want to feel tough).
If you are new to exercise and haven't done a lot of core training before then I would suggest starting off with just two sets of each and then see how you feel over the next few days. If you have no muscle soreness or once the soreness has subsided repeat the circuit. Aim for 2 x a week.
Please note: As with all exercise you should ensure your have a clean bill of health before you start any training programme or recommendation. It is also wise to start off slowly and gradually increase the sets and reps as you get used to things over a period of a few weeks.
If you are interested in learning more about how core training can help your boardsports and would like to look at online coaching with me head over to home page and have a look round.