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Multi-Joint Training versus Isolated Training for Core Development

by Developing the Core
Kinetic Select June 2017

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Ground-based free weight lifts, especially the explosive Olympic-style lifts, are highly recommended for athletic conditioning for the core muscles. They can provide a moderately unstable stimulus to augment activation of the core and limb muscles, while still providing maximal or near maximal strength, velocity, and power output.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing the Core, published by Human Kinetics.All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

The advantages of free weights over machines are well documented (Garhammer 1981; McCaw 1994; Simpson et al. 1997; Stone 1982). The major advantages arise from the ability of the seemingly innumerable variations of free-weight exercises to simulate the movement demands of sports and everyday activities. This use of free weights is vital in adhering to the specificity principle (Behm 1995; Behm and Sale 1993). In addition, lifting free weights requires the lifter to balance and stabilize the barbell or dumbbells while movement takes place in a given plane of motion.

Olympic lifts (multi-joint exercises) are often advocated for their emphasis on coordination, motor learning, and stability. The increased stress of postural adjustments and power output with Olympic lifts and variations of such lifts (e.g., push presses, medicine ball throws, kettlebell snatches) should provide greater neuromuscular benefit. Hence for increased sports performance and core muscle activity, it would seem more beneficial to de-emphasize stable, machine-based resistance exercises and emphasize the performance of ground-based free-weight exercises (e.g., squats, deadlifts, Olympic lifts).

Common musculoskeletal injuries such as lower back injuries have been associated with decreased muscle endurance (McGill 2001) and impaired motor control or coordination (Hodges 2001; Hodges and Richardson 1996, 1997, 1999). Abt et al. (2007) reported that cyclists with improved core stability and endurance could maintain better alignment of the lower extremities, which may reduce the risk of injury. Ground-based free-weight lifts such as Olympic lifts, squats, deadlifts, and others can provide a relatively unstable environment to improve muscle endurance, coordination, and motor control to help prevent lower back injuries. In addition, combining the greater degrees of instability associated with instability devices (e.g., stability balls, wobble boards, and inflatable discs) in conjunction with free-weight multi-joint exercises could further improve coordination and balance, contributing to injury prevention.

In summary, ground-based free-weight lifts, especially the explosive Olympic-style lifts, are highly recommended for athletic conditioning for the core muscles as they can provide a moderately unstable stimulus to augment activation of the core and limb muscles, while still providing maximal or near maximal strength, velocity, and power output. However, people who are training for health-related fitness, or who cannot access or are less interested in the training stresses associated with ground-based free-weight lifts, can receive beneficial resistance training adaptations with instability devices and exercises to achieve functional health benefits. Since balance and coordination are not fully developed in children (Payne et al. 1997), instability resistance training exercises may be even more suitable for health and performance with that age group (Behm et al. 2008).

The NSCA, the world’s leading sport conditioning organization, offers its unrivaled expertise in a book perfect for any athlete seeking to strengthen the core and improve athletic performance. Featuring 11 ready-to-use sport-specific programs, Developing the Core provides more than 50 of the most effective exercises along with science-based assessments to help athletes understand their individual needs. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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