As an endurance athlete, you've probably heard the classic advice: Stretch, drink more water and try yoga or Pilates. But most of us tend to put off this advice only to find ourselves working harder, fighting through nagging injuries and struggling to make minimal performance gains.
Now the latest buzz is to work on your core muscle strength, pillar strength as some like to say. Of course, yoga, Pilates, martial arts and stretching all contribute to developing this core body strength.
The problem is most endurance athletes get caught in the mileage trap and think that extra time should be devoted to additional training in their primary sport(s). What many elite athletes are finding, however, is that building the foundation, or support pillars, is possibly the most important element for any athletic endeavor.
Mark Verstegen, owner of Athlete's Performance in Tempe, Ariz. and Carson, Calif., has just released a book aptly titled Core Performance, The Revolutionary Workout Program to Transform your Body and your Life. With clients such as soccer great Mia Hamm, tennis star Mary Pierce, NBA forward Rick Fox and many other professional athletes, Verstegen outlines his approach to developing pillar strength in seven sections.
Instead of obsessing over impressive muscles and size, the Core Performance program focuses on strengthening the dozens of small muscles attached to the hips, pelvis, lower back, abdominals, ribs and shoulder blades.
Through building these vital muscles, or what Verstegen likes to call the body's "suspension system," the whole body grows not only stronger but more functional, as well as virtually immune to hip and lower-back problems.
The book is an easy read and, after a forward from professional baseball player Nomar Garciaparra, the introductory sections will get you fired up to start building your core strength and, more importantly, improving performance and overall well-being.
But be forewarned, some of these movements will make you feel incredibly awkward and off-balance, especially if you've never done these kinds of exercises. Verstegen outlines a "Movement Prep" section that gets your body and muscles "ready" for exercise. As a fairly accomplished athlete, I found the movement prep exercises to be pretty challenging from a balance and coordination standpoint.
In addition to Movement Prep, Core Performance continues on to describe a Prehab, Physioball, Elasticity, Strength, Energy System Development and Regeneration stage. While I found the exercises to be very well laid out with good color photography and explanations, it would certainly be overwhelming to try and incorporate these exercises into any sort of meaningful routine.