Tuesday Nov 22 2011
The core of cross country conditioning
By: Julie Young Journal Columnist
Fit to be Tried
The expanded concept of core has been coined the pillar and consists of scapula, trunk and the hip complex. The goal of a functional core stability and mobility training program extends far beyond abdominal strength. To develop a cross-country specific, functional and dynamic core program, think outside of the traditional-trunk-crunch box and incorporate creative exercises that mirror and simulate the cross-country movement. The role and function of the pillar, specifically the trunk, differs in cross-country skiing as compared to running and cycling. In running and cycling we employ the trunk as a stacked, solid, neutral base from which to generate and transfer energy to our extremities. In cross-country skiing the trunk takes on a much more dynamic role: crunching down and compressing, generating power on to the poles and skis. In short, the cross-country skiing trunk resembles a constant compressing and extending accordion whereas the running and cycling trunk acts as a static platform providing leverage allowing us to efficiently translate power directly into the pedal stroke or foot strike. Where the runners and cyclists’ posture is characterized as a neutral-spined platform, the cross-country skiers posture is described as “c”- shaped from cervical spine to tail bone. Visualize the spine resembling a cobra ready to strike. This posture is poised to dynamically crunch and compress on to every pole strike and gliding ski, effectively increasing force production. We need to rely on and employ the biggest muscle groups to generate the power and translate it directly to the arms and legs. In cross-country skiing, for example, if I relied solely on my scrawny arms to perform my poling I would fatigue within kilometers. Relying on my pillar equates to endurance. Functional, efficient movement relies on three integral components - joint mobility and stability; muscular mobility and function/strength; and central nervous system mobility and function. We need to incorporate and challenge these components in all of our conditioning programs, including core stability. As with all movements, the effective core stability program is built on a solid functional foundation of correct movement patterns. And as with all exercises and skills – we want to progress from simple to complex and complicated. Because cross-country skiing is movement, as is life, we want our core program to be movement based and incorporate elements of balance, agility and coordination, and challenge the nervous system and proprioception. To make the core workout cross-country specific, we want to be creative to mirror and simulate that cross-country movement. In order to replicate the dynamic cross-country core compression, target those exercises that demand spine mobility from cervical spine to tailbone. When doing my exercises – I visualize that “c” contour of my spine and train it by drawing my upper abdominals down to mid-line, while at the same time scooping my tailbone upward, with my hands at my side, assuming poling position. Our lateral strength is also an important aspect of cross-country core stability – as we want that energy translated and compressed down on to the ski and not leaked out to the sides. In order to be solid and strong side to side, incorporate strength exercises that train the obliques and lateral glutes. I like performing my core stability in circuits each set consisting of three to four exercises, repeating the set three times. In each circuit – I try to hit each section on the pillar – scapula, trunk and hip complex – this way I can quickly rotate through the exercises without rest, adding density to my workout. Again form and good movement patterns take precedence – start with that number you can do well, build your foundation and then progress the repetitions. The “repetition” period can be based on numbers or time, for example 10 repetitions or 30 seconds, respectively. While the foundation of good movement takes precedence – remember to continue to challenge yourself by increasing the repetitions and/or adding resistance in order to push your adaptation and improvement envelope. Stay tuned for balance drills, single leg stability and strength, and potent plyometrics. Julie Young was a top U.S. professional cyclist for 12 years and has since transitioned to trail running and cross-country skiing. She is the owner of o2 Fitness and now coaches endurance athletes in the region. Check her out online at www.o2fitness.net.