Most people tend to think of their abdominals when you mention the core. So their go to exercises are things like crunches and sit ups. This is a gross underestimate to the uses and capabilities of the core. There are numerous muscles involved when you speak about the core. The core is the abdominal cavity, it is a box that is created from the diaphragm at the top to the pelvic floor at the bottom, the obliques on the sides, and the front by the abdominals and the muscles of the lumbar spine in the back. There are also other muscles like the hip flexors and the latissimus dorsi that have part of their muscle within the box that makes up the core. As you can see thinking of the core in terms of the abdominals is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact the abdominal muscles aren’t really used to bend your body forward like you would do in a crunch, they are more used in bracing to stop motion. The cause of you bending forward is actually gravity and your gluteal muscles and the muscles of your back are what hold you up.
What is the main function of the core? Dr. Stuart McGill states that “The core musculature functions differently than the limb musculature in that core muscles often cocontract, stiffening the torso such that all muscles become synergists.” What does that mean? The core functions to stop movement, mainly of the spine. It also functions to transfer force from the lower limbs to the upper limbs and vice versa, which is of great importance to golfers.
If the core is there to stop movement, then why do we allow our lumbar spine to flex? It basically comes down to a general lack of knowledge in the public arena. When the lumbar spine flexes you are exposing yourself to potential injury of the spinal discs. The idea of the crunch is much better than the sit up, when done correctly. The sit up causes full flexion of the lumbar spine. Whereas the crunch, when done correctly, the spine will not flex, the problem is most people don’t know the correct way to do a crunch. In a proper crunch the thoracic spine will curl up and the core will be held in a steady position through bracing.
Now back to how the core affects your golf game. As mentioned earlier a stable core is important to transfer power from the lower body to the upper body. An unstable core allows for “power leaks”. If your core is stable the power generated from your lower body can move smoothly up to you torso and down through your arms and out to the club. A weak core means some of that power “leaks” out because the core can’t handle the power that is generated. And in some cases a weak core that is trying to take on too much power can end up becoming an injury.
If we make an analogy you body is a vehicle. The glutes are the engine and the core is the transmission. If your transmission goes then the car doesn’t move. It doesn’t matter how much power the engine generates you can’t move without the transmission.
Where do we go from here? Now that there is a lot of research out there about how the core works and how the body uses it, we need to train it in that way. The Plank is a great example of an exercise that when done correctly can elicit the action we desire by the core. Watch this video to see an example of the Pallof Press. It is an exercise that is made to resist rotation of the torso by stabilizing the core.
The Pallof Press is one of many ways to work your core the way it is intended to be used. The greatest thing is it refers right to your golf game. Give it a shot and let me know in the comments what you think of it.