I was wondering what you recommend for ab (core) work? Because a lot of people have been telling me a strong core will increase athletic ability and improve heavy lifts and I really need to be emphasizing it.

A: I'm probably going to offend a lot of people with this but I think so much emphasis on core training to build the ultimate athlete is over-rated. If you're doing what you should be doing with regards to your training and activity you're probably not going to notice performance improvements with core training other then for the correction of postural imbalances, muscle imbalances, or back problems. It's not that ab work gives you increased athletic ability and increased strength it's that increased athletic ability and being strong inherently build core strength.

Real world examples, - plenty of powerlifters and strongmen do no core work but show me a powerlifter with a weak "core"? The muscle recruitment of the core during many real world activities blows away what can be accomplished in the gym. Sprinting, gymnastics, lifting, spiking a volleyball, a tennis serve, boxing, chopping wood, kicking, rebounding and many others are all core intensive activities already. To prove my point pick any one of the aforementioned activities that you don't do on a regular basis and go out and do it for an intense hour one day. Regardless of how much core training you currently do I guarantee your core will be torched.

Believe it or not plenty of competitive bodybuilders do no core work either but show me a bodybuilder in constest shape without a 6-pack? The abs are recruited anytime you lunge, twist, push, pull or pretty much do ANYTHING! Where ab training is really necessary is with the sedentary crowd who sit on their butts at a desk all day. The rage lately seems to be taking recommendations from the rehab/medical realm and applying this to athletes as a promise for stardom. How much core training do you think a caveman did? If the goal is to be as functional as a caveman and we do the things that caveman did (be an athlete), then there should be no need for so much core training.

Now, having said that I'm gonna contradict myself and go in the opposite direction. I don't think core training is a cureall and should take up 10 hours per week but for most people it needs to be included to balance out the sedentary lifestyle and lack of core activation inherent in todays society. Where it has value is in getting you to the point where you can be an athlete, not necessarily making you a better athlete once you have built up your general fitness qualities and strength. Here's how I design and assign my core routines for preventive maintenance, injury prevention, and general strength.

1. Trunk flexion

- sit ups, crunches, and other variations

Trunk Flexion Example

2. Hip Flexion

- leg raises, dragon flag, knee-up variations, traditionally known as "lower ab" movements.

Hip Flexion Example

3. Lateral Trunk Flexion

- side raises, side bends, side situp

Lateral Trunk Flexion example

4. Trunk rotation

- Russian twist, sledgehammer strikes, Full contact twist

Trunk Rotation Example

5. Hip rotation

- bent knee lateral leg over

Hip Rotation Example

6. Trunk extension

- back extension, good morning variations, deadlifts

Trunk Extension Example

7. Hip Extension

- reverse hyperextension, deadlift

Hip Extension Example

Generally you want to make sure your "core" routine contains exercises from each category. I like to prescribe one day of core training dedicated towards general strength/stability and one day dedicated to maximum strength and power.

For example here's a routine designed for general fitness/stability and muscle re-education. Perform 3 total circuits:

slow speed hamstring activation situp (engage the hamstrings instead of the hip flexors) x 20

leg raise + push toes straight up to sky x 20

Russian twist x 20

Side situp L, R x 20

Lateral leg over x 20

On hands and knees lift opposite leg and arm up x 20

Here's a routine designed for maximum strength in the core. Perform 3-5 sets of each with 1 minute rest intervals:

Weighed stability ball crunch x 10

Hanging Pike Leg Raise x 10

Hanging Pike Leg Raise

Full contact Twists x 10

Weighted Overhead (Saxon) Side Bend x 10

Full Contact Twists and Saxon Side Bends Pictured Here

So how do you know when you have enough core strength? To give you some guidelines you should work towards being able to do a set of 10 weighted stability ball situps with 1/2 your lean bodyweight in lbs. along with 10 fairly controlled hanging pike leg raises and the ability to perform 30 v-ups in 30 seconds.

A young athlete in good condition can usually accomplish all of the above within a few months of initiating a 2 x per week core training program.

Q: Does a slow loaded eccentric recruit more motor units and does it recruit fast twitch fibres?

A: An eccentric or negative contraction recruits less overall motor units then a concentric but more of these motor units will be fast twitch. Isometric training recruits even more fast twitch motor units. Low rep SUPRAMAXIMAL eccentric training is a good training technique for performance consistent with FT fiber recruitment and development. Fast twitch fibers in general respond best to high forces and/or high speeds.

The type of eccentric you want to stay away from emphasizing is higher rep (5+ reps) of submaximal eccentrics typical of bodybuilding. The reason being is that you're anywhere from 15 to 100% stronger on an eccentric contraction anyway. If you're basing your loading off of a 1rm CONCENTRIC load then the eccentric load isn't of a very high load or speed and it won't give you much of a positive training effect. What will happen is the body will convert the high velocity fast twitch motor units into a slower contracting subtype.

Let's say your max squat is 100 lbs and you're training at 75% 1rm (75 lbs) and doing sets of 5 full range (up and down) reps with 5 second eccentrics. Well your CONCENTRIC max may be 100 lbs but your eccentric max will be anywhere from 115 to 200 lbs. You're using 75 lbs and you're emphasizing the eccentric. This load may be fine for the concentric (positive) portion but that means the loading on the eccentric will only be 65% to 38% of what you're capable of! The message you're sending your muscles is that you don't need to contract fast and you don't need to contract very forcefully either.

Since most of the muscular damage happens during the eccentric it's conceivable that the body will adapt to that damage in the most efficient manner possible. Damaging the muscle with low loads or low force loads won't encourage the body to adapt in a manner that makes it more efficient dealing with high loads or high speed (more fast twitch). That load is not really typical of the load required to stimulate FT adaptations unless you're speeding up the eccentric into the transition ala speed/strength or plyometric training. So, use a weight that actually challenges you either through speed or load (force) during the eccentric and the adaptations are different.

Q: Im trying to help set up a program for my friend, he just wants to generally improve his leg power, vertical jump, speed e.t.c mainly for track. He has a good base of weight lifting behind him, he can bench 220lbs for 5reps, pull-ups with a good weight and is generally well built. But only in a typical bodybuilder sense.

So i did a couple of tests with him.....

His weight - 160lbs

Squat - 220lbs - but this is the first time hes ever full squatted, if had him just at or above parallel he could move about 310lbs or on leg press he can do a silly amount. He is just weaker because hes never been deep before.

Deadlift - 290lbs

Vertical jump - 25 1/4"

Depth jumps - From a dropoff of 19" he couldn't turn around at all and get off the ground. It was like his body was shutting him down in case of injury!!!

So its the case that possibly all this bodybuilding stuff has dampened or worsened his reactive ability?

A: Yes, what you describe about his body shutting down during the force absorption phase of the depth jump is exactly what happens. His system, or his muscles and tendons, aren't used to stretching and firing particularly in the plantar flexors and this can be cured very quickly. The golgi tendon organ monitors the degree of force and stretch put into the muscles and tendons and will shut the muscle down if more force is absorbed then what the body can deal with or is accustomed to. So what you need to do is increase functionality of the plantar flexors first. This means eccentric strength or I should say "sport specific" eccentric strength.

In most situations there won't be much of a correlation between performance in loaded calf raises and the ability to utilize the plantar flexors in sport. Bodybuilding might give you strong calves but the muscles won't be trained to quickly fire the fast twitch fibers like what happens in a sports movement. Normally traditional exercises work to increase general eccentricstrength better then reactive activities but I believe the plantar flexors (calves) are a particular exception. A much better strength building choice is drop jumps with fairly straight legs, landing on the balls of the feet. Drop jumps are just as much of a strength exercise as they are a reactive exercise, particularly if done with an emphasis on landing on the balls of the feet and holding the landing for a few seconds.

For a standard depth landing, picture a gymnastics vault landing. "Sticking the landing" entails tremendous stabilization and eccentric strength to prevent collapse at the knee. The forces generated mirror the forces at the plant prior to takeoff in the jumps or ground reaction forces in the sprints, providing the overload required to train the eccentric contraction. The force of the eccentric contraction is controlled by drop height, and the exercise can be performed with either single or double leg landings. Maximum overload will come from higher drop heights and the use of single leg landings. The prescription of intense workloads assumes that there are appropriate levels of general strength, stability, and co-ordination, and that the progression is from double to single leg contacts.

In fact this exercise could become one of the preferred strength training exercises of choice for high jumpers and long jumpers where one of the limiting factors is the amount of power absorbed by the plant leg. Here's a really nice paper on the topic if you care to explore further:

Eccentric strength training for Jumpers

They (drop jumps) have other advantages as well, including preferential recruitment of the fast twitch muscle fibers, something which doesn't occur with regular loaded exercises. Just make sure you start off with a low box and keep the number of ground contacts to a low volume of 20-30 total 2-3 times per week.

Q: Hi I was just wondering why almost all running backs and wide recievers in the NFL have 35+ verticals and many have around even 40+ vertical. Did they get their jumping ability through training or is it mostly genetic and slightly improved by increased muscle. If they got it through training why do most basketball players have only around 28 inch vertical when they could train to improve this vital aspect of their sport.

The reason why players in the NFL have superior leaping ability is due to both genetics and environment. In comparison to basketball players the difference is relative body strength and power. A defensive back at 180-190 lbs will squat a minimum of 400 lbs easy. Add to that the fact that these guys will inherently have a well developed nervous system that enables them to immediately transfer strength into power and you get a superior athlete. Basketball players will often benefit from strength even more because of their longer limbs. It's not a perfect prescription by any means but if more basketball players on average would train like football players that would give many of them the things they want.

As long as the heavy weight training is balanced by an equal amount of jumps, which inherently occurs in basketball, then theres little need to worry about becoming slower. But instead basketball players tend to overtrain the strength qualities they're naturally good at (reactive ability) all year around and undertrain the things they need. This is because of the training that inherently occurss in the sport and the fact that much moreso then football players basketball players want to spend too much time getting cute.

Q: What do you think of slide boards? I was reading an article about Miami Heat preseason training and their trainer uses the slide board. I watched a guy do some pretty rugged interval training on it the other day, so you can certainly do a conditioning workout with it. But you can say that about a million exercises. I can't tell if it really would have lateral movement transference. It does seem to have some plyometric components due to the slide, stop, reverse direction type motion.

Also, what do you think of reaction balls? Someone said they were the greatest thing because they are fun and help develop the ability to anticipate, explode in to action, first step quickness, yada yada. Again, gimmick or does it have a role in Speed, agility, and quickness training?


A: Those are a couple of good questions. Slide boards put a lot of stress on the lateral portion of the knee due to the forces that occur from the impact with each change of direction so I'd say if you're gonna use them be careful.

As for reaction balls I've never used one to tell you the truth. Let me tell you what my idea of a reaction ball is. When I was 9 years old I played baseball and the first game of the season I was going up against a left handed side armed pitcher (I bat right handed)...the very first pitch he threw went straight for my groin and I couldn't get out of the way and he nailed me....After that I immediately had a fear of the ball that hadn't been there before. Finally a couple of weeks later my coach took notice of my fear in the batters box and proceeded to get a bucket of balls and walked out to the pitchers mound and had me get in front of the backstop. He then proceeded to chunk these balls at me and told me to either catch the ball or get out of the way! I was scared to death at first but pretty soon I realized it was easy enough to get out of the way if I wanted to. So this game of "reaction ball" worked very well! So dodge ball, handball, racquet ball etc. all have uses if nothing else they keep things interesting.

Another game of reaction ball we used to play was playing football with no lights when it started to get dark...you'd go out for a pass, turn around and get hit in the face cause you couldn't see the ball! Also I had quite a few opportunities to play reaction ball with a basketball as a kid. You know when a basketball gets so old that one side of it lumps up and it bounces all over the place when you dribble it?!