STEVE McINTYRE says core strength is a key factor for a rugby player and should be a consistent part of training.
Many players still only use exercises such as sit-ups and crunches to train their ‘core’. This is often counter-productive, as these movements can place high levels of compression on the spine, leading to lower back pain and possible disc herniation.
Loading the spine during flexion is generally not a good idea, especially for most guys who spend many hours a day sitting in spinal flexion with poor posture.
Not only are you risking long-term back problems by doing sit-ups, crunches and all their variations, but you are not even providing optimal stimulus to the abdominals.
Some rugby players believe that multi-joint, free-weight exercises such as squats and dead lifts activate core muscles better than isolation core exercises. Many believe all they need to do to strengthen their core are squats and dead lifts. Research has shown that squats and dead lifts don’t even come close to creating the levels of activation in some of the core muscles that, for example, even the simple push-up does. You need more than big compound lifts to strengthen the core.
The word ‘core’ is often misunderstood and defined incorrectly. It’s not just your deep spinal stabilisers, abs and lower back.
It’s your entire torso, so a variety of exercises that address the entire network of integrated pillar core muscles needs to be included.
Training the core as efficiently as possible, while minimising the dangerous compression through the lumbo-pelvic region and enhancing the connection between the shoulders, torso and hips needs to be the goal when trying to build a strong functional core for rugby.
This link-up of the abs to the shoulders and hips for transferable function and performance is important for creating spinal stability, and the better you become at stabilising the spine, the more efficient you will be at moving your limbs faster and more forcefully.
Any player seeking to improve their strength or speed will benefit from having a more stable spine.
Other core training tips would be to abandon the weight belt during your normal training, flex the abs and contract the glutes as tightly as possible when doing any standing exercises and to minimise seated exercises. This will lead to optimal core strength development and reduce the risk of lower back injuries.
Correct technique and execution are important to maximise effectiveness. Tighten and flex the abs as hard as possible to be sure that there are no ‘energy leaks’ and that your entire core is braced tightly while performing your core exercises.
Good pillar core strength is the solid foundation to improved athletic performance and injury prevention, so make it a priority in your training.’
– McIntyre was the Springboks’ conditioning coach when they won the 2007 World Cup