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Strength & Power Training Discussion of strength training as part of your MMA conditioning program.

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Old 05-31-2007, 03:43 AM   #1 (permalink)
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I.P. Freely's Core Strength Guide

About the Guide

I have been studying core strength (and trying to develop it) for a while now. I wanted to share my thoughts and ideas with everyone here. I hope that people will give me feedback to help to improve them. I would also love it if someone tries to adopt my ideas into their workout/training, and can report back.

I am going to post my ideas in several seperate sections.
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Old 05-31-2007, 03:55 AM   #2 (permalink)
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What Is 'Core Strength?'?

The Core Muscles

Core strength is the strength in the muscle groups including the abdominal muscles, the pelvic floor, the lower back and the muscles running up along the spine from the lower back to the shoulders. As I mentioned in another thread, it is not just the muscles you can see: the muscle that forms the six-pack (the rectus amdominus) is just one of many muscles in the core. There are other muscles underneath that and the external obliques that are just as important for core strength.


The Function of Core Strength

Blah blah blah.

What you really need to know about core strength is what it does, what it is for. Here is the answer: core strength allows you to straighten your spine, or maintain a straight spinal position, against resistance.

So why is that important? Well, imagine your spine was made of dense rubber, like the rubber that tyres are made of, so that you could walk around like normal, but so that it was much less strong that a normal spine. Now imagine you go for a really big deadlift. What happens when you lift? Your spine will bend and stretch, and the weight won't move at all. This is because you have no core strength whatsoever.

When using strength in real situations, your arms need support so they can use their strength. This support goes via the spine. Often you are using the strength of your legs, too, like when you are pushing a car. But again, the strength must be transmitted to the arms from the legas via the spine. In both these cases, the spine is conducting a large amount of force, and there will be pressure on it making it want to bend. You need to use your core strength to maintain the straight position, in order to apply the strength.

I will come back to this in the next section.

(Core muscles also act as shock absorbers, but I am not going to go into this.)

Last edited by I.P.Freely : 05-31-2007 at 04:30 AM.
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Old 05-31-2007, 04:13 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Examples of the use of Core Strength in Fighting

Although I've done my share of fighting training before, it's been a while. And I haven't done BJJ or wrestling, so forgive me if I make some mistakes explaining this. But now I am going to try to illustrate the role that core strength will play in three aspects of fighting. Actually it is used all the time, but these examples will make it clear.


1. Punching

Let's go back to the 'rubber spine' example. Suppose I am very powerful and have great technique, but that damn rubber spine. When I punch you, some of the power I generate is going to turn my body away from you, meaning the power is not being used to damage you, it is being used to twist my spine. Someone with good core strength can prevent their body from twisting, and make sure that the force generated all goes forward, instead of moving me backward (or rotating me, rather).

A good powerful punch uses the whole body- there is some pushing off the back leg, and some twist of the hip. But this power has to be transmitted through the spine. If the spine is weak, it will bend, and some or all of the real power will be lost. A good solid core ensures that all of the power flows right through to the fist.


2. Takedowns and takedown defense

When someone goes for a doubleleg and the other guy goes for a sprawl, they are pitting their core strength against eachother. The guy going for the double leg is driving straight into the defender, and the guy doing the sprawl is leaning to the attacker, trying to use the angle and his straight body to brace himself- making the attacker basically push into the floor.

Both guys are using their core strength, as we can see when we go back to our 'rubber spine' thought-experiment.

The attacker needs to keep his body very straight. If his spine bends forwards he will be on the floor, leading to the defender getting on top of him, or kneeing him in the head. If his spine bends up, he loses his power and his balance. When rubber-spine goes for the double leg, as soon as someone sprawls against him he will collapse onto the floor or fall over! Likewise, the defender needs to stay as straight as possible. When rubber-spine sprawls against the attacker, he will immediately bend in the middle and the attacker will be all over him.


3. Applying chokes

Watching a BJJ instructional video that I accidentally got hold of this morning, it was very clear that the chokes and arm bars that the guy were demonstrated were finished using core strength. E.g. in the choke, the attacker stretches the body of the defender out using his legs, then sraightens his own body out as much as he can. That is what applies the choke and makes the defender tap. That straightening motion is pure core strength.

I am sure that BJJ people will tell me that this is used in a lot more submissions.

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Old 05-31-2007, 04:29 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Boost Your Core Strength I: Modify Your Weight Training

The Principle

So, how do you boost your core strength? The first method is to change your normal weight training so that you work your core more.

The first thing to remember is that the core is used to strighten the spine (or maintain a straight position) and thus allow the transmission of power between arms and legs. So any exercize where there is no need to control the spine and no transmission between arms and legs does not work your spine. That means that seated and lying-down weights exercises do not work your core. (As a corrolory, if you are doing these kinds of strength exercises, your core is probably not strong enough compared to the rest of your body.)

Actually, some seated exercises will work the core. It depends if you are seated with your lower back braced against something. If your lower back is not braced, you still have to use your core to keep it straight.


The Practice

It is quite simple to modify exercises so that they work the core. Use the following principles:

- Do standing exercises rather than sitting ones. These allow for the most spine movement and also allow for transfer of power from legs to arms with exercises like deadlifts and shoulder presses.

- Do sitting exercises without resting your back against the back of the seat. This is surprisingly hard- try to pull a weight from behind you, extending your arms straight out forward in a seated position. You really feel it in your lower back. Typically you will be able to pull only a small fraction of what you can bench- meaning that your core is not strong enough.

- Use free weights whenever possible. As they are harder to control they make it harder to retain a straight spine. A lot of the most famous free weight exercises, like dead lifts, squats and sholder presses, are great for core strength, btw.

- [/i]Do asymmetric exercises.[/i] When doing bicep curls or sholuder presses, do one side at a time. This engages the core, in order to prevent you from tilting.

- Keep an asymmetic base. Work your standing exercises from different, slightly unstable positions. This engages your core more.

- Focus on keeping a long and straight spine. Watch yourself in a mirror, or get a friend to watch you. Your upper body sholud not sway or wobble, and your spine should not collapse. Long and straight.

Of course you should still do normal strength exercises, like benching and pullups, to develop the strength and power in particular muscles. But you need to do the 'core-engaging' versions to be able to use that strength in real situations.

Last edited by I.P.Freely : 05-31-2007 at 07:41 AM.
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Old 05-31-2007, 05:03 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Boost Your Core Strength II: Do Yoga

Why Yoga?

Yoga is well-known for being one of the best methods for developing flexilbity. People who do yoga for several hours a day soon reach levels only equalled by gymnasts and ballet dancers. What is less well-known is that yoga, at least some kinds of yoga, are exceptionally good for developing core strength.

For those interested, you should really be aiming to do Ashtanga yoga, which is also quite a good cardio workout. Ashtanga is a fast-flowing variety of yoga in which there is a lot of jumping between the positios, as shown in this video (I've posted this before, but if you haven't seen it and you want to see what real core strength and flexibility is, watch it):

YouTube - ashtanga yoga demo

There are actually several ways that yoga works on core strength, which I will explain.

1. Straightening the spine when forward bending

You may notice that when you bend forward your back naturally bends. When you bend forward with an asymmetrical base (e.g. if you have one leg tucked in) you bend and one shoulder goes down much further than the other. In yoga, you have to straighten this out. Doing this requires considerable core strength- so you are basically working your core in every forward bend.

I see people doing forward-bends and letting their spines collapse all the time. It always saddens me, as these people are wasting an opporuntity to add a core strength element to their strength.

2. Doing crazy balancing

No other word for it. Stuff like this requires great core strength:

http://ashtangayoga.info/asana-vinya...Mayurasana.jpg
http://www.swaha.ca/images/yoga-eka-...ndinyasana.jpg
http://www.yoga.com/filestorage/CMS/...rticlebest.jpg

(I chose three that I can do myself )

3. Yoga abs

Yoga actually has lots of abs exercises, and they are very effective. Like this one:

http://www.staniq.net/ashtanga/088.jpg

But like a lot of yoga ab exercises, it does all of the abdominal muscles and the lower back, not just the exterior/visible ones. (Which is why most yoga guys have amazing core strength but not six packs.)


4. Bhandras

When you do some kinds of yoga (including Ashtanga) you have to do something Indian dudes called 'engaging your mulla bhandras'. Several thousand years later, western sports scientists rediscovered this and called it 'engaging your core'. Basically, you have to lift your abdominal muscles up and in. You also have to raise your pelvic floor, which requires flexing the muscle that you use when you don't want to pee yourself. Weirdly enough, this tones the insterior abdominal muscles. When you start it is difficult to do this for a long time. After a few years you get to the point where you can engage your core througout a two-hour workout without thinking about it.

This gives you a low-intensity core workout for the entire time you are stretching. It also gives you a high intensity workout when you bend backwards- this basically stretches your abdominal muscles in the other direction. Pulling them in and up when you are in this position:

http://ashtangayoga.info/asana-vinya...hanurasana.jpg

is very, very difficult.


Go to Classes

If you want to do this, go to classes. Don't try to learn from a book or video. There is too much stuff that needs to be exactly right.
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Old 05-31-2007, 05:13 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Boost Your Core Strength III: Change Ab Exercises

So, guess what the worst ab exercises are for core strength. If you guessed 'sit-ups' then you guessed right.

Guess what the second-worst exercises are. Did you guess 'crunches'? Bing! Right again.

So, it's unfortunate that these are the most commonly done ab exercises. But why are they bad? Apparently, the reason is that they activate mainly the front, exterior abdominal muscles, and also the legs. So they miss most of the core. They should be done as part of an overall ab programme, but not as the main component.

What are the best ab exercises? Anything that involves lateral/twisting motion and stabilization is good. Some exercises that have been recommended by sports-sciency types include

- Bicycle exercize. Basically a twisting crunch while making a bicycling motion with the legs, so that the elbow comes up to the alternating knee.

- The captain's chair. Suspend yourself from tricep dip bars or from pullup bars and simply bring your knees up as high as possible, and repeat. You can add a twist at the top.

- Raised-leg crunches. Do crunches with your legs raised and shins parallel to the ground. (I personally find that not lowering the legs between sets is what makes this one effective.)

- Situps on a stabillity ball These seem easy, but apparently they target the abs much more effectively than regular situps, and don't activate the legs.
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Old 05-31-2007, 05:18 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Boost Your Core Strength IV: Work with Real Weight

The last thing you can (and should) do is exercises that involve real weights, not gym type weights. Real weights are awkward and clumsy. They are hard to pick up, and it's hard to keep your balance when you are moving them. They are present all kinds of problems that gym weights, with their nice bars, machines and padded benches don't present. And in getting used to heaving them around, you are constantly struggling to keep your back straight and thus developing your core.

A real-weight workout can use heavy bags, people, rocks, suitcases stuffed with bits of carpet or books, nay on anything that is difficult to carry. There's going to be three main options:

- Carrying. The main activity you can carry out with real weights is carrying. Pick 'em up, carry them a long way, put them down. You can set up some kind of relay: set yourself the task of carrying heavy crates from one end of a big space to another, over and over again. People are also a good weight to carry, as I mentioned.

- Stacking. Some kind of exercise involving stacking is also good, if you can set it up so that you have to stack things above chest height. Stacking boxes or crates onto a high shelf would be one way to do this. The Atlas Stones thing that they always do in the Strongman competitions is a great example, too. Of course, unless you have stackable boxes you need a very strong structure to stack things onto.

- Throwing. I gather that some people like to throw or slam heavy bags. Again, this is another excellent way to use your core strength. You will need a pretty resilient bag, though.

These kinds of exercises take a bit of time to set up but are definitely worth it. Actually, one of the best ways to do this is (if not the best) is through real physical labour, Matt Hughes style. A friend of mine once saw a farm labourer in Ireland pick up a 150lb girl and hold her over his head quite easily. That is just incredibly hard. My friend, who is very strong himself (a kickboxer and mountain climber) asked him how the hell he did it. It turns out that this guy was loading and unloading hay-bales for hours every day, in season- sticking them with a pitchfork, heaving them over his head and dumping them somewhere else, like the back of a truck. The workout that this, and many other common tasks on farms, is insane- core strength and other parts of the body.

Last edited by I.P.Freely : 05-31-2007 at 07:16 AM.
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Old 05-31-2007, 12:49 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Nice post, I'll reply later with some helpful links/info about how to strengthen your core even more
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Old 05-31-2007, 05:41 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Repped! great post
I have one question pitching throwing a ball does it help core strenghth?
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Old 05-31-2007, 06:04 PM   #10 (permalink)
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If the ball is heavy it might. I like doing standding twists with medicine balls. You get you and a partner to stand back-to-back about a foot apart and make a figure-8 motion with the ball.
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