Many people think that movement is initiated through our extremities and supported by the core when in reality it’s the opposite – our core sets the foundation for movement with the activation of the outer extremities coming milliseconds after the core first responds.
Before we go any further we need to explain the functional units of our core and the difference between the two. In this case, the INNER and OUTER units.
The Outer unit is comprised of our visible “body building” muscles. The Abdominals, Obliques and Lats. These muscles are highly visible and generally the focus of most people’s core training routines. The same reason why a body builder spends countless hours in the gym pounding out variations of the crunches or sit-ups.
The Inner unit is comprised of four main muscles groups. The deep muscles of the spine (Multifidus) and muscles of the pelvic floor, the diaphragm and the most important component of them all – the Transverse Abdominis (or TVA). The primary role of the TVA is to stiffen and stabilize the spine, rib cage and pelvic girdle so that the outer extremities have a solid working foundation for movement. Without an efficient TVA, we as golfers are highly susceptible to back injuries of all kinds!
Aside from swing mechanics, functional tasks in general require the synchronization of both abdominal units. Depending on the task or activity, failure to work in sync with one another will predispose the spine to forces that cannot be stabilized and easily result in various back pains and/or injuries.
Think about a nice shiny car. My favourite, the ’69 Ford Mustang. In this case, lets consider the Outer unit as the beast-like engine with capacity to go 0-60 in seconds. Now consider that beautiful aero-dynamic, mean looking frame and the nuts and bolts that keep it all together as the Inner unit. It doesn’t matter how big and powerful that engine is if the car can’t stay together!
The problem with core conditioning is that we as humans tend to neglect the inner unit. We will spend our last 20 minutes of every session blasting those abs and obliques, trying to reveal our 6-pack that we’re convinced exists under all that visceral fat. Yet what we fail to realize is that all that time spent in the crunch position actually promotes the rounded C-posture we all despise. This mixed with our sedentary lifestyles commonly spent at a desk for 7 hours a day is a recipe for postural degeneration, all kinds of back pains and poor performance on the course.
The reality is that the very first step toward reducing back pain and improving posture is to eliminate crunch-like exercises all together until you become proficient at activating the inner unit. In order for us to improve the function, coordination and strength of the TVA, golfer’s need to focus on exercises that isolate the inner unit. The following exercises should be incorporated into all exercise sessions and even our daily routines!
THE FOUR-POINT TVA TRAINER
STEP 1: Assume the starting position as seen in the diagram. With the spine in neutral alignment, take a deep inhale and allow your belly to drop toward the floor. This may feel weird at first but stick with it.
STEP 2: As you exhale, draw the belly button in toward the spine as far as you possibly can. Once the air is completely expelled, hold this final position for 10 seconds or as long as possible.
STEP 3: Throughout the breathing pattern, be sure to keep the spine motionless with minimal activation of the lower back muscles. Complete this exercise 10 times for one set and work your way to three sets total.
LOWER ABDOMINAL LIFTS
STEP 1: Lay on your back with your hand placed underneath your lumbar spine. If you’re looking for the exact location, follow an imaginary line coming from the belly button all the way around to the spine. Place your hand there.
STEP 2: Bend your legs to 90 degrees or more until the feet lay completely flat on the floor. Begin to roll the pelvis posteriorly (roll the top of the pelvis backward toward the floor) and remove the space between your lower back and the floor, intentionally crushing the hand with pressure.
STEP 3: Elevate one leg over a span of 3 seconds while maintaining constant pressure on the hand underneath. Keep the leg in the final position for 3 seconds then take another 3 to lower the leg back to the ground. Be sure to keep pressure on the hand at all times, this part is crucial!
STEP 4: Complete the exercise for 12-15 reps on each side. If you have difficulty keeping constant pressure on the hand, try using smaller leg movements.