The importance of functional training and core workout in the improvement of the Athletic performance

The search for performance improvement is the basis for the achievement of sporting goals and is the heart of most of the training disciplines found in the world fitness scene. The binomial fitness -  sport has become, in recent years, the subject of numerous studies and most of the activities of fitness centers is based precisely on achieving the state of global well-being through the improvement of performance related to athletics.
The development of athletic skills  is a fundamental step in obtaining a functional body.

The turning point of the functional method

The functional training method, besides having revolutionized the way of training, has allowed us to reach different goals. Among these, to make the body harmonious and performing, both in daily activities and in athletic performance to raise the famous bar.

There are numerous definitions of the concept of functional, some of which help us to understand how important this method of training is: as written in the book Functional Training for Sports by Michael Boyle, functional training means a series of exercises that teach athletes to manage their body weight on all levels of movement.

Boyle also advocates the importance of the concept of function in the definition of functional training. Considering functional as the purpose, describing functional training with the synonym "targeted training": functional training it is amethod that shifts the focus on exercises to incorporate the stabilizing muscles that are the basis of physical well-being.

Functional training is a series of exercises that teach athletes how to manage their body weight on all levels of movement. Michael Boyle

The effectiveness of functional training derives from the fact that it is a method structured on solid bases such as:

  • the globality of movement, which leads us to consider the body and not analytically allowing in this way a considerable activation of the central nervous system;
  • the multiplanarity of movement;
  • the concept of training the action of each muscle but also the function for which it has evolved over the years within its chain.

The role of the core in athletic performance

Another feature of this functional training is to create a strong and stable core.

As we will see, thanks to its characteristics, the core plays a key role in athletic performance as it determines:

  • stabilization of the trunk
  • posture control
  • mobility, allowing the body to move.

What is the core?

What is the core in detail and from which muscles it is composed? Why do we have to get in shape with functional training? Why core workout is so important for the balance of athletes in team sports? First, we can imagine the core as a container whose front wall is made up of the abdominal muscles, the paraspinal muscles and buttocks at the back, the pelvic floor and the hip muscles as the bottom and the diaphragm as the roof.

The muscles constituting this box have the task of stabilizing the column, the pelvis, and the kinetic chains during the movements. But let's see in detail what muscles this structure is composed of.

As already mentioned, the core consists of two systems that work in synergy: the stabilization system and the system of movement, which have some muscles in common.

The stabilizing system includes the muscles located in the abdominal press: Rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, transverse of the abdomen, pelvic floor and diaphragm; dorsally we find the quadratus lumborum muscle, the multifidus, the lumbar spinal transverse and the erectors of the column.

In the system of movement, instead, we find the rectus abdominis, the spinate erector, the external oblique, and the quadratus lumborum muscle, already mentioned in the first system, as well as the adductor muscles, the femoral quadriceps, the Hamstrings, and the Gluteus Maximus.
As we can see, this is many muscles involved and this makes us understand the importance of this structure in the development not only of sports but also and above all the daily activities. Below is an exhaustive definition of the functions of the core:

The ability to control the position and movement of the trunk on the pelvis, thus allowing an excellent production, transfer, and control of forces and movement to the terminal segments in integration with the activities of the kinetic chains. All this features could be inproved with a good functional training and an effective core workout.

Core workout, the building block of functional training for sport

These are the reasons that lead us to consider the activity of core stability a fundamental brick both in athletic preparation and in general fitness. Core stability is defined as that area of training that can improve neuromuscular control and energy-motor from the trunk to the limbs.

To support this concept a definition has been provided by Belli:

"The only certainty well defined is how instability is a training stimulus on which to base a philosophy of concrete work based on the training of movement, not of the individual muscle”.

It is from this definition that we deduce the importance of core training. In a global and non-analytical way, thinking of the body as a set of muscle chains that collaborate with each other in order to make any movement qualitatively perfect.

Functional training to make the body functional

Complete functional training of the core is essential to make a perfectly functional body. A correct progression in the administration of the exercises is very important to make an effective training programme.

Initially, you must face stability exercises, preferring global movements or exercises with stable support bases and isometric activities (such as plank, side plank).

With the improvement of ability must come an increase in the intensity of functional training, inserting exercises with unstable bases of support (then using proprioceptive drills, balance pads, wellness balls etc.), emphasizing the ability to resist flexion (anti-flexion), extension (anti-extension) and rotation (anti-rotation).

Enhancing core stability with core workout

We return to our goal, which is to enhance the importance of core stability with functional training in athletic performance, assuming that in any sport the spine is involved in maintaining postural balance and transmitting force between the lower limbs and upper limbs and that the proper use of the abdominal corset in supporting the muscles of the lower pelvic region reduces stress on the intervertebral discs. What you want to achieve is a stable support for all movements, which in sports take place with sudden changes of direction and sudden accelerations.
In running we have great stress at the tissue level due to continuous rotational movements and multiple forces of compression. Analyzing the movement, we can observe that on the sagittal plane we have continuous flexion and extension movements, while we find continuous rotations on the transverse and frontal planes.

It is for these reasons that a weak and unstable core would cause back pain problems to the athlete, not being effective in absorbing shocks, hence leading to poor performance. A good reason to start with functional training of the core.

Cycling is another discipline in which the core takes on great importance. The core represents the basis from which strength can be applied to support and maintain a correct position on the saddle. The fixed cycling position combined with the continuity of movements involves great stress at the level. Poor activation of the abdominal corset has a negative effect on the pedaling mechanism and considerably reduces the application of force on the pedal.
Other examples of the importance of having a functional core with functional training come from all contact sports. It is essential to have an excellent balance to counteract impacts and be able to react optimally to game contrasts. Having developed acceleration and stability abilities help with any sudden changes of directions or sudden forces to overcome overloads.
Just think of all the destabilizations in a basketball game, changes of direction on unstable terrain in football, or the great decelerations and impacts in rugby: in these sports a strong core well trained with functional training allows you to develop the forces necessary to perform properly the athletic movements and thus reduce and/or avoid the risk of trauma and injury.


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These few examples help us to understand the importance of functional training and the use of the core in sporting movements as well as in daily life activities. It draws attention to the problems that could arise due to a lack of solidity of this structure: from the poor use of the potential of your body to the possibility of injury.

Including core workout to strengthen your training routines and athletic preparations is a fundamental aspect to improve the functionality of your body and your performance, creating real specific functional training or identifying the right space within the programming.

Sources and bibliography

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